Technology company in trouble over 'murder' copy

LONDON - Using a recent, real-life schoolboy's murder as a hook in a marketing email for its school pupil registration system has brought a warning from the advertising watchdog for technology company Anteon UK.

Anteon sent an email promoting its biometric fingertip registration system, VeriCool for Schools, to 340 county councils.

The email stated: "Dear Sir or Madam, like everyone else, we were shocked and saddened by the apparent murder of the young schoolboy in West Lothian.

"We believe that we can help reduce the possibility of such future tragedies and so wish to bring to your attention our new anti-truancy and first-day contact system that is already in use by some schools within the UK."

The Advertising Standards Authority received two complaints objecting that the email, which suggested that the victim was truanting, was offensive and distressing, because it used a recent murder as a means of promoting the product.

Another challenged whether the software could help prevent such an incident happening again.

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaint that the email suggested the victim was truanting, was distressing because it used the murder to promote the product and that the system's powers to prevent such incidents were questionable.

"Because the case study was used prominently to promote the product, we considered that the email was potentially offensive and distressing to recipients. We told Anteon not to use the approach in future," the ASA said.

Anteon had used the case of Rory Blackhall, 11, who vanished after being dropped off near Meldrum Primary School by his mother on August 18. Three days later, his body was found in woodland. He was found to have been asphyxiated. A suspect, Simon Harris, 37, who was awaiting trial on sex abuse charges, was later found dead as police searched his home in connection with the murder.

Anteon argued that the email did not claim the product could prevent such incidents. They pointed out that text stated "We can help reduce the possibility of such future tragedies...".

The ASA said that it noted the product had the potential to collate attendance figures efficiently, but considered that Anteon had not shown that it could help to prevent tragedy.

"We told Anteon not to repeat the approach and advised them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising again."

Anton said it regretted any offence it had caused and had no plans to repeat the ad.

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