Recent television trailers for horror movie The Conjuring 2 left some children sleepless and adults disturbed causing significant complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau. A sample of the complainants said the horror content was too graphic, caused anxiety and nightmares in children.
Generally, the Advertising Standards Board, which makes a determination following a complaint, acknowledges that in order to promote a movie the advertiser needs to show some film footage. This however, needs to be balanced against the Code of Ethics requirements that content such as violence must be justified within the context of the product it advertises. In relation to violence, the Board will take a broad view of audience to include children and assess the material in the context of prevailing community standards. In terms of commercial free to air or subscription TV, the Board may consider OzTAM data to determine audience for a specific program.
In the case of The Conjuring 2, the movie itself was classified MA15+ while the trailers were classified by Free TV’s CAD service and given J and M ratings allowing the trailers to be aired between 7:30 pm and 6 am. The advertiser wanted to target a certain age group and selected TV slots accordingly. Some of the trailers were televised in programs airing between 7:30 and 8:30 pm which had significant family audiences, some who found the ads distressing.
The Board considered that the level of community concern regarding the distressing content in the ads was an indication that the content was in breach of prevailing community standards and concluded that the ads depicted a level of violence that was not justifiable in the context of the product advertised.
The Code of Ethics uses the concept of relevant audience in terms of restrictions on treatment of sex, sexuality, nudity and language. Relevant audience may be informed by the media placement plan and the content of an ad. In the case of social media, the Board would have regard to the opt-in nature of the medium and age gating which may apply to some social media sites in determining the relevant audience.
In terms of outdoor advertising, the Board will not just have regard to whom the ad is targeted (the relevant audience) but also looks at who can see it and takes this into consideration in making a determination. For example, complaints were received about an outdoor poster for an Iron Maiden concert featuring an image of a black and white man-like creature with red eyes holding out his palm which is also covered in red. The complaint was that the poster was purposefully terrifying and a deeply disturbing illustration, not appropriate for outdoor display where children can see it.
In this case the Board noted that the imaginary creature depicted is not so far removed from images often used to promote Hallowe’en to children and that younger children who saw the advertisement on the street would often be accompanied by a parent or other adult, finding that the ad was not in breach of the Code.
You can find more information about the AANA codes of conduct for advertising along with an overview of advertising regulation here. You can also sign up to the Ad Standards Bulletin here. This monthly bulletin provides updates on recent determinations and is a useful tool for staying up to date with community standards in advertising. You can also follow @AANA_says and @AdStandards on Twitter.