A TV ad, for the cinema release of the film ‘The Conjuring 2’, broadcast in June 2016, featured brief scenes from the film, which included a woman being thrown backwards across a room, a child falling out of a window and being caught by an adult, a window exploding whilst a child stood in front of it and a child and adult screaming. Dialogue included a child telling a woman “It wants to hurt you” and the same woman telling a man “If you keep doing this you’re going to die”. Menacing music built to a crescendo throughout the ad.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a post 7.30 pm restriction.
Fourteen viewers challenged whether the ad was inappropriately scheduled and unsuitable to be shown before 9 pm. Nine of the complainants said their children, aged between 4 and 12 years of age, were frightened by the ad.
Warner Bros Entertainment UK Ltd said the ad was extensively and carefully edited to ensure that it was appropriate for broadcast within TV programming aimed at the film's target audience of 15 years and over, which was in keeping with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) classification for the film. The ad was given a post 7.30 pm restriction by Clearcast and differed in content from the other ads for the film, which were broadcast after 9 pm. They said that in addition to the Clearcast restriction, they had instructed their media agency to request broadcasters transmit the ad around programming that was aimed at individuals aged 15 and upwards in order to ensure that the ad was seen by its target audience.
Warner Bros said the ad reflected the themes of the film, relying on suggestion and suspense throughout. The images were mildly disturbing and unsettling, for example the spinning crucifixes on the walls and a crack appearing in the ceiling, rather than anything overtly scary, distressing or graphic scenes that featured threat, violence or horror. The ad was edited to avoid attracting a child’s attention by using dull and muted colours. They said the brief scene of the talking child sitting on a swing was slow moving, with calm and serious tones of voice rather than being colourful, energetic or scary, which might have attracted a child’s attention. The facial expressions and tones of voice used in the opening of the ad were calm, serious and mildly confused and did not contain any scary or graphic images, relying instead on suggestion. They said the first sound of distress was a brief child’s scream 14 seconds in to the ad. No one appeared to be looking or sounding frightened until 19 seconds in to the ad when a woman was seen and heard to be shouting “leave us alone”, but she was not shown to be in danger or being harmed.
Warner Bros believed that the more dramatic scenes in the ad were brief, rapidly changing and contained no scenes of violence towards any person nor was there any obvious or specific threat of physical harm. They said the ad included large on-screen press review text stating “RELENTLESSLY TERRIFYING”, “DELIGHTFULLY CREEPY” and “TERRIFICALLY SCARY” at 8, 10 and 12 seconds in to the ad, which, together with the menacing music and mildly upsetting images, gave a clear and effective warning to viewers, including those with children watching at the time, about both the nature of the film and the likely tone of the content of the ad that followed. The scenes were brief and changed quickly. They did not believe that the ad was capable of maintaining a level of sustained tension for long enough to leave a lasting impression on the average viewer watching after 7.30 pm. They believed that the majority of children watching TV at that time would not be frightened or distressed by its content and the ad did not go beyond what viewers would normally expect from an ad prompting a 15-certificate horror film broadcast after 7.30 pm.
Clearcast said the ad did not show any scenes of gore, strong violence or frightening imagery. They acknowledged that the ad was creepy in tone and that there were some mild scenes of psychological horror, but did not believe that they were enough to warrant a post 9 pm restriction. They believed there was nothing frightening in the opening images of the ad although the voice-over and music gave it an eerie tone overall. The door slamming and screaming was mild terror and although the scenes of the spinning crucifixes and the prayer gave the impression of something demonic, there was no graphic imagery.
Clearcast said the brief scenes of the woman being thrown across the room and the person dangling outside a window were mild scenes of psychological horror, but did not include any blood or strong violence. They acknowledged that the screamed “leave us alone” with scared looking faces contributed to the overall tension of the ad, but nothing graphic was shown and had only been implied. A post 7.30 pm restriction, therefore, was considered appropriate. Clearcast believed a post 7.30 pm restriction was appropriate for the ad, with young children less likely to be watching at that time of night.
The ASA understood that some adult viewers were unsettled or disturbed by the ad, but although we sympathised with their reaction, we considered that the ads did not go beyond what viewers would normally expect from ads promoting a 15-certificate horror film. However, nine of the complainants told us that their children, the majority aged between nine and 12 years, but some a little younger, had been upset by the ad.
We understood the aim was to target the ad at the film’s intended audience of 15 and over. However, while the post 7.30 pm restriction was likely to help avoid younger children from seeing the ad, the restriction was less likely to prevent older children from seeing the ad. We also understood that care had been taken to avoid making the ad attractive to children by using dull colouring and sombre speaking tones. We considered, however, that the inclusion of a child on a garden swing at the beginning of the ad was nonetheless highly likely to gain a child’s initial attention. We also considered that the on-screen press review text, while warning adult viewers as to the nature of the film and likely content of the ad, was unlikely to stop a child from continuing to watch the rest of the ad.
We acknowledged that the ad did not include any scenes of strong violence, blood, or actual physical threat or harm. However, the menacing music and overall dark and rapidly changing scenes, which became more intense as the ad progressed, created an atmosphere of tension and fear. Scenes, such as the woman being thrown across the room, the spinning crucifixes, the screamed “Someone help me please” and “Leave us alone”, tear stained and fearful faces, the shattering window and the person caught falling from a window, all heightened the tone of menace and alarm. In addition, the child was clearly shown to be fearful, a character that watching children were likely to associate with.
We considered that the overall atmosphere of the ad was one of fear, tension and threat, and was likely to be disturbing and upsetting to some children watching television after 7.30 pm. The post 7.30 pm restriction was therefore not sufficient. We considered that a post 9 pm restriction ought to have been applied in order to further minimise the possibility of children seeing the ad and therefore concluded that the ad was unsuitable for broadcast before that time.
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 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form before 9 pm.