A “distasteful” bus-side poster for the cinema release of the film Pet Sematary has been given the green light by the ad watchdog despite claims it could encourage suicide and would cause unjustifiable distress to people who were grieving.
The ad (pictured) features an image of children with animal masks and carrying various objects, including a spade, a crucifix and a wheelbarrow, walking through the woods with crucifixes in the background. Text beneath stated “Sometimes dead is better”.
Four consumers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over its content, sparking an investigation.
The firm behind the film, Paramount Pictures, said that within the ad there were three separate blocks of text.
The first and most prominent text read “Based on a novel by the author of IT … Pet Sematary”. The second text, which was less prominent due to a smaller font size, read “In cinemas April 4”. The firm argued that the last block of text, which read “Sometimes dead is better” was less prominent and was “highly likely” to be read afterwards because of its positioning.
Paramount believed that all those who saw the ad, including children and young people, would understand the text “Sometimes dead is better” to be a promotional strapline for a horror film.
That strapline was a quote from the Pet Sematary novel by Stephen King and was also used as a strapline in the promotion of the original 1989 movie adaptation of the novel.
Paramount said that the imagery used in the ad also increased the likelihood that all viewers would understand it to be a promotional strapline for the film and could not serve to encourage any viewer of any age, to top themselves.
Nor did the firm believe the ad would cause distress to viewers of any age, including individuals who were recently bereaved, and if so, the level of distress caused would be minimal and would be justified by the aim of the ad to advertise, in a responsible manner, a movie that would appeal to a substantial proportion of the British public.
Kicking out the complaints, the ASA ruled that the ad did not directly reference suicide, nor did it go into any further or specific detail about death or dying.
It ruling added: “We considered that although the ad featured children and referenced death, it did not go so far as to encourage suicide, amongst young people in particular or otherwise. We considered that while the text ‘Sometimes dead is better’ might be distasteful, it was in keeping with the content of the film and that it was not unusual for death to be referenced in relation to a horror film.
“We considered that although the references to death might be upsetting to those who were recently bereaved, we did not consider it excessive in the context of an ad for a horror film. For those reasons, while we acknowledged that the ad may be seen as distasteful, we considered that it did not encourage suicide nor did it cause unjustifiable or excessive distress.”
The ASA concluded that the ad did not breach the rules on either social responsibility or harm and offence and said that no further action was necessary.
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