A poster promoting the DVD release of a horror film was seen in various locations in London. It featured a close-up image of a head with crudely stitched wounds in the place of facial features, forming a bleeding "smiley face". Text stated "SMILEY - OVER 30 MILLION TRAILER VIEWS - OUT ON DVD, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 14TH OCTOBER".
Eight complainants challenged whether the ad was likely to cause fear or distress, and was therefore inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium.
Signature Entertainment Ltd said they were an independent film distribution company and the poster campaign for "Smiley" was only the second they had run. They stressed that they had not intended to cause any offence with their advertising and said they would be careful in future to avoid similar issues.
Build Hollywood Ltd, the distributor and site owner for the poster sites, stated that they normally vetted posters to ensure their acceptability, but that on this occasion that had not happened because of staffing issues. In relation to the locations of the poster sites, they confirmed that Signature Entertainment had not requested that they specifically target schools or businesses which might attract children to the area, and said although it was unfortunate that some of the posters might have been seen by children that had not been intentional.
The ASA noted that the ad had appeared on untargeted outdoor poster sites. Some complainants had said they themselves had found the image very disturbing, whilst others reported their children becoming very distressed and, in some cases, changing the routes they walked to avoid the poster site.
We considered that the image of a man with his facial features sewn into the shape of a bleeding "smiley face" was a very powerful one which carried violent and threatening undertones, and that unless carefully targeted to a particular audience it was likely to elicit a strong negative reaction in those who saw it. Because it had been displayed in an untargeted medium, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause undue fear or distress, and had therefore breached the Code.
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 an untargeted medium. We told Signature Entertainment Ltd to ensure that their marketing was responsibly targeted and did not cause fear or distress to its audience.