This article has been taken from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) website.


Halloween & Bonfire Night – making sure your ad campaign doesn’t go up in flames

Author: Emma Smith, Copy Advice Executive.

Autumn is fast approaching and, for marketers, this usually means it’s time for some spooky seasonal campaigns and themed products.  But for the ASA, Halloween and Bonfire Night can mean an increase in complaints about scary imagery, offensive costumes and the irresponsible use of fireworks.

  • Better safe than sorry

Don’t show anyone handling fireworks or interacting with a bonfire irresponsibly unless you’re promoting safety.   Featuring people holding lit fireworks, even if they are intended to be hand held, could be considered problematic.  Unsurprisingly, depicting alcohol consumption and handling fireworks just doesn’t mix.

Showing children in potentially hazardous situations, including innocently holding sparklers or ‘bobbing for apples’ could be judged irresponsible if there’s no adult present, and having them play with fire will pretty much always break the rules.

If you’re promoting safety, an appeal to fear might be justifiable in that context; but it shouldn’t be excessive.  You’ll also need to take care not to inadvertently glamourise dangerous behaviour.

  • Take care not to scare

It’s been said that Halloween entitles everyone to one good scare – but this wasn’t a reference to advertising.  When creating seasonally-themed ads, you need to consider whether they’re likely to cause fear or distress to the audience likely to see them.

Although the ASA didn’t stop a horror movie poster featuring it’s iconic clown, because it wasn’t overtly threatening or suggestive of danger, clowns with menacing grins, glowing red eyes and blood spattered faces along with stitched up skin (oddly enough not the first time they took issue with crudely stitched skin) and sinister looking images of zombies are likely to be judged problematic in an outdoor untargeted  medium.

But it’s not just outdoor ads you need to take care with; online videos involving a post-apocalyptic zombie infested city and various horror characters running along a road have also been a problem under  the Code because of their targeting.  Carefully targeting ads at a suitable audience will help in most cases but excessively gory imagery, such as flayed corpses wrapped in barbed wire or zombies being attacked in the face with hand held blenders, is probably only going to be suitable for a very select audience.

  • Offend at your peril

While most fancy dress costumes are just a bit of harmless fun, some of them could cause offence, particularly by reinforcing negative stereotypes.

The title of a “Skitzo” costume was judged to be offensive for its negative reference to mental illness and likewise the image of a “Golly” costume was banned for the negative racial connotations of the character.

On the other hand, a “Psycho Clown” was judged acceptable on the basis that ‘psycho’ was a word that was also associated with villainous horror movie characters and, in the context of the ad, was unlikely to be taken as a reference to a person genuinely suffering from chronic mental disorder.

  • No tricks, just treats

Worried your copy could be an ‘advertising nasty’?  Never fear, the Copy Advice team are on hand to provide free bespoke guidance.

Emma Smith specialises in giving advice relating to alcohol, harm & offence, social responsibility, weapons and remit.


If you are still unsure how your activities fits within the rules mentioned within this article, please take advantage of our Advert Review service.

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