ITV1 lonely hearts ad for Afterlife show escapes ban

LONDON - ITV has escaped punishment for its campaign for the supernatural drama 'Afterlife', which featured a lonely hearts style ad with messages, not from singletons, but from the dead, despite 30 complaints to the advertising watchdog.

The ad, in the style of a lonely hearts column, appeared in The Evening Standard, The Independent, Metro, The Daily Express, The Times, The Guardian, The Sun, and The Daily Telegraph.

The ad contained messages such as: "Young boy 8 yrs old, fatal car crash. Can someone tell my mummy I forgive her?"; and "Woman 36, smothered in sleep by violent husband, now also dead. I'm trapped with him and he won't let me go. Someone please help".

The column was headed "Soul Finders. Looking to contact that someone special" and was framed by a skeleton cupid holding a bow and arrow on either side of the text. Footed at the end of the insert was: "ITV1 Afterlife. You don't contact them, they contact you. Saturday 16th September."

Complainants said the ad was distressing, offensive and insensitive, especially to the families of murder victims. References to murdered children were deemed as especially offensive.

ITV1 said that the ad was not intended to offend or upset the public. It said 'Afterlife' was a programme in which spirits contacted the living and therefore the nature of the programme was scary, disturbing and unsettling. The programme starred former 'This Life' and 'Teachers' actor Andrew Lincoln alongside Lesley Sharp who played the show's psychic.

ITV therefore believed it was crucial for to show the scary nature of the programme through its ad campaign in order to discourage vulnerable groups, such as children or those of nervous dispositions, from watching.

ITV asserted that it decided against using graphical representation of spirits and the afterlife in the ad because they believed this would have been more offensive; instead they tried to describe the nature of the show without upsetting potential viewers.

The Independent stated that, although on first sight the ad appeared to be a normal lonely hearts column, they believed it was apparent on closer reading that it was not the case. It believed as soon as the first lines of the lonely hearts messages section had been read, readers should then have been naturally drawn to the larger print stating "ITV11 Afterlife..." and should have realised that the ad was a parody for a TV programme. It believed the number of people who would be offended would be very small because, once people realised it was an ad, they would either not be worried or would stop reading. The newspaper received no complaints about the ad.

The ASA noted the intention of the ad was to reflect the nature of the programme, which was known to be unsettling. It acknowledged that the ad did cause some distress to particular readers but did not cause serious or widespread offence and therefore did not uphold the 30 complaints it received.

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