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DeadHappy Harold Shipman life insurance advert

DeadHappy generated a lot of controversy with an advert ruled as causing ‘serious and widespread offence and unjustified distress’ by the watchdog

A photo of Daniel Sharpe-Szunko, the author

By Daniel Sharpe-Szunko

Published on: 7 May 2023

3 min read

DeadHappy Harold Shipman life insurance advert

Earlier this year, DeadHappy launched an advert on Facebook paid for advertising campaign featuring an image of the high profile serial killer, Doctor Harold Shipman.

The DeadHappy Harold Shipman advert included some text which said ‘LIFE INSURANCE… Because you never know who your doctor might be’. This was ruled as causing ‘serious and widespread offence and unjustified distress’ by the watchdog.

DeadHappy's 'offensive' advert featuring serial killer Harold Shipman and the tagline 'LIFE INSURANCE… Because you never know who your doctor might be’.

The independent advertising regulator, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received over 100 complaints. It was ruled that the DeadHappy Harold Shipman advert has caused irresponsible and serious widespread offence and distress. Complaints against DeadHappy insurance were upheld by the regulator.

About the DeadHappy Harold Shipman advert

DeadHappy has always said that it is challenging the norm to tackle the taboo of talking about death.

It had already been reported to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for other adverts, including one that trivialised the ‘cost of living crisis’. On this occasion, DeadHappy had clearly overstepped the mark by featuring an image of the serial killer, Harold Shipman.

Shipman originally hit the news in the late 90’s when it came to light that he had murdered an estimated 260 people while working as a GP in Hyde, near Manchester. He was found guilty of the murder of his 15 patients in January 2000, and sentenced to life under a whole life order. He was later found dead in his cell in Wakefield Prison in 2004.

This video from The Independent explains more about DeadHappy’s controversial advert.

Video: The Independent | Life insurance company uses picture of infamous serial killer Harold Shipman in new ad

Key under the complaints for the DeadHappy Harold Shipman advert, was a list of friends and relatives of the victims.

DeadHappy defends the Harold Shipman advert

The life insurance industry was in uproar about the advert, suggesting it had caused irreparable reputational harm.

DeadHappy’s co-founder, Andy Knott released a statement that said “we are called DeadHappy and our strapline is ‘Life insurance to die for’ so we are aware of the provocative and to some the very shocking nature of our brand”.

“But being provocative is different to being offensive and it is of course never our intention to offend or upset people. It is our intention to make people stop and think. If however you have been personally distressed by this advert we do sincerely apologise.”

Ruling and conclusion for the DeadHappy Harold Shipman advert

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) published its ruling, which said “The ASA received 115 complaints. The complaints challenged whether the ads irresponsibly caused serious and widespread offence and unjustified distress.

“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.”

It was also added that the ASA considers the adverts to trivialise and make light of the tragic murders that had been committed by Harold Shipman, which would cause serious offence to viewers.

The ruling went on to say that the images were likely to be distressing, especially to the friends and families of the victims, and in the context of a life insurance promotion, this was unjustified.

In its response to the ASA, DeadHappy had published an apology for any offence caused and the adverts were withdrawn within 24 hours of being published.

Social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram had both acknowledged the complaints, but added no further comments, according to the ASA.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – ASA Ruling on DeadHappy Ltd


The Independent – Life insurance firm slammed for using killer doctor Harold Shipman in advert

This is Money – DeadHappy doubles down on ‘appalling’ Harold Shipman advert

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