Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not Upheld.
Ad descriptionA poster for the cinema release of the film ‘Pet Sematary’ (2019) seen on the side of a bus, in April 2019, featured an image of children with animal masks and carrying various objects, including a spade, a crucifix and a wheelbarrow, walking through the woods with crucifixes in the background. Text beneath stated “SOMETIMES DEAD IS BETTER”.
1. Three complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible, because they believed it might encourage suicide; and2. one complainant challenged whether the ad would cause unjustifiable distress to people who were grieving the loss of loved ones.
1. and 2. Paramount Pictures said that within the ad there were three separate blocks of text. The first and most prominent block of text read “Based on a novel by the author of IT … Pet Sematary”. The second block of text, which was less prominent due to a smaller font size, read “In cinemas April 4”. The final block of text was less prominent than the first two blocks and was highly likely to be read afterwards because of its positioning, smaller font size and being red instead of white. That block read “Sometimes dead is better”.
In view of the formatting, layout and textual content of the ad, Paramount believed that all those who saw the ad, including children and young people, would understand the text “Sometimes dead is better” to be a promotional strapline for a horror film. That strapline was a quote from the Pet Sematary novel by Stephen King and was also used as a strapline in the promotion of the original 1989 movie adaptation of the novel.
Paramount said that the imagery used in the ad increased the likelihood that all viewers would understand it to be a promotional strapline for the film. The main image had a creepy, Halloween-like feel and was suggestive of creepy and disturbing events that took place in the film, although it would not be particularly scary or disturbing for viewers of any age. The image was not naturalistic, the children were wearing costume masks and arranged in a formation reminiscent of walking across the stage in a theatrical performance. That imagery increased the strong impression that “Sometimes dead is better” referred to events which took place within a creepy, fictional, horror story.
When Paramount created a horror movie ad for an untargeted medium, such as a bus side, they aimed to create an impression of the events of the movie without causing distress to any viewer, of any age, and without revealing too much of the movie’s plot and content. They firmly believed that the right balance had been struck.
In context of the ad, Paramount did not believe the inclusion of the strapline “Sometimes dead is better” could serve to encourage any viewer of any age, to commit suicide. Nor did they believe it would cause distress to viewers of any age, including individuals who were recently bereaved. They believed that, were it to cause distress, the level of distress caused would be minimal and would be justified by the aim of the ad to advertise, in a responsible manner, a movie that would appeal to a substantial proportion of the British public.
1 & 2 Not upheld
The ASA considered that it was clear from the placement, prominence and context of the text “Sometimes dead is better” that it was a strapline for a horror movie. While we acknowledged that particular care must be taken to prepare ads with a sense of responsibility and ensure that they in no way encouraged or condoned suicide, the ad did not directly reference suicide, nor did it go into any further or specific detail about death or dying.
We noted that the ad included an image of crucifixes, a misty woodland and children in animal masks. We considered that although the ad featured children and referenced death, it did not go so far as to encourage suicide, amongst young people in particular or otherwise. We considered that while the text “Sometimes dead is better” might be distasteful, it was in keeping with the content of the film and that it was not unusual for death to be referenced in relation to a horror film.
We considered that although the references to death might be upsetting to those who were recently bereaved, we did not consider it excessive in the context of an ad for a horror film. For those reasons, while we acknowledged that the ad may be seen as distasteful, we considered that it did not encourage suicide nor did it cause unjustifiable or excessive distress. We therefore concluded that the ad was not irresponsible and did not breach the Code.
On those points, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.