HomeInsightsCommittee of Advertising Practice publishes advice note on creating Halloween and Bonfire Night themed ads

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Ads that are centred on these seasonal events can draw an increase in complaints to the ASA about scary imagery, offensive horror-themed costumes or the irresponsible use of fireworks in ads, CAP explains.

Unless it’s an ad promoting a safety message, fireworks should not be shown being used in an irresponsible manner, the advice states. Showing fireworks being handled alongside alcohol consumption is also likely to be considered irresponsible.

Further, where there are other potentially harmful activities depicted in ads and which feature children, a failure to depict adult supervision could be considered problematic.

Fear or distress may be justifiable when trying to make a point about safety, CAP says, but that will not be the case if the fear or distress is excessive. Care should also be taken not to inadvertently glamorise the dangerous behaviour you are aiming to dissuade people from.

As for Halloween themed ads, care should be taken not to cause undue fear or distress to the audience and to target these types of ads appropriately.

Up there with creepy little dolls and small children staring unseeingly into the distance, clowns are a sure-fire way of sending a shiver down the spine, CAP says. However, not all clowns are bad for ads: the ones with glowing red eyes, blood spattered faces and stitched up skin are likely to go too far, but it they are not overtly threatening or suggestive of danger, they are likely to fall on the right side of the line.

As for zombies, the wrong type of imagery (for example blood-stained teeth and blood around the mouth) is likely to be problematic in untargeted media.

CAP also says take care when showing people who are visibly distressed and avoid using clips that are likely to make an audience, particularly one which includes children, “jump”.

Care should also be taken to target online ads appropriately. Online videos including zombies and other horror related characters have been considered problematic because the steps taken to target them at an adult audience were not enough to keep them away from children.

Excessively gory imagery will likely need even more careful targeting, CAP explains. Advertisers will probably need to satisfy the ASA that the audience actually wanted to see that type of imagery.

Complaints about the negative portrayal of mental health conditions often arise around Halloween, particularly about ads for horror-film-inspired costumes, CAP says. Ads promoting or reinforcing negative stereotypes are very likely to cause offence. To read the advice in full, click here.