A TV ad for GoCompare.com, seen on 17 December 2017. The ad featured a woman being shocked to find a small animated monster eating the cash from her neighbour’s purse when she visited the neighbour. The neighbour explained that the monster was her home insurance bill to which the woman dramatically exclaimed “It’s eating all your money!”.
The complainant, who said their four-year-old child had swallowed coins after watching the ad, challenged whether the ad could encourage emulation from younger children.
GoCompare.com said the ad was intended to depict the annoyance of a home insurance renewal notice in a comedic and fantastical manner. They used a fictional computer-generated character (Monster Bill) to demonstrate the potential negative impact of allowing home insurance to renew without shopping around, through the eating of fake vouchers.
They said Monster Bill was intentionally humorous and cartoon-like and both children and adults would understand that the character was make-believe and that the ad was intended to be comical and fantastical in nature, and therefore clearly not reflective of reality.
While they understood Monster Bill may interest children, it was not designed with that intention. Rather, it was designed as a visual metaphor to show the higher costs people faced when they ignored their household bills and intended for adults. They believed the ad would be far more relatable to adults than to children.
They said young children often placed objects in their mouths but it was very unlikely that their ad would directly or indirectly influence a child to undertake that action.
They acknowledged the complainant’s concern that their child swallowed coins subsequent to watching the ad. While there was clearly a difference between swallowing coins and the fictional activity undertaken by Monster Bill (eating fake paper ‘vouchers’), with the former more dangerous than the latter, they were concerned by the complainant’s experience and said they would never wish for that to happen. They said they would apply a restriction which would mean that the ad would not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16. They believed such a restriction would reduce the number of younger children seeing the ad, and in turn, minimise the risk of a child emulating the behaviour shown.
Clearcast said they believed the reference to pennies in the complaint was crucial. They said, in the ad, the monster was shown eating paper bank notes and not coins. While the eating of paper money was of course not to be recommended any potential harm could not be compared to the swallowing of coins. Given that eating paper was not especially harmful they did not see the need to impose a timing restriction on the treatment featured in the ad.
The ASA considered that older children would understand that the scene depicted in the ad was surreal because of the fantastical scenario and the contrast of the cartoon-style Monster Bill character and the real-life actors. However, while we noted the ad did not feature children and agreed with GoCompare that the ad was not targeted at children, we considered that younger children might not appreciate the fantastical nature of the ad and might identify with the playful child-like character. We were concerned, therefore, that the ad might encourage young children to attempt to swallow money themselves, which was a dangerous practice to emulate. As such, while we acknowledged that the ad was suitable for older children, there was a risk that the ad would cause harm to younger children.
We concluded that, to minimise the risk of younger children seeing it, the ad should have been given a 7.30pm timing restriction.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 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).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form before 7.30 pm.