Entertainment: Music

Nov 21st '22

Many ads for albums, gigs and musical artists can be stylised and artistic in nature. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has found ads for these products a breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code for multiple reasons and marketers should consider the Code in full. Common issues are offence, the depiction of weapons, and inappropriate targeting. Entertainment: General guidance gives an overview of these issues, and others, and includes further links.


  • Targeting

Marketers should ensure that their music ads are targeted appropriately – this is especially the case for any ads that feature violent, sexual, frightening or potentially offensive elements. For instance, in 2019, the ASA investigated an ad for Billie Eilish’s new album. The TV ad, which featured Billie crying black tears, legs and ankles hanging mid-air, and gloved hands touching the singer had a definite sombre and eerie tone. One complainant felt that the ad contained overly distressing scenes, including the scene with the hanging body. However, the whilst the ASA agreed some of the scenes were unsettling, they noted that the ad had an ‘ex kids’ scheduling restriction (meaning that it would not be shown around children’s programmes etc.) and felt that this was sufficient, so the complaint was not upheld. (Universal Music Operations Ltd, 10 July 2019).


In contrast, the ASA upheld a Spotify ad in 2018 because it was not appropriately targeted. The ad was designed to look like a horror film, and, whilst unlikely to scare adults, the ASA decided it may have been likely to cause undue distress to children, so should have been targeted more appropriately (Spotify Ltd, 17 October 2018).


Marketers can read more about targeting in our specific Children: Targeting and Targeting guidance.


  • Offence

In line with rule 4.1, marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Ads which feature offensive language, or mock or degrade certain characteristics are likely to be considered offensive. – however, ads might be less likely to cause offence under the Code if the concepts are (for instance) bizarre and removed from reality – this will of course depend on context.


In 2018, the ASA investigated an ad for Don Broco’s new album, which featured a religious icon with their head replaced by a dog’s.  Whilst two complainants, who believed the figure to be the Virgin Mary, took offence, the ASA concluded that the imagery was presented as artwork and was not otherwise derogatory or mocking (Sharptone Records, 4 July 2018).


Offence is always a nuanced area and one element can tip an ad into problematic territory. Marketers are advised to read our guidance Offence as well as our guidance on Offence: NudityOffence: Sex,  Harm and Offence: Gender Stereotypes and Sexualisation and Objectification, but if unsure, marketers are urged to contact the Copy Advice team for a view.


  • Weapons

Historically, the ASA has upheld multiple complaints about weaponry and gang references in music ads. Marketers should not glamourise or condone violence nor the possession and use of guns, knives and other weapons (Fly53 Ltd, 27 January 2010), and should be careful when showing violence if children or young people are likely to interpret it as being aspirational or a way of gaining respect, money or solving problems (Universal Music Group, 4 January 2006). Furthermore, marketers should not imply that weapons are an everyday part of life or can solve problems (Universal Music Group, 4 January 2006).


Marketers should avoid depicting weapons that are pointing directly or aggressively at the viewer, where it is likely to be threatening or cause unnecessary fear and distress.


Since weapons often make an appearance in ads for albums and music generally, we recommend marketers read the following guidance:



Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.


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