The British online funeral planning website Beyond recently had 4 advertisements bound for the UK subway system banned by Transport for London. The playful ads parodied pop-culter ad-styles like those for headache medicine, asking viewers:“Aches and pains? Sour Throat? Shivers?… Better write your will then.”
Transport for London responded to the ban saying, “Running advertising that is seen by millions of Londoners every day is a serious responsibility and our advertising partner was advised by the Committee of Advertising Practice that the original posters proposed by Beyond were likely to cause serious and widespread offense.”Ian Strang, Beyond’s co-founder responded to the ban saying, “In the U.K. we are not comfortable talking about or engaging with death, and it’s not healthy, and something we want to meet head on. Our reluctance to talk about death is the reason funeral costs continue to spiral and why you pay far too much for writing a will or settling an estate,” he added. “That’s what we seek to change.”Additioanlly, Srang points out, “This comes at a time when the CMA is investigating funeral costs. trying to bring transparency to the market – recognition that it has never been more important to be engaging in conversation about death, not shutting it down.”Indeed, Beyond’s ad scandal comes at a perfect time to catalyze a national conversation about funeral prices in the UK. Last June, 2 separate UK government organizations announced probes into funeral pricing. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is reviewing funeral costs in order to “to ensure that people are not getting a bad deal” and The Treasury is considering tougher regulation of pre-paid funerals and has opened a consultation process.
Following the announcement of investigations in June, Dignity (the UK’s largest death care corporation) released a statement. Dignity ‘s head of insight, Simon Cox, commented:“It is excellent news that the government has decided to do something about mis-selling in the funeral plan sector. Our research has shown that bad practices like persistent and pushy cold-calling are rife among firms that have no oversight from a regulatory body.”Despite Cox’s pleasure for the investigations, Dignity’s share price fell 14% following the Treasury and CMA announcements re-highlighting its 70% low for the year reached in March…Beyond has worked with Transport for London to revise the ads to be more sensitive and subway-appropriate (and incredibly boring) but the originals still decorate billboards around London. The public outlash surrounding the ads has been shocking because the ads are legitimately funny… although it’s not clear if the media coverage has played up viewer disgust to spice up the story or if fear-of-mortality actually trumps sense-of-humor?From the outside, it appears Beyond has successfully executed a brilliant scheme to simultaneously promote their services far beyond the subway systems (NY Times, Metro UK, BBC News, etc.) and raise awareness for the potential need for UK funeral price reform (which would benefit their business) and the current government investigations looking into it. The UK is consistently about a decade ahead of the United States in terms of funeral care trends which gives us a head start on resolving these issues stateside before we see similar problems of government price investigations, plummeting death care stock prices (Dignity fell 70% this year), and religiously unaffiliated customer needs in a country with a 77% cremation rate.What do you think about Beyond’s ads? Funny or insensitive?