A hard-hitting TV campaign that aimed to tackle male suicide by showing how people can seem happy just moments before taking their own lives has been cleared by the ad watchdog despite complaints that it was irresponsible and distressing and only suitable for adult viewers.
The ad for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) featured personal video clips of men and women laughing, smiling, talking to the camera and interacting with their families.
Over the top of the videos a woman sang the song, Bring Me Sunshine, with on-screen text stating “These are the last videos of people who took their own lives.”
The video clips and song continued and further text then stated “Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal”. The final shot had the text “Find out how you could help save a life” above the CALM logo and text that said #UnitedAgainstSuicide.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a scheduling restriction, which meant that it should not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16.
However, three people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, and challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and distressing as well as whether the scheduling restriction was sufficient.
In its defence, CALM said that 125 lives a week were lost to suicide and there was still a huge stigma around suicide and people were afraid to discuss the topic. Its belief was that society’s standards around suicide needed to be challenged and that was what the ad and their organisation had been doing.
The aim of the ad was to get individuals talking about suicide and thereby equip people struggling with suicide, and those around them, to prevent suicidal behaviour. For that reason the advertising needed to address suicide directly. However, the charity did recognise the sensitivity of the topic and understood that the ad’s content could have been difficult to watch.
Following its investigation, the ASA stated that the topic of suicide, by its very nature, would always be one that caused a level of discomfort to some viewers. Furthermore, the use of actual footage of people who had gone on to die by suicide was a hard hitting and emotive approach to highlighting the issue.
However, the regulator did note that the ad included the text, “Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal” which emphasised that the clips used, which showed people laughing, dancing and playing with family, were used to demonstrate that while people may appear happy and coping on the outside, it did not mean that they were not struggling internally.
Further to that the text, “Find out how you could help save a life” and #UnitedAgainstSuicide highlighted how the ad invited the audience to prevent future suicides by accessing the advertiser’s resources.
These considerations, along with the fact the ad did not discuss any details about suicide and only offered a message of hope in reducing suicide, led the regulator to clear the ad on both counts.
It told CALM that it could continue to run the campaign.
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