ASA scolds Paramount Pictures for irresponsibly targeting kids with distressing content

The Advertising Standard’s Authority (ASA) has pulled up Paramount Pictures for a YouTube pre-roll ad for the scary movie Pet Sematary after a parent complained it had irresponsibly targeted her child.

The ad in question appeared on YouTube in February, before Fortnite videos on the DanTDM and FGTeeV channels.

The Pet Sematary ad opens with a girl walking through the woods, with ominous music playing over the top. The voiceover says “there’s something up in those woods, it brings things back…” The ad quickly flicks to the man who was speaking as he adds sinisterly “but sometimes dead is better.”

The pre-roll ad then snaps to a scene of a risen dead patient grabbing the arm of a doctor, who jumps back in alarm. The next scene shows a creature with its protruding spine pushed out, testing the elasticity of its skin, as it crawls along a floor towards a helpless woman. Next, a young child walks through the ‘Pet Sematary’ with a dog mask on his face, and then the montage of zombies versus humans flicks through at a scary, impactful rate.

The ominous scenes are interjected with ‘They don’t’ ‘come back’ ‘the same’ in alarming red lettering, against the dark backdrop of the Pet Sematary woods.

The ASA received one complaint from a parent. Their child - who was watching Fortnite videos - saw the ad and found it was distressing. They challenged whether the advert was irresponsibly targeted because it was placed before videos that could appeal to children.

In its defence, Paramount Pictures UK said its media buying agency worked with YouTube to establish brand safety control mechanisms and processes to ensure that all material published on its behalf was appropriate for the audience to whom it was directed.

It also argued that only adult users logged into their YouTube account, aged between 18 and 54, were explicitly targeted.

Despite this, the ASA decided to take further action against Paramount Pictures.

It said the ad contained scenes that it felt viewers, in particular children, would find frightening and were likely to cause distress to children. It said that it should have therefore been appropriately targeted to avoid the risk of children seeing it.

Further, the ad watchdog said because the channels Dan TDM and FGTeeV each feature a significant amount of cartoon imagery, and the presenters spoke in an enthusiastic and animated manner, the content was more aimed towards children.

Paramount Pictures was then ordered to ensure its future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children did not appear in media that was of particular appeal to children.

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