Ad description

An ad on the side of buses and a poster for the film Poltergeist:

(a) The bus ad featured an image of the head of a scruffy, smiling clown doll which stated "THEY KNOW WHAT SCARES YOU. POLTERGEIST".

(b) The poster ad featured the same clown doll and text in a darker format.


Seventy two complainants, many of whom considered the ads were distressing for themselves, their children or had colrophobia (fear of clowns), challenged whether the ads were suitable for outdoor display in an untargeted medium.


Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd acknowledged that the ad had caused upset amongst some consumers. They said that prior to publication, they had sought and gained approval by their media owner to display the ad.

Exterion Media Ltd said after their initial consideration of the ad they escalated the matter up to their Copy Approval team who considered it was suitable for display and was unlikely to cause widespread offence.


Not upheld

The ASA acknowledged that some children and adults considered that the ad was distressing especially in an untargeted, outdoor medium and that consumers with colrophobia could find the ad distressing. We noted that the ad had a dark format and the image of the clown starred out from the poster and had a scruffy appearance. However, we considered the image was not menacing and noted the ad included no other images that were likely to contribute to such an impression. The ad also included the text "THEY KNOW WHAT SCARES YOU. POLTERGEIST" but we considered in the context of ads for a horror movie it was not overtly threatening or suggestive of danger, rather it was likely to be understood by consumers as being a typical reflection of a movie of that format.

Although we acknowledged that some distress had been caused, because we did not consider that the overall impression of the ads was such that they were likely to cause excessive fear or distress, particularly in the context of an ad for a horror film, we concluded that they were not irresponsibly targeted in outdoor media.

We investigated the ads under 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), but did not find them in breach.


No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

1.3     4.2    

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