The hard-hitting truth about violence in advertising

We’ve seen a few ads recently that are packing a little too much punch. In fact, in the first 6 months of 2022 violence was the top issue of community concern.

Although the depiction of violence in an ad might be relevant to the creative idea, any violence must also be justifiable in the context of the product being advertised. If not, it will likely breach the AANA Code of Ethics.

In some circumstances, the portrayal of violence may be justified, such as in community awareness advertising or if the product being advertised contains violence such as computer games or films. The Community Panel generally considers violence to be justified where it is mild in impact for the viewer, does not depict any person injured or in pain, and the action does not include aggression.

Graphic depictions of violence or a strong suggestion of menace have been found to present violence in an unacceptable manner especially when visible to a broad audience which includes children. A few recent cases reviewed by the Ad Standards Community Panel include some important lessons for advertisers about the depiction of violence in advertising. While the violence in these ads were relevant to the story, the Community Panel found that it was not justifiable in the context of the product being advertised.

The case of the big, bad wolf

A hardware company’s ad featured a woman testing bricks in her garage and talking to a camera about the benefits of brick. A thug dressed in black with a very wolf-like beard appears and they physically tussle.

This ad breached the code as even though it portrayed an exaggerated portrayal of an intruder, it depicted a violent scene that was not related to the product.

The case of the poor cat

An entertainment company’s ad for a mobile game showed an animated cat floating up into the air, holding onto a box, before falling and hitting the ground. Blood spreads on the ground as its kittens gather crying.

The Community Panel noted that while the theme of this game was to create a space for a sick or injured cat to heal, the ad depicts violence and simulated animal cruelty which is inappropriate in the context of advertising a non-violent puzzle game.

The case of the good-looking stunt double

An insurance comparison service’s TV ad featuring a Chris Hemsworth stunt double beached the code for depicting a staged combat scene. This scene was not justifiable in the promotion of an insurance comparison service and the complaint was upheld.

We recommend being cautious when dealing with any kind of portrayal of violence in an ad. 

You can find more information in the AANA Code of Ethics Practice Note.

Check out all the latest decisions from the Ad Standards Community Panel at

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