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Don’t get burned by the ASA’s Halloween safety advertising guidelines

Imogen Jones explores the ASA’s rules around Halloween and Bonfire Night themed adverts.

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The ASA have again this year issued warnings to companies creating Halloween or Bonfire Night themed adverts.

The ASA have reiterated that unless it is an ad promoting a safety message, fireworks must not be shown as being used irresponsibly in advertising. Not showing responsible use can include showing fireworks being used alongside alcohol consumption, or without adult supervision where children are involved.

When it comes to Halloween advertising, the ASA have said that care should be taken not to cause undue fear or distress to the audience and to target the ads appropriately.

Last year, the ASA ruled that Spotify’s Halloween themed ad, which featured a doll brought to life by Camilia Cabello’s popular song ‘Havana’, breached the Committee of Advertising Practice Code rules on social responsibility and harm and offense. The ASA ruled that “although violence was not explicitly shown in the ad, it was implied,”, as the doll stalked teenagers around a house, and that this made the ad “not suitable to be seen by children because it was likely to be distressing to them.” It is worth bearing this in mind when designing Halloween themed adverts.

Further, advertisers should  be careful not to promote negative stereotypes which are likely to cause offence, this may include negative portrayals of mental health or race. Though the ASA have taken a broad approach to their rulings in this regard, and a ‘Psycho Clown’ costume was considered to not be a reference to a person suffering with a chronic mental disorder, and instead to a villainous horror movie character.

This is in addition to the ASA’s decision to ban harmful gender stereotypes in advertising, which may also come into play for the first time this Halloween. If the costume in your ad involves a gender stereotype that is likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence, that it may fall foul of the ASA rules.

In their approach to assessing these publications, the ASA has looked at the targeting, audience and effect.

The ASA does not have specific rules for seasonal advertising, but it is worth bearing in mind how their general rules affect these types of adverts. Furthermore, new rules coming into play recently, involving harmful gender stereotypes and negative stereotypes involving mental health and race, may put limits on what has been allowed in previous years.

Seasonal advertising might be scarier than you imagined if you do not consider the contents and the guidelines appropriately.