Scary web ad cleared by watchdog

A scary banner advert for a horror film did not breach advertising rules, the Advertising Standards Authority has said. The ad, which appeared on Yahoo!, was the subject of five complaints that were not upheld.

The ad for the movie Pulse appeared on the sign-out page for Yahoo! email and was composed of three images which flickered in quick succession. The images were a pair of eyes, a screaming, distorted face and a head and shoulder shot of a man with a noose around his neck.

Five complaints were made to advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and Yahoo! said that between 10 and 15 of its users complained to it, out of a total of 2.9 million targeted customers.

Complainants said that the ad was offensive, distressing and should not be put somewhere where it could be seen by children.

Yahoo! told the ASA, which investigated the complaints, that the email was only designed to be seen by email customers in the targeted age group of 16 to 25 years old. The only way that children could have seen it, the company argued, was if they had logged into an adult's email account.

The ASA did not uphold the complaints, mainly because the ad was targeted in such a way that it should not have been seen by children. "We noted the ad comprised three images flickering in quick succession and that the hanged man appeared on screen only for a fraction of a second each time," said the ASA ruling.

"We considered that, although the images were distasteful and startling, they reflected the nature of the advertised film. We concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence, undue fear or distress and was not irresponsible or harmful to children," it said.

The ASA investigated the ad under clauses of its code related to decency, fear and distress and advertising to children. It said that the ad was fairly obviously in a genre which the targeted age group would understand.

"We also noted the ad stated PULSE At cinemas everywhere from 8th September; we considered that made clear the ad was for a film. We believed consumers in the targeted age range were likely to be familiar with the horror film genre and that the other two images, of the eyes and the distorted face, were obviously stylised in keeping with this genre," its ruling said.

The ASA also ruled this week that a different web advert was irresponsible. An ad on the website of leisure park Thorpe Park advertised a promotion called a September Sickie.

The ad carried advice on how to take a 'September Sickie', and seven complainants argued that it encouraged employees to take time off work under false pretences and was irresponsible.

The ASA upheld the complaint that the ad was irresponsible and has told Thorpe Park not to re-use it.