Scary content really affects children

Small Screen - Talking Point -

May 3, 2023

Scary ads, inadequate Codes and Classification Scheme

When will the advertising industry get the message, and respond appropriately to the decades-long and well-justified beef of parents about scary trailers in family-type programs?
The Australia’s National Advertisers’ Code (2.3) related to this issue is totally inadequate, and their refusal to revise their Code in this regard makes us despair. As do the associated decisions of the Ad Standards Panel on complaints about scary trailers. The decisions of the Clearads division of FreeTV Australia to assign classifications which allow such trailers to be shown at most times of the day also need questioning. And it might all hinge on whether the National Classification Scheme is adequately revised.

Here are examples of recent complaints to the Ad Standards Panel about scary trailers for two movies in family viewing situations.

The Pope’s Exorcist ( MA15+) case 0060-23,  5 April, shown on free-to-air TV.

The Panel’s report reads:

The Panel noted that the music in the advertisement and the sense of fear and growing alarm of the actors is suspenseful and does suggest a degree of menace, and considered that this suggestion is directly related to the horror nature of the movie being promoted.

Overall, the Panel considered that while the tone of this advertisement was suspenseful it was not graphic. The Panel considered that the level of violence was mild in the context of an advertisement for a horror movie shown to a broad audience including children.  Complaint dismissed.

So context rules!  Scary images from a scary movie are OK.  But presumably scary images in a car ad would not be.

The Pope’s Exorcist also came under fire for a trailer that appeared on PayTV in a footy program 0059-23 .

This trailer included scenes of implied suicide and was found to breach Code 2.3 and 2.6.  However, the Panel considered that the majority of the scenes were justifiable in advertising a violent horror movie, and that any children viewing the advertisement on Pay TV would likely be supervised by adults.

Another complaint about the same movie  0057-23  concerned trailers for the on ON-Demand TV. Again The Panel noted that the sound effects in the advertisement are scary and noted that the imagery is graphic, however the Panel considered that this depiction is directly related to the horror nature of the movie being promoted. But because the trailer included scenes of implied suicide the complaint was upheld.

Scream 6  MA15+ 0039-23 concerned trailers shown frequently in a sports (athletics) program late afternoon on On Demand TV.

The Panel noted that the imagery of the advertisement does contain depictions of a bloody knife, a person being held with a hand across their mouth, a gun being fired, and stabbing motions, though the Panel noted that while violence is implied, viewers do not a see a person being injured. The Panel considered the theme of the advertisement is menacing and considered that the advertisement did contain violence.

The Panel noted that the advertised product is a horror/thriller film that contains violent action sequences and graphic imagery, and noted that the scenes shown are scenes from the film. The Panel noted that the sounds/music in the advertisement is spooky and does suggest a degree of menace.

Overall, the Panel considered that the tone of this advertisement was suspenseful and frightening, and contained a moderate level of violence. The Panel considered that the level of violence was not excessive in the context of an advertisement for a horror movie with a predominately adult audience.

Complaint dismissed.

It would seem however, that all of the above issues have their roots in the National Classification Scheme.  This includes the element of “Violence” but not a separate element of “Scariness” when there’s no violence.

Further the NCS is highly reliant on “context” as a moderator of the impact of scenes or images.  That might be fine in a movie, but what’s the context of a 30 second scary trailer screened during a family program?

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