Two digital outdoor ads displayed on large screens in two stations in central London, for the film Alien: Covenant, seen in early May 2017:
a. The first ad began with a spacecraft approaching a planet followed by scenes on the planet. In one scene a man in a dark room shined a torch on an alien egg, the top of which began to slowly open. A close-up showed an alien-like mouth suddenly exploding from it, towards the camera. A woman in distress was then shown running down a corridor, being chase by an arachnid-like alien, followed by a close-up of her screaming. An arachnid-like alien was then shown running towards the camera. The final shot showed a woman hiding from an alien which was just on the other side of a door frame.
b. The second ad featured large on-screen text which stated in turn: “RUN”, “HIDE”, “SCREAM” and “PRAY”. The text appeared next to brief clips from the film, including the scene with the woman in distress running down a corridor being chased by an alien, the alien egg slowly opening, the close-up of the woman screaming, a woman looking panicked and shouting through the glass window in a closed door, the close-up of the alien-like mouth suddenly exploding towards the camera, and the final shot of a woman hiding from an alien which was just on the other side of a door frame.
Three complainants, one of whose children had seen the ads, challenged whether the ads were likely to cause fear or distress, and whether they were suitable to be shown in an untargeted medium.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd said that media owners had restrictions in places for each of their sites to ensure that ads were suitable for the audience passing through that specific public area. They relied on media owners to help inform them of what content was suitable for specific sites.
The screens on which the ads had been shown were owned by JCDecaux UK. Twentieth Century Fox said that JCDecaux had not flagged any issues with the ads.
Twentieth Century Fox said they had received a complaint directly about the ads as displayed on a different screen at Euston station, which had prompted them to amend the ads as shown on that screen. They said they would look to amend ads whenever asked to do so.
JCDecaux said they believed it was appropriate to run the ads, because they understood the scenes used formed part of TV ads for the film. They said, however, that they had made amendments to the ads after they received two complaints from Network Rail.
The ASA understood the film was rated as a 15 by the BBFC and considered that the advertiser should therefore have taken particular care to ensure that scenes included in the ads would be suitable to be shown in a public space where children were likely to be present.
The ads contained scenes of characters who were clearly in distress, as well as images of an alien mouth suddenly exploding from an egg out towards the viewer, and a woman being chased by an alien. We considered those scenes were likely to frighten and cause distress to some children and that the ads were likely to catch their attention, particularly as they were shown on large screens. We concluded the ads were not suitable to be shown in an untargeted public medium and therefore breached the Code.
Ads (a) and (b) 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 ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd to target their ads more carefully in future to avoid the risk of causing undue fear and distress to children.