Two TV ads and a cinema ad promoted a hostel company:
a. The first ad featured young adults walking through a forest before jumping naked into an open water pool. One man jumped from the top of a high cliff into the pool.
b. A shorter version of the same ad included the same scene of the man jumping into the pool.
c. The cinema ad was identical to ad (b).
Twenty complainants, who believed the ads depicted a practice known as 'tombstoning' - jumping from cliffs into water - which they understood was very dangerous and could result in serious injury and death, challenged whether the ads condoned or encouraged a dangerous practice.
Hostelworld.com Ltd said the ads did not depict or encourage the act of 'tombstoning', which they said was the dangerous practice of people jumping into water from cliffs or other high points without prior knowledge of the potential dangers, such as the depth of the water, rocks below or strong currents in the water. They said the ad was filmed at the Ik Kil cenote in Mexico, a popular site of natural beauty which was open to the public for swimming, and was part of a bigger complex for tourists. They said the cenote had signs which stated that the depth of the water was over 50 metres. They said many visitors jumped into the water from an elevated platform that had been carved into the rock especially for that purpose, which was clearly depicted in the ad, along with the staircase used to climb up to it. They said that was intentional, and they felt it was a clear indication that the activity was safe and appropriate to do in that area, unlike tombstoning which involved jumping into the unknown.
Hostelworld said the ad didn't show any risk, or the goading of individuals to do something reckless or dangerous, but showed a group of people who had decided to jump into the waters together, knowing it was safe to do so. They said the venue was one that many tourists visited and jumped into, and that cliff diving events had been held there annually since 2010.
Responding in relation to ads (a) and (b), Clearcast said they were aware of the dangers of 'tombstoning', which they said was traditionally conducted in untested areas. They said the area depicted was one designated for activities such as swimming and jumping from ledges, which was made apparent in the ad in several ways. They noted that the ad included shots of the tourists walking up the steps and standing on flat, man-made ledges, which indicated that the area had been specifically designed with jumping or diving in mind, and that the people were using the area as they would a swimming pool, i.e. in a location where safety had been thought through by all parties.
They appreciated that one of the group was seen jumping from a ledge that was higher. However, they said the jump was still over a designated area and in a position from which it was safe to jump. They said, as the man's friends were already in the water, it was possible to assume that they had assessed the area and/or taken into account the signage confirming the jumper was safe to leap.
They said the general tone of the ad was suggestive of young people taking the plunge, but still being cautious, rather than recklessly encouraging each other to take risks. They said one of the group was heard saying, "I am not diving", outlining that they were not attempting to do something they felt was beyond their capabilities. They said they had applied an ex-kids restriction to ensure the ad was kept away from children, who might not understand the subtleties involved.
Responding in relation to ad (c), the Cinema Advertising Association said they were aware of the dangers of ‘tombstoning' and had frequently removed such visuals from other advertising where they were shown as casual, spontaneous acts. They had taken the view that this was not the case in the Hostelworld ad. There were a number of elements that led them to believe that the ‘tombstoning’ shown in the ad would comply with the CAP Code. First, the participants shown were young adults, not children. Second, the group was shown jumping into the water from a ledge only three to four metres above the water level. Third, the individual who jumped from the potentially dangerous height only did so after being visibly assured by the group already in the water that he could do so, as they would be aware of the adequate depth of the water in which they were swimming.
They had, however, felt that a child audience would be unable to appreciate that that degree of safety information was presented in the commercial, and they had restricted the ad to screening with 12A, 15 & 18 classified films. By restricting the intended audience to those of 12 years of age and upward, they felt that viewers would appreciate the minimising of risk presented in this particular ‘tombstoning’ example.
The ASA understood that a number of people had been killed or seriously injured in the UK as a result of 'tombstoning', which involved jumping from cliffs or rocks into the sea, or other body of water, without the use of safety equipment or precautions, and considered it was important that ads did not condone or encourage such an unsafe practice.
We understood that the cenote, or water sinkhole, depicted in the ads was over 50 metres deep and was a tourist attraction at which jumpers were likely to be supervised. However, we considered that most viewers would not be familiar with the location, and noted that there was nothing in the ads themselves which demonstrated the depth of the water, or that the group shown were being supervised. We noted that there did not appear to be anyone present other than those in the group, and considered that viewers would infer that the group were taking part in a spontaneous activity with no supervision.
We considered that, in the shots of the group jumping together, it was clear that they were jumping from a reasonably low height. Further, there were steps carved into the rock leading to a ledge, which suggested that it was a suitable place from which to jump. We noted that one of the jumpers was concerned about diving, but none of them seemed uncomfortable about jumping in. However, in the scene which showed the main male character jumping from a much higher position, no steps or ledge were apparent. We considered that the length of the fall could have been dangerous, and that there was a risk of injury if the jump was emulated, particularly if it was done in a location which was not specifically designed for such activities.
We noted that the man seemed apprehensive about jumping, but was encouraged to do so by the rest of the group, who shouted "Jump, jump, jump!" and beckoned with their hands. He subsequently decided to jump, shouting as he fell. Once the man had jumped, the group was heard cheering, before he was hugged by one of them. In addition, he was shown speaking to a woman in the group, with whom he had shared a brief and awkward smile prior to the jump. We considered that the encouragement from the group in response to his apprehension, and their subsequent reaction, suggested that the man's behaviour was brave and admirable, and that the group's respect for him had increased as a result. Therefore, we considered that the man was being presented in a more positive light for having done something which might be considered dangerous.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ads were likely to condone or encourage a dangerous practice.
Ads (a) and (b) breached BCAP Code rule 4.4 4.4 Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety. (Harm and offence).
Ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Hostelworld.com Ltd to ensure that future ads did not condone or encourage dangerous practices.