Advert using Hoffman death banned

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Philip Seymour Hoffman death

An advert for Alain de Botton's book The News which referred to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has been banned after the regulator found it was likely to cause serious offence.

The advert, which appeared in London's Evening Standard the day after the actor died, featured the headline: "Philip Seymour Hoffman's drug overdose eclipses interest in sculpture trail."

It concluded with the question: "Why are you more concerned about an actor's death than an arts project that will transform your city's cultural life? Find out in Alain de Botton's new book The News: A User's Manual, because the better you understand your obsession with celebrity, the better you understand yourself."

Text in between read: "You're deeply saddened by the death of this beloved actor. You're quick to point out your love for his performance in Magnolia and Capote. But the dark truth is that your interest in this story doesn't end there: you also crave the gritty details of his demise.

"You're fascinated when you read he was discovered in the bathroom with a needle in his arm...Whilst each revelation horrifies you, they also provide you with relief... Whatever you're dealing with at this moment, at least you haven't suffered the way he did.

"This knowledge is so satisfying that you've barely noticed the article about a proposed sculpture trail in East London."

Three readers complained that the advert was offensive because it used Hoffman's death to promote the book.

The advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, which responded on behalf of publisher Hamish Hamilton, said they developed the campaign "in alignment" with de Botton, but said the specifics of the ad had not been approved by the author because it had been created in "real time" in response to topical events.

Ogilvy and Mather said one of the book's themes focused on why readers took notice of certain articles that had no direct bearing on their lives over others that did, and the campaign was designed to mirror that thought.

The agency said it was not its intention to offend, and it had stopped any future placements of the advert and altered the campaign on being notified of the complaints.

The Evening Standard said the advert had been subject to careful consideration, adding that no detail in the advertisement copy went beyond what had already been "copiously" published.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said advertisers were entitled to refer to current news stories in their ads but regulations stated that references to anyone who was dead must be handled with particular care to avoid causing offence or distress.

The ASA said: "We noted that the ad was published the day after Philip Seymour Hoffman had died and included a number of details regarding the circumstances surrounding his death.

"Although we acknowledged that the ad to some extent reflected the nature of the advertised product, we considered that reporting the actor's death in such a manner and in such detail in order to sell a book on modern culture was likely to cause serious offence to some."

It ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form, adding: "We told Hamish Hamilton to ensure that their future ads did not cause serious or widespread offence by referring to those who were dead."

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