A TV ad for the cinema release of the film The Snowman (2017) was broadcasted in September and October 2017. The ad showed a variety of scenes from the film punctuated with black screens and on-screen text. Included were scenes of a man finding a dismembered body on a snowy mountainside, a woman getting her leg caught in a bear trap, an image of a severed head with voice-over stating, “A head is missing” and various shots of shooting and explosions.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a post 7.30 pm scheduling restriction.
Five complainants, who had seen the ad before 9 pm and believed the ad was inappropriate for children to see, challenged whether the ad was scheduled responsibly.
Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd t/a Universal said they requested the campaign agency to target the ad at an audience (ABC1) of adults aged 25–54 years. They also said due to the release timing of the film, the campaign had run in full and they had no plans to make use of the ad in future.
Clearcast said they had approved the ad with the post-7:30 pm scheduling restriction, meaning that it should only air after 7:30 pm. They said it was clear the ad was a film trailer, as a black bar appeared throughout showing the film title and ‘IN CINEMAS OCTOBER 13’. They believed that helped viewers place the scenes in context. They said the shot of a dismembered body was very brief – under a second in duration – and the body itself was quite a distance away, taking up less than a tenth of the screen. Further, whilst there was a little blood on the snow, it was clinical; clothing was still on the body parts and, other than the blood, there was no gore. They said although the voice-over talked about finding a body, the image itself looked doll-like. They said the scene of the woman being caught in a trap was also very brief; there was no blood, so it was unclear if the trap had injured her or just tripped her up. They said she was clearly distressed which, in the context of the voice-over (which began with “Another woman vanished last night”), could be attributed to a pursuer, injury or other circumstance. They said there was then a very brief and dark image shot from above which showed a head on top of a large ball of snow, along with the voice-over “and the head is missing”. As with the earlier body scene, they believed it was neither gory nor lingering. They said from the visuals it would be hard to tell definitively that it was a severed head.
They said whilst there were further scenes featuring an explosion, one character throwing another and an eye opening, the three scenes already discussed seem likely to be the most contentious. So in their view the brief, distant and almost clinical nature of the shots lessened their impact. They said the voice-over made the tone and subject of the film clear, and there was tension in the action and the music. Nevertheless the trailer was not relentless – there was respite from the more dramatic scenes, and when there was something with the potential to cause upset in viewers, the shots were neither lingering nor gory. Therefore they considered a post 7:30 pm restriction was appropriate.
The ASA noted the ad contained a number of threatening scenes in which people were shown, or appeared, to be in distress, and bloody gory imagery of dismembered body parts and a severed head. While brief, the combination of the frightening images in succession created an overall sense of escalating fear and menace. We did not agree that there was respite from such imagery, and believed that the effect was to build rather than reduce suspense. We considered the content of the ad was frightening and gruesome to the extent that it was unsuitable for children and younger teenagers.
We therefore concluded that, to minimise the risk of children seeing it, the ad should have been given a 9 pm timing restriction.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 5.1 (Children), 32.1 (Scheduling of television and radio advertisements) and 32.3 (Under-16s).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form before 9 pm.