Tears of a clown: Warner Bros battered for horror ad

warner brosColrophobics have scored a rare victory against adland after Warner Bros has been censored for running an audio ad for horror film It Chapter Two during a kids’ Spotify playlist called Classical Lullabies.

Those suffering from phobias of all descriptions – from the fear of snakes (ophidiophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), sharks (galeophobia) and birds (ornithophobia) to bees (melissophobia), insects (entomophobia), needles (trypanophobia) and, of course, clowns (colrophobia) have had little joy in securing bans for ads featuring their stuff of nightmares.

In fact, clowns seem particularly popular with adland, with brands such Tango, Powwownow, Audi, McDonald’s and Burger King all having slapped on the grease paint and red lippy in recent years.

But the Warner Bros ad took a far more sinister approach to promote It Chapter Two. The movie, based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, portrays a group of children who are terrorised by an evil supernatural entity that takes several forms, including “Pennywise the dancing clown”.

The ad features the voice of Bill Skarsgård, who plays Pennywise, saying: “For 27 years, I dreamt of you. I craved you. Oh I missed you.” This is followed by the sound of cackling, distorted laughter, before another voice says: “It Chapter Two. In cinemas September 6.”

One person complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that they had heard the ad during the playlist Classical Lullabies, which they had been listening to with their child, and insisted it was inappropriately targeted.

In its defence, Warner Bros argued that the ad was only “mildly scary” and avoided violence, offensive language and gore – but also said that it had used Spotify’s parameters “Age is 18-44” and “Real time genre is not children” (also known as “No kids music”) to target those between 18 and 44 years old, while avoiding playlists intended for children.

But the ASA countered that the name of the playlist, and its inclusion of tracks titled 5 English Nursery Tunes and For Children Vol 1, showed that it was designed to be played to young children.

The watchdog maintained that Spotify had not explained why the use of the parameter “Real time genre is not children” had not prevented the ad from being played during this playlist.

Even so, it was Warner Bros that has taken the rap. While the ASA did acknowledge that the movie giant had taken steps to target the ad responsibly, these had been insufficient.

The watchdog concluded that the commercial had still been inappropriately targeted and breached CAP Code rules on social responsibility and harm and offence.

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