'Scary' clown poster for horror film cleared for display

Poster advertising Poltergeist horror film isn’t too scary for buses: says ASA

2015 CinemaCon - 20th Century Fox Presentation - Inside

A poster advertising the movie remake of Poltergeist features an alarming clown doll, glaring out of huge posters on billboards and the sides of buses. The text reads: "They know what scares you. Poltergeist". Some 72 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that they or their children found the image upsetting. However, the ASA has ruled that the poster is just scary enough.

A number of those who complained suffer from a general fear of clowns - otherwise known as colrophobia - so any image of a clown was always going to upset them. This image had a particularly striking effect. The complainants suggested that the adverts were not suitable for the kind of audience who would see them on display outdoors in an untargeted way.

Twentieth Century Fox, the company behind the film, said the image had been cleared internally, and by a number of separate departments who considered it suitable for display and unlikely to cause widespread offence.

The ruling

The ASA agreed. It admitted that some children and adults - particularly those with a fear of clowns - had found the image distressing. It also noted that the poster had a dark format and that the clown stared out of the poster and 'had a scruffy appearance'.

However, it concluded: "We considered the image was not menacing and noted the ad included no other images that were likely to contribute to such an impression." As for the scary text, it said : "We considered in the context of ads for a horror movie it was not overtly threatening or suggestive of danger, rather it was likely to be understood by consumers as being a typical reflection of a movie of that format."

Overall it said: "Because we did not consider that the overall impression of the ads was such that they were likely to cause excessive fear or distress, particularly in the context of an ad for a horror film, we concluded that they were not irresponsibly targeted in outdoor media."

Is this right?

The finding is therefore that yes the image was a bit frightening, but that it was bound to be because it was an advert for a horror film - and it didn't go too far.

On social media, opinion is divided. There are those who think that people are complaining over nothing, and in the words of one Tweeter they ought to "grow a pair". Then there were those who were concerned that the ASA had underestimated how disturbing the images were. One wrote: " It's disgusting, my 6 year old saw it on a bus and was very frightened."

But what do you think? Was the ASA right to conclude that horror film posters have to be a bit scary - but that this one was OK? Or have they underestimated just how frightening clowns can be? Let us know in the comments.

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