Summary of Council decision:

Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.

Ad description

A cinema ad for the women’s welfare and domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, seen on 7 September 2018. The ad began with a man and a woman sat at a kitchen table. The woman asked, “Do you think you’re going to be working late again?” The man slowly turned his head then quickly lurched toward the woman, who coiled away. The ad then cut to black, before returning to show the woman running up the stairs. The man shouted, “You come back here!” before the woman locked herself in an upstairs bedroom. The man attempted to open the door and said, “Open the door you…” before the ad cut out. The ad then showed the man stood up against the door before he said, “If you don’t let me in right now I’m ...” The ad cut out before showing the man throwing open the door as the woman stepped away from him. Another cut led to a shot of him standing up in the room, looking down, both characters breathing heavily. The man lunged forward with a kicking motion before another cut. The man was then seen stood outside smoking an e-cigarette before he went back in the house and up the stairs. The camera changed to a view of the mirror in the bedroom, from which the woman could be seen breathing heavily and clutching her stomach as if in pain. The man re-entered the room with a clenched fist as the woman looked up, her breathing becoming quicker as he did so. The ad cut back again to the mirror to show the woman’s hand clutched to the side of a bed frame before it dropped away. The camera changed direction to the man walking out of the room. As the man walked out of the room on the other side of the hallway from the room, the camera revealed a child sat alone on another bed in view of what had taken place. Text on screen stated, “To watch this unedited you must be over 18 or one of over 160,000 children living with domestic violence”. Further text stated, “Donate now. Women’s Aid - until women & children are safe”.


1. Eleven complainants challenged whether the ad caused excessive distress without justifiable reason and whether that distress was excessive.

2. Some complainants challenged whether the ad, which had been scheduled to only appear during films rated 15 and above, had been irresponsibly targeted.


1 & 2. Women’s Aid Federation of England t/a Women’s Aid said they wanted the ad to have sufficient impact in order to encourage donations or reports of abuse. They said the Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) decided the ad should only be shown before certificate 15 films.

The CAA acknowledged that while some viewers would find the ad disturbing, the purpose of the ad justified a degree of distress. They believed that such fear and distress would not be seen as generally excessive. They said there was no sight of actual violence within the commercial, although violence was very strongly inferred. They said the ad sought to communicate the nature of domestic violence in a realistic way but without indulging in excessive violent detail; to point out that young children would witness such scenes in their entirety; and appeal for funding to help make women and children safe from such scenarios.

The CAA said, historically, there had been a number of cinema ads with a social message that had the potential to upset viewers. They said some of those ads had warned against the danger of drink-driving, texting while driving, fire hazards around the home, falling in to cold sea or river water, while other ads had highlighted cancer appeals and alert recognition of strokes or heart attacks to encourage positive intervention. They said that to some degree all those ads used drama and re-enactment to highlight their messages and were restricted to screenings of films with higher age ratings relative to their graphic intensity. They said that nevertheless there would be a small proportion of viewers who did not wish to see any such material before a film.

The CAA said that, historically, the most distressed complainants tended to be those who had experienced the events portrayed in those ads. They believed that to avoid causing that kind of distress, the CAA would have to refuse all such ads from cinema screenings preventing informative, communication of matters of social concern, including NHS information ads and charity appeals which would be to the detriment of many socially desirable campaigns.


1. & 2. Not upheld

The CAP Code required that marketing communications must not cause distress without justifiable reason and that if it could be justified the distress should not be excessive.

We noted that the ad was emotive and concerned a subject matter some viewers might find upsetting, particularly those who had suffered or witnessed domestic abuse themselves. The ad was set in an ordinary domestic setting with a scenario that quickly escalated both its story and its depiction of brutality. We considered that although there was no profanity or explicit depictions of domestic violence, the effect of showing scenes that cut as acts of violence were beginning and then scenes which showed the immediate aftermath, so heavily implied the violence that the impact on some viewers was likely to be similar to the complete act being shown. We considered that the ordinary domestic setting, including the appearance and behaviours of the characters, created a sense of realism that was likely to have particular emotional impact on viewers.

Nonetheless, while the ad dealt with upsetting themes there was no explicit depiction of violence and it would be clear to viewers from the outset that the ad’s message was to condemn the implied violence. We considered the potential distress that would have been caused by the ad proportionate given the seriousness of the subject matter.

We understood that the ad had been restricted to only appear before films rated 15 or higher, meaning that those under the age of 15, including young children who had themselves witnessed domestic violence, were unlikely to see the ad.

While we acknowledged that some viewers would find the content distressing, we concluded that this was justified given the message of the ad, and that the ad was unlikely to cause excessive distress. We concluded that the restriction for the ad to be only shown before 15 certificate or higher films was appropriate, and the ad had not been irresponsibly scheduled.

We investigated the ad 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.  (Social responsibility) 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 it in breach.


No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

1.3     4.2    

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