The advert, which was circulated last month, bore the caption: ‘Life Insurance. Because you never know who your doctor might be’, and featured a large photograph of Shipman - a man convicted of murdering 15 elderly patients in his care.
Shipman, who was suspected of a further 250 deaths but this was never proved, committed suicide during his life sentence in Wakefield Prison in 2004.
The ads were not prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.The ASA
In a ruling published today (February 15), the ASA upheld complaints which argued that the advert irresponsibly caused serious, as well as widespread offence and unjustified distress.
Some 115 complaints were made to the ASA in total over two appearances of the advert on Facebook and Instagram.
Several financial advisers are among those who complained, having said the advert was “beyond despicable”.
A relative of a victim of Shipman’s also spoke out against it.
The advertising regulator has now said the advert “trivialised and made light of the murders committed by Harold Shipman, such that they were likely to cause both serious and widespread offence to those who saw them”.
It added: “We further considered that any reference to the murderer in advertising material was likely to be distressing, particularly for those who had lost family members or friends at Shipman’s hands and that, in the context of an ad promoting life insurance, the distress caused was unjustified.
“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.
“We concluded that the ads were not prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and did not comply with rules on issues of harm and offence.”
DeadHappy, which has received some £6mn in investments from Octopus, has now confirmed that they will not run the advert again and is reviewing its advertising processes following restrictions placed on the insurer by the Financial Conduct Authority at the end of last month.
The restrictions, of which there were five, required the life insurer to only publish adverts approved by its product manufacturer or another authorised person, and for its staff to go on a financial promotions training course.
The advert went live at 2pm on January 23, and was taken down the next day, at 8am.