A TV ad for Amazon Prime promoting a horror drama series called Fear the Walking Dead, broadcast on Channel Four on Sunday 10 April during the film Rango at 5.35pm and 6.40pm.
The ad included a voice-over taken from the drama, which stated, Good morning Los Angeles. Hope you got your flu shot. Reports that a strange virus is going around. If you’re not feeling well go home and take care of yourself.
The ad showed scenes taken from the drama series, which included posters of a missing woman, a shadowed figure, an unwell man falling down, people running in distress, police and ambulance sirens, people in bio-hazard suits and a frightened woman in a plantation field holding onto a fence. During these scenes, one of the female characters from the drama stated, What the hell is happening?
The ad also featured on-screen text that stated EVERY HORROR … HAS A BEGINNING FEAR THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1 FEAR BEGINS HERE … . Towards the end of the ad was a male voice-over that stated, Fear the walking dead season one. Watch and download with Amazon Prime and take the fear with you.
Three complainants, one of whom reported that their child was distressed by the ad, objected that it had been inappropriately scheduled during a children’s film.
ASA Assessment Complaint Upheld
The ASA understood that the ad complained about was for a horror drama series based on a zombie apocalypse. It featured a voice-over that referred repeatedly to the title of the programme and scenes of social disorder and people in distress. The sound effects and music became louder and more intense throughout the ad.
We considered that the overall content of the ad created a build-up of suspense that could be distressing to younger children, but that would not be unsuitable for older children to see. The ad therefore needed to be sensitively scheduled, as required by the BCAP Code.
The ad had been cleared by Clearcast with no timing restriction that prevented it from being shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children. They had, however, applied a code that advised broadcasters that they might want to view the ad to determine its acceptability for transmission in programmes appealing to children under 9 years of age. We noted that Channel 4 stated that their internal system should have automatically flagged up the presentation code and that a member of staff would then have manually applied the appropriate timing restriction. We acknowledged that Channel 4 was now taking steps to improve how they applied timing restrictions and such advice in their future scheduling of ads.
However, broadcasters had a general responsibility to ensure that they exercised responsible judgement on the scheduling of ads. Also they should operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers.
We noted that the ad was shown during an animated film that would have strong appeal to young children. Furthermore, it was scheduled on a Sunday afternoon, which we considered was likely to be seen as family viewing time. Viewers would have expected ads to be scheduled with the family audience in mind and were unlikely to expect to see ads that would be frightening to younger children. The BARB data showed that children made up 218,000 of the 927,000 viewers and that the majority (150,000) were between 4 and 9 years of age. As outlined above, we considered that the ad could be distressing to younger children and concluded that it had been inappropriately scheduled.
We told Channel Four Television Corporation to ensure that ads which were suitable for older children, but could distress younger children, were sensitively scheduled in future