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Fox 'Poltergeist' clown ad cleared by ASA

An outdoor bus and poster campaign to push Twentieth Century Fox Films horror movie Poltergiest has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) despite it receiving 72 complaints.

The main thrust of the complaints specified that the untargeted ads were unsuitable to be in the public, adding that they were distressing to children with colrophobia (a fear of clowns).

Following First Bus pulling the Poltergeist ads from its buses, the ASA agreed that the ad did cause distress to some children – and even some adults.

However, the watchdog said “the image was not menacing and noted the ad included no other images that were likely to contribute to such an impression”.

Adding: “We did not consider that the overall impression of the ads was such that they were likely to cause excessive fear or distress, particularly in the context of an ad for a horror film, we concluded that they were not irresponsibly targeted in outdoor media.”

Brinsley Dresden, partner and head of advertising at law firm Lewis Silkin, warned consumers to expect more instances of ‘Shockvertising’ from brands and advertisers: “The ASA’s adoption of a five year plan, with the aim of spending less time focussing on ads that ‘cause little detriment’ to consumers, has meant that advertisers are now able to reap the benefits of ‘shockvertising’.

“In this case, it seems that the regulator deemed that the gripping terror imposed by the use of clowns by Twentieth Century Fox did not, in the end, cause such detriment.

He warned that ‘shockvertising’ can be a risky strategy however, with the watchdog less likely to go easy on “repeat offenders and on themes like the sexualisation of children”.

“Twentieth Century Fox are a good example of the fact that, even with relatively large numbers of complaints levelled against it, a shocking campaign can still steer clear of punishment by the regulator and, importantly, gain even further exposure for the product.”

The ads were investigated under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 4.2 (Harm and offence), but were ultimately not in breach.

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