A TV ad for the life insurance broker, Polly, was broadcast on Cartoon Network at around 8.00 am and 7.00 pm on 22 April 2021 during episodes of ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ and ‘ThunderCats Roar!’. The ad showed a mother playing with her two infant children. A voice-over stated, “The doctor brought me in and he said ‘You have got blood clots in your lungs, if you’d have left it a day or two longer, you wouldn’t be here anymore’. You’ve always got in the back of your mind when you’ve been through something like that, or you were so close to being taken away from your babies, what if this happens again? What can I put in place to protect my kids? And that is everything that being a parent is about is protecting your children, and that shouldn’t stop when you die. So mothers if you are watching this and you don’t have life insurance, go to polly.co.uk, get a free quote, and get it sorted now”.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast without a scheduling restriction.
IssueTwo complainants, who believed the ad’s discussion of a parent dying would distress children and was inappropriate to be shown during children’s programming, challenged whether the ad was inappropriately scheduled.
Turner Entertainment Networks International Ltd t/a Cartoon Network said Clearcast advice for the ad was followed and that they did not see a reason that would prevent the ad from being scheduled at the respective times on Cartoon Network. They believed the ad conveyed a positive message about life insurance. The ad showed the children happy in their loving, home environment and there were no distressing scenes that could cause harm or offence. They said the mother was shown to be healthy, responsible and caring about herself and her children. Although the mother mentioned her illness, Cartoon Network said it was not exaggerated and did not exploit the fears of other mothers. They believed it was a matter of fact statement about an illness that influenced her decision to consider life insurance. The decision to take up the offer was presented as a rational and sensible option to provide for the family.
Clearcast did not believe that the ad required an ex-kids restriction, which would have meant it should not have be shown in or around programmes made for, specifically targeted, or likely to be of particular appeal to children. They said the woman featured was not talking to the camera or in front of the children featured in the ad. Rather, it was a separate voice-over which outlined her previous concerns about her health condition and the fact that she believed that being a parent was about protecting your children and that that should not stop when you die.
Clearcast said they had since applied a flag to the ad to ask broadcasters to consider scheduling it away from programmes for under 10-year-olds and to alert them that the ad contained references to death or someone dying.
Candid Insurance Services Ltd t/a Polly said that the ad did not discuss a parent dying. They said the person in the ad provided a real-life example of being unwell. They said that everybody was unwell at times, and children were aware of that. Polly added the ad did not use or stoke fear.
Polly said that younger children were highly unlikely to understand the medical statement and that the person did not die nor use the term “die” or “death” when describing the event. They said older children were aware of what doctors are and that people get sick. Polly said life insurance protected families financially and that the ad overwhelmingly discussed protecting children.
The ad featured a mother who discussed her experience of a health condition, stating, “You have got blood clots in your lungs, if you’d have left it a day or two longer, you wouldn’t be here anymore.” The mother also referenced the importance of health insurance in case a parent wasn't around in future: “… you were so close to being taken away from your babies, what if this happens again? What can I put in place to protect my kids? And that is everything that being a parent is about is protecting your children, and that shouldn’t stop when you die.” The ASA considered that the ad had a solemn tone and a realistic setting, with references to an incident of a parent experiencing a life-threatening health crisis and to the possibility of a parent dying. The ad used language which we considered simple enough that the ad’s message would be understood by young children. One of the complainants explained that their child had been distressed about the death of her parent after viewing the ad. We considered the ad could be distressing to young children, but that it would be suitable for older children to see. The ad therefore needed to be sensitively scheduled.
The ad was cleared without a scheduling restriction that would have restricted it from being broadcast in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children. However, we understood that Clearcast had since flagged the ad as one which broadcasters should consider scheduling away from programmes for under 10-year-olds, which we considered was sufficient. The BCAP Code placed a general responsibility on broadcasters to ensure that they exercised responsible judgement on the scheduling of ads and that they operated internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers. The Code also stated that ads which were suitable for older children but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled.
The complainants raised concern about the ad’s scheduling at 8.00 am during ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ and 7.00 pm during ‘ThunderCats Roar!’. The BARB data showed that the audience was small enough that it was not possible to register the audience size and how many young children were watching the programmes. However, both were children’s programmes and we considered both would appeal to young children. We also considered the ad’s broadcast at 8.00 am in particular was at a time when young children might be watching TV by themselves. We considered those watching would expect ads to be scheduled with the children’s audience in mind and were unlikely to expect to see ads which could distress young children. For those reasons we considered the ad had been inappropriately scheduled.
The scheduling of the ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements that are suitable for older children but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled (see Section 32: Scheduling).
(Children) and 32.1 32.1 Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners. (Scheduling of television and radio advertisements).
We told Turner Entertainment Networks International Ltd t/a Cartoon Network to ensure that ads which were suitable for older children but could distress younger children were sensitively scheduled in future.