A TV ad, for the film Dark Shadows , showed a male vampire character rising from a coffin. He asked What is the year? and another character replied 1972 . The vampire was then shown asking a girl What is your age? She replied 15. The vampire said 15 and no husband, we must put those birthing hips to good use at once.
A complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive and irresponsible, because it contained sexual references about an underage girl.
Warner Bros said the ad contained a series of brief scenes from the film which were clearly set in a fantasy and surreal world. They highlighted that the main character in the film, who also featured in the ad, was a fantasy vampire from the 1700s who had been released from his tomb in 1972 and was trying to understand and adapt to modern society. As the vampire had been born and lived in the 1700s, Warner Bros believed that most viewers would not perceive his comments to be reflective of the values of modern society.
Clearcast said the vampire’s remarks should not be taken at face value, but understood in the context of the ad as a whole. They said the ad echoed the comedic nature of the film and they highlighted several comic cues including Depp’s camp delivery, the girl’s nonchalant reaction and the shot of the girl’s mother rolling her eyes in comic contempt. They felt these cues, taken together, stressed the comedic and playful nature of the film and ensured that most viewers would not interpret the statement as a serious sexual proposition.
ASA Assessment: Complaint not upheld
The ASA considered that in the context of the ad most viewers would understand that the vampire was a fantasy character, who having been born and lived a long time in the past would have very different values to his contemporaries in the 1970s. We considered that the jovial tone of the ad, the playful music, and Johnny Depp’s reputation for playing unusual and quirky characters, meant that most viewers would not see the vampire as threatening or his proposition as serious. We noted that the girl and her mother did not appear scared by the vampire’s remarks but that their reactions emphasised how outmoded his beliefs were.
Although we considered that younger children might not understand the narrative of the ad or grasp the playful tone, we noted that it had been given an ex-kids restriction by Clearcast and that Warner Bros had taken a responsible approach to ensure younger children were not targeted by the ad. We considered that most viewers would not believe that the girl had been portrayed or represented in a sexual way, and therefore we concluded that the ad was not offensive or irresponsible.
We investigated the ad under BCAP code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising), 4.2 (Harm and offence) and 5.5 (Children) but did not find it in breach.