A poster promoting a Halloween event, seen in various locations around Norfolk in September and October 2015, stated, “PRIMEVIL. SCREAMING WON’T HELP! ... 5 FRIGHTENING ATTRACTIONS! … 13 NIGHTS OF TERROR!”, and included an image of a clown with a painted white face. The clown's eyes were bright red with dark circles around which contained stitches. Its forehead also contained a number of stitches, and blood dripped from various parts of its face, including its mouth, which was black and appeared to have been cut open. It also wore a blood-stained ruff.
Twenty-three complainants, many of whom considered the image too distressing for children, challenged whether the ad was likely to cause fear or distress, and was therefore inappropriate for outdoor display in an untargeted medium.
Norfolk Dinosaur Park Ltd said they had received three complaints referring to a poster located at a Post Office, and had arranged for the poster to be removed within three days of the complaints having been received. They said at the same time, they had reviewed where the posters were located throughout Norwich. Where they were close to schools or prime positions where young children may frequent, the posters were also removed. As a result, a total of 12 posters were removed out of the 34 initially placed.
They said they had distributed leaflets containing the identical image, and had also used similar images in the past, and were not aware of any complaints arising from them. They believed they had acted properly to the concerns of the complaints they received and that the images used were consistent with images used in the past by themselves and others, such as those for cinema releases.
OfftheWall Outdoor said they hadn't received any complaints directly from the general public, but had been contacted by the owner of a shop at which one of the posters was placed to say that they had received a complaint. The poster was removed and replaced. They said another version of the poster, without the clown's face, had been printed and was used to replace those posters which were close to schools or any areas from where complaints had originated.
The ASA noted that the ad had appeared on untargeted outdoor poster sites, and that a number of the complainants had reported their children becoming very distressed on seeing the image. We acknowledged that Norfolk Dinosaur Park Ltd had removed a number of the posters following complaints having been received directly by them.
We noted that the clown was leaning towards the camera and grinning with a menacing expression, that its eyes glowed red and blood dripped down its face, and that its eyes and forehead were stitched. We considered that the overall presentation of the image was likely to distress young children, particularly but not only in combination with the text “PRIMEVIL. SCREAMING WON’T HELP!” – which was presented as though it was written in blood – and that it was unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium where it was likely to be seen by them.
We considered the ad was likely to cause fear or distress without justifiable reason when displayed in an untargeted medium, and concluded that it had been irresponsibly targeted.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) 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 ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Norfolk Dinosaur Park Ltd to ensure that their marketing was responsibly targeted and did not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.