Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
A TV ad for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), seen in June 2022, featured personal video clips of men and women laughing, smiling, talking to the camera and interacting with their families. Over the top of the videos a woman sang the song, Bring Me Sunshine. On-screen text then stated, “These are the last videos of people who took their own lives”. The video clips and song continued and further text then stated, “Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal”. The final shot had text that said, “Find out how you could help save a life” above the CALM logo and text that said, “#UnitedAgainstSuicide”.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a scheduling restriction, which meant that it should not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16.
The ASA received three complaints:
1. The complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and distressing.
2. One complainant, who believed because of the content of the ad, it should not be shown before 9pm, also challenged whether the scheduling restriction was sufficient.
1. CALM said that 125 lives a week were lost to suicide and there was still a huge stigma around suicide and people were afraid to discuss the topic. Their belief was that society’s standards around suicide needed to be challenged and that was what the ad and their organisation had been doing.
The aim of the ad was to get individuals talking about suicide and thereby equip people struggling with suicide, and those around them, to prevent suicidal behaviour. For that reason their advertising needed to address suicide directly. However, they recognised the sensitivity of the topic and understood that the ad’s content could have been difficult to watch. Nevertheless, every effort was made to minimise any distress to the audience and any upset caused by the ad was wholly justified.
They said that the ad did not shock viewers without reason and any distress caused was not excessive. The footage used was not edited or embellished to cause a reaction and was treated with sensitivity. The accompanying music was a plain vocal performance, without instrumentation, and so did not intend to draw a response from the audience.
They explained that the ad ended with the hopeful line, “Find out how you can help save a life” which justified the footage shown. The line demonstrated that the ad was not about attracting attention but about saving lives nationally. In addition, if viewers followed the message in the ad they would have reached a landing page which provided resources and skills to have a conversation with someone who was struggling with suicide. The website also signposted anyone in a crisis to call their helpline.
They explained that the campaign was run in collaboration with all the families of the individuals featured in the ad, in every aspect of the process, to ensure their portrayal was accurate and representative. They believed that the feedback and insight of such a diverse group of people, with lived experience of suicide, was invaluable to creating the ad. Further to that CALM used their “Expert Advisory Board” in making the ad. The group, who they said unanimously supported the campaign, was made up of industry experts, including clinical psychologists, sociologists, medical and care professionals, academics and experts in the fields of medicine and law. The multi-disciplinary panel highlighted the need to consider resources for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, and that was reflected in the services and resources made available. Those resources were made more visible by the creation of the ad and were targeted at both those experiencing suicidal thoughts and the people around them who were worried for their wellbeing.
They said that they believed the ad would lead to conversations that meant people would get help and would save lives. They did not think suicide was inevitable and they did not think the ad suggested that. They said the ad provided hope by allowing viewers to understand suicidal behaviour better and to intercede when it began. The ad aimed to show that suicidal thoughts can still be there even when they were not displayed on the outside. This informed and encouraged viewers to save a life by understanding the true signs of suicide and intervening. The use of the “Expert Advisory Board” ensured that the ad performed this role and did not negatively affect viewers with experience of suicide.
Clearcast said the intent of the ad had been to show that mental health should never be judged on face value alone and they believed that would be recognised by the average viewer. They noted that the ad was explicit in stating “suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal” and went on to direct viewers to more information so that they “could help save a life”. The message therefore was clear that through raising awareness of suicide, fewer people would go unnoticed and would be protected.
They stated that while they accepted that the knowledge that those shown in the ad had died would cause upset, they did not think the footage used would have caused unjustifiable distress. They said the subject matter was serious and emotive and needed a bold and genuine approach to reach out to and connect with viewers. They said the ad was done compassionately and sensitively to those who had died and their families and also responsibly to the audience and wider society.
2. CALM said the existing scheduling restriction was sufficient. They explained that the stigma around suicide meant they needed to reach as many people as possible, and children as well as adults were affected by suicide. They acknowledged that the topic of suicide was hard for adults to understand and to explain to children. However, they believed it was important that children were aware of the issue from a responsible source because they were likely to hear about it anyway and they could be provided with inaccurate information that could cause the stigma to grow.
They stated that the footage was emotive but not graphic and treated the issue with sensitivity and responsibility. They put hope at the centre of the campaign, to prevent suicide appearing inevitable, and provided resources to anyone struggling with the issue. The resources themselves included information on how to talk to children and young people about suicide.Clearcast said the ad was emotive but not graphic. It contained a serious message that was sensitively delivered to be impactful, but also avoid unjustifiable distress. They considered that it was necessary to restrict the ad from airtime where there was a high audience of children. However, because of the important message and careful delivery, a post 9pm watershed restriction was not required.
1. Not upheld
The BCAP Code required that advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason and must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society.
The ad used real life footage of individuals who had gone on to take their own lives. The ASA understood that the topic of suicide, by its very nature, would always be one that caused a level of discomfort to some viewers. Furthermore, the use of actual footage of people who had gone on to die by suicide was a hard hitting and emotive approach to highlighting the issue.
We noted however that the ad included the text, “Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal” which emphasised that the clips used, which showed people laughing, dancing and playing with family, were used to demonstrate that while people may appear happy and coping on the outside, it did not mean that they were not struggling internally. Further to that the text, “Find out how you could help save a life” and “#UnitedAgainstSuicide” highlighted how the ad invited the audience to prevent future suicides by accessing the advertiser’s resources. Therefore, while the presentation and message of the ad was a powerful one, it was made clear to the audience that the overall aim of the ad was to inform viewers about suicide and provide practical help to the audience to stop further deaths.
We further acknowledged that while the ad showed footage of individuals who had taken their own lives, it did not show any examples of people who had survived suicide. We understood that one complainant was concerned that the ad would be interpreted by some to imply that suicide was inevitable, even for those who achieved a degree of happiness and contentment. However, we noted again the text in the ad, “Find out how you could help save a life” and “#UnitedAgainstSuicide”. We therefore considered that viewers would understand from the ad, that while the individuals shown had tragically taken their own lives, for those who were currently suffering from suicidal feelings their lives could be saved and suicide was not a foregone conclusion. We therefore did not consider it to be irresponsible.
Further, while we acknowledged the ad was likely to be distressing to some viewers, the overall message of the ad to look beyond the surface to save lives from suicide and seek support to facilitate that, meant that any distress caused was justified by the ad’s message.
We therefore concluded that the ad was not irresponsible and did not cause unjustifiable distress.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Compliance) and 4.10 4.10 Advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason. Advertisements must not exploit the audience's fears or superstitions (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We considered that the issue of suicide was an important one and also one that could cause upset, especially for younger children. While older children may also have been affected by the discussion of suicide in the ad, it was not graphic, did not discuss any details about suicide and offered a message of hope in reducing suicide. We therefore considered that on balance older children were unlikely to be harmed by the ad and the message was of such importance that it was justified in them seeing the ad.
We understood that a scheduling restriction had been applied to the ad at the time it was cleared by Clearcast, which meant that it should not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16, which we considered was appropriate for its content. We concluded the ad had been scheduled appropriately.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.