Horror advert depicts how censorship works with ever new threats leaping from the dark…Advert censor bans horror advert from being served to adults whilst they are watching children’s videos

Posted: 6 February, 2015 in ASA Advert Censor
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giffgaff horror advert video An ad for giffgaff, played on YouTube, opened with sounds of a woman screaming for help. She was running along a road at night being pursued by a man who appeared to be holding a chainsaw. As the ad developed, a stream of screaming characters was introduced, each being pursued by the last. They included the initial woman and man, a clown, a zombie, a pumpkin head, a doll holding a blow torch, a ghost and a man with an upside down head. The collective of characters was then seen as a mock choir, singing outside a house. On-screen text stated When you’re scared, you’re not the boss. At giffgaff we’re all the boss. giffgaff the mobile network run by you The ASA received two complaints:

  1. one complainant, whose child had seen the ad before a programme for young viewers, challenged whether it was appropriate for children; and
  2. the second complainant, who had seen the ad on a number of occasions while watching music videos and who pointed out that it was not possible to skip until three seconds had played, challenged whether the ad was unduly distressing.

ASA Assessment

1. Upheld

The opening scene of the ad was tense with a dark background and eerie sound effects before the introduction of the female character, who appeared to be in terror, screaming, Someone please help me . The ensemble of creatures who followed her were also introduced as menacing and, although it was revealed at the close of the ad that the choir was unthreatening, young viewers were unlikely to understand the plot’s twist or recognise that the monsters were not as they appeared. We considered that the ad was unsuitable for young children to view.

giffgaff had explained that the ad was made available only to YouTube subscribers who were signed into their account, such that their age was verifiable. We also understood from the background information provided that the account holder was served the ad because they had searched for similar content previously. We understood, however, that the ad was played before a programme of interest to very young viewers. While the account holder was over 18, the content of the programme in which the ad was seen was unlikely to be of interest to them and any over 18s watching were likely to be doing so in order to accompany young children. Although we acknowledged that the ad had been targeted in line with the profile of the account holder, including their search history, and that giffgaff had no control over the age of people accessing the account of an over 18-year-old, in view of the content of the programme material being watched at the time, it was reasonable for consumers to expect that only advertising material that was suitable for a young audience would be shown.

While we recognised giffgaff’s efforts to target the ad to over 18s, and understood that they had used YouTube’s targeting filters to their full extent, we considered that, ultimately, it had not been targeted appropriately and was therefore in breach of the CAP Code.

2. Not upheld

We understood that the ad appeared over Halloween and considered that adult viewers were likely to recognise the ad’s timed theme. Although we acknowledged that the complainant had found the ad difficult to watch, with particular reference to the woman’s screams, we considered that it was unlikely to cause fear or distress to adults. No graphic imagery was seen in the opening sequence and a skip function was included to enable those who preferred not to see the ad to bypass it. Those who continued to watch would experience the unfolding of the plot and any menace implied by the introduction was quickly dispelled.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code rule 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.

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