Summary of Council Decision.
Two issues were investigated and were ‘Upheld’.
Three TV ads for the film Paranormal Activity 3 broadcast in October 2011. The ads, each ten seconds in length, featured quickly changing scenes shot in the style of video-camera footage.
a. The first ad featured a young girl sitting in a garden, while a man said "Kirsty has been talking to this imaginary friend". This was followed by a young girl whispering in the corner of a darkened room, then standing in a darkened doorway watching a woman sleeping. A woman said "Oh My God!" and a girl asked "Did you hear that?"; furniture was shown moving around violently, before a girl was seen screaming. On-screen text that stated "DISCOVER HOW THE ACTIVITY BEGAN" was interspersed throughout the brief scenes.
b. The second ad featured a man who said "There was something in the house", which was followed by shots of darkened interiors of a home. A woman said "We're getting out of here" before she was invisibly pulled backwards and, screaming, violently thrown onto a bed. On-screen text that stated "DISCOVER HOW THE ACTIVITY BEGAN" was interspersed throughout the brief scenes.
c. The third ad showed two young girls standing in front of a mirror with a video camera set up behind them. One of the girls said "Remember the rules?" and turned off the light. The red recording light of the video-camera was shown on screen, while the girls chanted "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary". One of the girls shone a torch under her chin and screamed. The other girl screamed as well and said "Katie, it's not funny!" before they left the room. The light from the hall revealed a silhouette of a figure standing in the room.
All three ads were cleared by Clearcast with a post 7.30 pm restriction.
1. Twenty-nine viewers challenged whether the ads were likely to cause distress to children and adults. Nine reported that their children, aged between 10 and 16 years, had been upset by the ads, and 11 reported personal distress.
2. Fifteeen of the complainants challenged whether the ads were suitable for broadcast before 9 pm.
1. & 2. Paramount Pictures confirmed that the ads were cleared for broadcast by Clearcast and were no longer being broadcast.
Clearcast said all three ads were approved with a post 7.30 pm timing restriction, which prevented the ad from being shown in and around children's programmes. They said, when they viewed the ads, they recognised the potential to cause distress to some viewers and in particular children, but nonetheless believed the short duration of the ads alleviated the potential for harm or offence, because they did not maintain a level of sustained threat and tension for a period long enough to leave a lasting impression on the average consumer.
Clearcast believed the ads would be seen by an audience old enough to recognise them as trailers for a thriller/horror film set in fantasy. They believed that, notwithstanding the woman who was thrown backwards, the absence of interpersonal violence, blood or monstrous creatures allowed the vast majority of viewers to engage with and be excited by the tone of the ads without exploiting their fears or superstitions.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA considered that, although the ads were brief, the general tone was one of fear and threat, with young children screaming in both ads (a) and (c) and a screaming woman being thrown violently backwards in ad (b). We noted the ads appeared to have been shot on a home video camera and took place in a recognisable domestic setting, with ordinary people, which added to the sense of threat.
We noted the ages of those children reportedly upset by the ads ranged from 10 to 16 years. Although we acknowledged that the restriction preventing the ads from being shown before 7.30 pm had kept the material away from younger children, we considered that the overall atmosphere of fear and menace portrayed was nonetheless likely to be upsetting to some older children watching television after that time. We considered that a post 7.30 pm restriction was not sufficient and a post 9pm restriction ought to have been applied in order to minimise the possibility of children seeing the ads.
We also noted some adult viewers were unsettled or disturbed by the ads. However, although we sympathised with their reaction, we nonetheless considered that the ads did not go beyond what viewers would normally expect from ads promoting a 15-certificate horror film.
We considered that a post- 9 pm restriction should have been applied in order to reduce the likelihood of children seeing the ads and concluded that they were unsuitable for broadcast before that time.
The ads breached BCAP Code rules 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. (Harm and offence) and 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), but did not breach rule 4.10 4.10 Advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason. Advertisements must not exploit the audience's fears or superstitions (Harm and offence).
The ads must not be broadcast again before 9pm.