The paid-for adverts, featuring an image of serial murderer, Harold Shipman, appeared on Facebook and Instagram on 23 January, were slammed by protection advisers describing it as "despicable," and "appalling", prompting DeadHappy founder Andy Knott to say: "We do take risks with our brand and sometimes we may step over the line, whatever or wherever that line may be, and whoever chooses to draw it."
However, as the backlash grew, DeadHappy were forced to remove the adverts from circulation after only a few hours of them being online and issue a public apology: "In our attempt to be proactive and make people really stop and think about their need for life insurance, we have made a mistake and for this, we apologise. We will now go away and immediately review all of our current and future marketing campaigns to ensure that we learn from this mistake."
The ASA acknowledged DeadHappy's apology and removal of the offending advert and welcomed its assurance it will review processes in relation to the "creation and approval of ads and would endeavour to make better-informed decisions going forward."
The ASA noted in its ruling: “The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. They must not contain anything likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or incorporate a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.
“The ads contained an image of the serial murderer, Harold Shipman, a British doctor who it is estimated murdered between 215 and 260 of his patients. We considered that the image of Shipman would be instantly recognisable to many people.”
The regulator concluded that the social media adverts were not prepared with a sense of responsibility and did not comply with rules on issues of harm and offence.