Objections, from members of the public and the Cosmetics Toiletry & Perfumery Association, to four advertisements for the Channel 4 television series ''Six Feet Under''. Advertisements (a). & (b). appeared in Radio Times, Hello, Time Out, The Observer and The Times magazines.
a. The first advertisement featured a man''s naked shoulders and head. In the foreground on the right was a bottle labelled "IN ETERNUM+ embalming fluid". Smaller text on the bottle stated "Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME". Text next to the bottle stated "skin to die for". Text in the bottom left corner stated "available from Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME luxurytodiefor.com".
b. The second advertisement featured a woman''s head. Her lips were open and her eyes were opaque. Above her was a jar labelled "IN ETERNUM+ wound filler". Smaller text on the jar stated "Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME". Text above the jar stated "beauty to die for". Text in the bottom left corner stated "available from Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME luxurytodiefor.com".
c. The third advertisement appeared as a series of internet pop-ups on the website newwoman.co.uk. The pop-ups began by scrolling left and right across one of the models from the above magazine advertisements. A bottle, for example labelled "IN ETERNUM+ lip lock", appeared in the foreground. The first image faded away leaving just the bottle. The logo "FS" then appeared with text that stated "Luxury To Die For".
d. The fourth advertisement, an insert in The Evening Standard, featured three "IN ETERNUM+" products: "wound filler", "embalming fluid" and "lip lock". Text stated "introducing Fisher & Sons Funeral Home luxury range of long-lasting afterlife beauty accessories. The reverse of the insert featured the three products with a short description of each one. Text for "wound filler" stated "Banish unsightly blemishes caused by exposure to car crashes, stab wounds and other violent causes of death ... specially formulated to give the appearance of actual living tissue ... the perfect solution to those funeral-day dilemmas." Text for "embalming fluid" stated "Death can leave skin looking tired, pale and worn-out. But there''s no better way of ensuring a fresh radiant complexion than IN ETERNUM+ embalming fluid ... Clinically proven to delay the signs of decomposition ...". Text for "lip lock" stated "Perfect pouts are possible, even for those who have passed away ... Lips look plumper, fuller and ready for the final kiss of death. Colours include Nearly Nude, Blood Red and Flesh Pink." Text in the bottom right corner stated "available from Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME luxurytodiefor.com".
The complainants objected that the advertisements were:
1. offensive, shocking and likely to cause undue distress, especially to the recently bereaved and
2. misleading because they did not make clear the identity of the advertisers or the nature of the advertised product.
1. Complaints not upheld
The advertisers said the advertisements were designed to promote ''Six Feet Under'', a television show that had received plaudits for the refreshing and unusual way it had depicted death, which they acknowledged was a highly sensitive topic. They acknowledged the images seemed to depict death, but pointed out the artwork was respectful and the models used were uninjured. The advertisers said the advertisements were shot to give the appearance they were for cosmetics; because of that the advertisements would not be seen as shocking. The advertisers believed that the complainants were objecting to the idea of death itself instead of the imagery used in the advertisements. They maintained the advertisements were a thought provoking comment on death and consumerism, relevant to the editorial values of the show and the remit of Channel 4. Radio Times said the television series, which they asserted had proven popular with their readers, contained dark humour and the advertisement reflected that. They said they had received 75 complaints from readers. Hello said they were unhappy with the advertisement because the visual they had approved was different to that which ran. They said they were concerned with the morbid tone of the advertisement, which they did not expect from the promotion of a comedy programme. Hello received 20 complaints. Time Out believed that their readers were adult enough to be offered an image that was a humorous parody of a black comedy series. They said they had not received complaints. Times Newspapers said they were happy with the advertisement, which they felt was subtle and ironic. They said they were unaware of complaints. NewWoman.co.uk said that they had received no complaints. They said their users were a similar demographic to ''Six Feet Under'' viewers. The Evening Standard said a third of their readers fell into the category of ''heavy Channel 4 viewers'' and enjoyed surreal American drama. They said they had received a number of complaints, mainly from the recently bereaved and elderly. The Observer said they had not received complaints. The Authority noted the offence felt by the complainants, especially those recently bereaved. Although it considered the images might, at first glance, appear to show dead people, the Authority considered that readers would have had the opportunity to study the advertisements for a greater length of time than those who saw the advertisements fleetingly on posters. The Authority considered that most readers would recognize the stylised images as part of a spoof cosmetics campaign, which accurately reflected the blackly comic tone of the television show. The Authority concluded that, in the context of broadsheet newspapers and magazines with substantial television sections, the advertisements were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
2. Complaints upheld
The advertisers said the advertisements were obviously a spoof. They said people would be alerted to that by the fantastical notion of advertising ''wound filler'' and ''embalming fluid'', the address ''luxurytodiefor.com'' that pointed to a website giving details about the television show, and the reference to ''Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME'' on the packaging. Radio Times believed the advertisement could easily be mistaken as being for a beauty product; they said they had received many enquiries asking what product was being advertised. The Authority considered that people unfamiliar with the television show ''Six Feet Under'' would not understand the reference to ''Fisher & Sons FUNERAL HOME''. The Authority noted the absence of ''Channel 4'' or ''Six Feet Under'' branding on the advertisements and concluded that people were more likely to be confused and misled, than amused by the advertisers'' ironic approach. The Authority noted that the campaign had ended but asked the advertisers to avoid repeating the concept in future.