Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Upheld; the other was informally resolved.
Two video on demand (VOD) ads for the horror film Evil Dead Rise, seen in April 2023:
a. The first ad featured two children saying “Mom?” and watching a bathtub with accompanying suspenseful music. A pair of hands suddenly grabbed the bath rim, and a woman with reddened eyes and a dirt-smeared face slowly emerged, saying “Mommy’s with the maggots now”. The ad also featured shots of a woman crawling, convulsing, and arching her back with the sound of crunching bones, saying “Don’t let it take my babies”, and shots of her eyes rolling back and flickering. In the final scene a young girl gingerly approached a locked door on a latch. A woman behind it suddenly reached through the gap and grabbed the child by the throat, screaming.
b. The second ad showed the same woman grabbing the child by the throat, and also crawling out over the edge of a bathtub onto the floor. It featured shots of characters with blood on their face, a person being grabbed and dragged backwards while screaming, and another person holding a chainsaw, as well as images of limbs with blood on them. Another scene showed a person standing in the shadows pointing at four cowering children and saying “eeny, meany, miny, mo”.
The ASA received eight complaints.
The complainants challenged whether the ads were unduly distressing.
StudioCanal Ltd said both ads were submitted to Clearcast for clearance and that a post-9 pm timing restriction to the VOD ads had been applied, which related to risk of harm. They said a further restriction, regarding content that might cause physical mental or moral harm to children and/or action that, if emulated, could cause danger or harm to children, was also applied. It required the ads were not placed in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16 years of age.
StudioCanal Ltd said they had contacted the service providers of the platforms on which the ads appeared, to ensure they were aware of the Clearcast restrictions. They said that although each platform used different means, measures were taken by each to preclude the advertisements from being targeted towards viewers under the age of 18.
Channel 4 said the ads were approved by Clearcast as compliant to the Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code), which was the clearance standard Channel 4 applied to ads served on their streaming service. They said Clearcast’s restrictions were applied in Channel 4’s internal systems, including the post-9 pm restriction and excluding placement within or adjacent to programmes targeted at or likely to appeal to children under 16. They said those restrictions had prevented the ads from being served to persons below the age of 16, as well as helping to keep them from viewers who could find the content overly distressing.
Channel 5 said the ad was approved by Clearcast for their online service, My5 and Sky Media (their third-party sales house) had ensured that Clearcast’s post-9 pm restriction was in place, and that the ads were not served around programmes aimed at children.
Sky said the ads had appeared on Sky Glass in April and had been given a post-9 pm restriction by Clearcast, who they relied on to rate advertising shown across their platforms.
ITV said that the restrictions imposed by Clearcast including the post-9 pm timing had been applied to the ads. They had also taken steps to ensure that the ad was not placed during any family viewing after 9 pm.
The ads were comprised of material from the 18-rated horror film Evil Dead Rise, and the scenes that featured had supernatural themes and were set in dark, eerie surroundings. There were also tense sound effects throughout. The ads contained several suspenseful sequences which built into moments of high drama and alarm, including a scene in ad (a) in which two children apprehensively watched a bathtub, when hands suddenly grabbed the bath rim and a woman with a deathly appearance and voice emerged. In another scene in ads (a) and (b) a young girl gingerly approached a door on a latch and said “Mom?”, and a woman who was behind the door grabbed her by the throat through the gap and screamed manically. The woman was also shown crawling across the floor and convulsing with cracking bone sound effects, and close up shots showed her eyes flickering and rolling back. Additionally, the ads featured various shots of characters, including children, who were frightened, screaming or crying, and some shots in ad (b) showed their faces and limbs covered in blood.
We considered that the ads were unsuitable for children because they contained content which was likely to cause them fear and distress, particularly young children. We understood the ads had been cleared by Clearcast with a post-9 pm timing restriction, and restrictions around programming principally directed to, or with appeal to, children under 16 had also been applied. We considered those restrictions were sufficient to ensure that the ads’ exposure to children was limited.
We also considered whether the ads were likely to cause undue distress to adults who viewed them. Several complainants believed they were too distressing and had found them frightening and shocking, particularly because they had appeared during programming on video on demand (VOD) services which did not contain similar content or themes to the horror film Evil Dead Rise.
The ads had appeared on VOD services after 9 pm when the audience was predominantly adult. However, we considered that their strong horror content was not suitable for general viewing. They required very careful targeting during programming in which the content may be more anticipated, such as material that contained similar themes to the advertised horror film.
Because the ads contained images and a level of jeopardy that was not suitable for general audiences, even after 9 pm, we concluded that the level of restriction applied had not been appropriate and the ads were, therefore, likely to cause unjustifiable fear and distress to some viewers.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.2 (Harm and offence).
The ads, in their current form, must not be scheduled to appear on VOD services again within programming for general viewing at any time. We told StudioCanal Ltd that more care must be taken in future to ensure similar ads do not cause unjustifiable fear and distress to viewers.