Two paid-for social media ads for DeadHappy, a life insurance company, seen on 23 January 2023:
a. A Facebook ad contained the caption “Get your life insurance sorted with DeadHappy – 5 star life insurance rated excellent on Trustpilot … [tick symbol] Cheap monthly prices … [tick symbol] Jargon-free application … [tick symbol] 2 months free”. Below the caption was an image of the serial murderer Harold Shipman with overlaying text which stated “LIFE INSURANCE … Because you never know who your doctor might be … Sign up in 3 minutes … Prices from £1 a month … 2 months FREE … Life insurance to die for”. Below the image was the text “get.deadhappy.com … Get 2 months FREE today with code HAPPY … Get Quote [Black heart emoji]”.
b. An Instagram ad contained an image of the serial murderer Harold Shipman with overlaying text which stated “LIFE INSURANCE … Because you never know who your doctor might be … Sign up in 3 minutes … Prices from £1 a month … 2 months FREE … Life insurance to die for … Get Quote”. Below that was the caption “Get your life insurance sorted with DeadHappy – 5 star life insurance rated excellent on Trustpilot”.
IssueThe ASA received 115 complaints. The complainants challenged whether the ads irresponsibly caused serious and widespread offence and unjustified distress.
DeadHappy Ltd apologised for any offence or distress caused and explained that the ads went live at 2 pm on 23 January and were taken down at 8 am on 24 January. They said that it was never their intention to offend and that once it became clear that the ads were causing offence, they removed them.
DeadHappy confirmed that they would not run the ads again. They said they are reviewing their processes in relation to the creation and approval of ads and would endeavour to make better informed decisions going forward.
Facebook acknowledged the complaints, but made no further comment.
Instagram acknowledged the complaints, but made no further comment.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. They must not contain anything likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or incorporate a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.
The ads contained an image of the serial murderer, Harold Shipman, a British doctor who it is estimated murdered between 215 and 260 of his patients. We considered that the image of Shipman would be instantly recognisable to many people.
The ads stated “Because you never know who your doctor might be … Sign up in 3 minutes … Prices from £1 a month … 2 months FREE”. Under the image of Harold Shipman was the advertiser’s name “DeadHappy” with text next to it which stated, “Life insurance to die for”. We acknowledged Deadhappy’s comment that it was never their intention to offend, and reminded them that compliance with the Code is assessed according to an ad’s probable impact when taken as a whole and in context. We considered the above elements of the ads trivialised and made light of the murders committed by Harold Shipman, such that they were likely to cause both serious and widespread offence to those who saw them.
We further considered that any reference to the murderer in advertising material was likely to be distressing, particularly for those who had lost family members or friends at Shipman’s hands and that, in the context of an ad promoting life insurance, the distress caused was unjustified.We concluded that the ads were not prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and did not comply with rules on issues of harm and offence. We welcomed DeadHappy’s assurance that they would not be repeated.
The ads breached the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and offence).
The ads must not appear again. We told DeadHappy Ltd to ensure they avoided causing serious or widespread offence, or unjustified distress.