Crimestoppers has had its collar felt by the ad watchdog over a campaign which attempted to tackle drug-related violence by featuring a graphic image of bloodied hands holding a heart under the strapline “Don’t let drugs and violence rip the heart out of your community”.
The outdoor activity, which ran throughout Warwickshire at the tail end of last year, sparked two complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority from people who had seen an ad on Rugby railway station.
They challenged whether the poster was likely to cause distress, particularly to children, and was inappropriate for outdoor display in an untargeted medium.
In response, Crimestoppers Trust said the hard-hitting campaign was designed to overturn a reluctance by members of the public to give information about drug crimes, fuelled by fear or misguided loyalty.
It said the campaign in Warwickshire was launched following the success of a similar project run in the Ipswich area of Suffolk, to tackle the issue of gang related crime.
The same artwork was used, but with different wording. The impact in Suffolk was significant and did not result in any complaints.
In light of that campaign, Crimestoppers felt it would be safe to use the same artwork and similar text to reach target areas in Warwickshire. In the three months that the campaign ran, it received 66 pieces of information regarding drug related crime, which accounted for over a third of all information received on crime in the county over that period.
Crimestoppers acknowledged that the artwork could be perceived as controversial and apologised that it had caused distress. It stressed it walked a fine line between effective and potentially difficult imagery in the artwork it used, and said the last thing it wanted to do was alienate members of the public.
JC Decaux, who owned the sites where the ads appeared, said the ads were not subject to any prohibitions and did not contravene local guidelines. It had not received any complaints directly about the ads.
However, the ASA was not convinced. It said some individuals, particularly children, who would not necessarily understand the rationale behind the image, might find the bloody image upsetting because of its graphic nature.
While the regulator acknowledged the positive intention behind the campaign, this made little difference asit still banned the ad from running again
The ASA ruling stated: “We considered the image was not directly relevant to crime or the overriding message of the campaign. For those reasons, we considered that the ad was likely to cause unjustifiable distress when displayed in an untargeted medium and concluded that it breached the [advertising] code.”
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