For many years, advertisers have had to deal with people kicking up a fuss about sex and violence in commercials and posters (among other things), but now another promotional threat is gaining prominence among the complainers in the world: scary clowns. I believe we can all blame Tim Curry’s amazeballs performance as Pennywise in IT, although there’s no hardcore evidence backing that up.
The rise in clown-related complaints has been brought up by Watchdogs, the Advertising Standards Authority, whose regular flood of naysayers has gotten more and more particular, particularly in the form of people’s phobias. Apparently, seeing supposedly evil and dark clowns in media adverts are just as bad as actually experiencing whatever the promo is advertising, since people are so quick to phone and write in complaints. Thank goodness McDonald’s never put out a commercial where Ronald McDonald stops the Hamburglar by cutting his head off and eating his soul.
And it’s not just clowns that people are getting up in arms about. The ASA has received objections over advertisements’ uses of snakes, spiders, sharks, birds, bees, flying, vomiting and needles. The one that’s the most out there, for anyone who has never heard of it before, is undoubtedly the use of “holes in irregular patterns,” which is classified under the name trypophobia. Honestly, I can’t think of any ads I’ve seen recently that used vomiting, needles or holes in irregular patterns, but maybe it’s because I’m not sensitive to those things.
Unlike cases in which something is deemed too sexual, or a company is accused of falsely advertising its products, this isn’t really a matter for where Watchdogs can do anything, since people’s personal fears aren’t benchmarks official wrongdoing. Here’s how a spokesman for the Committee of Advertising Practice put it, according to Express.
While phobias are very real to those who suffer from them, it would be fair to say almost any theme or imagery in an ad has the potential to cause a phobic reaction in some. As such and due to the very individual nature of phobias, it is impossible to take all of these into account when creating ads. Bearing this in mind, the ASA is very unlikely to uphold against ads solely on the basis that there’s a snake, spider or clown featured in them.
It’s also noted that “context is key.” So while nobody is going to officially rail against American Horror Story: Freak Show for using Twisty the Clown in its ads, the same probably can’t be said for a Geico commercial in which a blood-soaked clown starts stabbing a snake with needles.
My main personal fear is the concept of eternity, but that’s not really something that companies use to promote things, so I might be in the clear. Sadly, the same can’t be said for everyone.