U.K. film's drug email campaign banned

Email accused recipient of being 'habitual narcotics user'

LONDON -- The latest attempt from a U.K. independent distributor to stand out in a marketing environment dominated by the big bucks spent on studio-backed releases hit the buffers Wednesday.

Metrodome Distribution, listed here on the stock exchange, has been forced to pull part of its campaign to support the rollout of British indie flick "Shifty," after the Advertising Standards Authority announced a ban Wednesday.

The ad watchdog said the email marketing campaign that encouraged visitors to the movie's microsite to "stitch up a mate" by making them think they were being investigated by police for drugs offences has since been pulled.

The ad watchdog acted after receiving a complaint from a member of the public who received the email via their work address and expressed concern that it could be a "threat to their employment."

Metrodome created a website to promote the movie, which follows a drug dealer having a bad day, that offered web visitors the chance to anonymously send a friend an email with the head "Criminal Investigation."

The email, sent from a fictitious police department using the address communitydrugsteam@ukgov.org.uk, told the recipient they had been named by someone caught in a class-A drugs swoop by cops as a "habitual narcotics user."

According to the watchdog, email recipients were warned of the risk of a "criminal prosecution" unless they chose a course of counseling and weekly drug testing.

"If you fail to respond to this email within seven days of receipt please be aware that this will then become an official matter and there will be a strong likelihood of criminal investigation," continued the email.

In its ruling the ASA said that the email campaign "could cause alarm and undue distress" to people getting it, especially if it was seen by an employer, friends or family.

Metrodome, the company behind the campaign, apologized for any offence caused and said it had moved to soften the campaign days after it launched to make it clear the email was a hoax.

But the marketing support could go live again in a slightly different form as long as Metrodome ensures it is clear it is part of an advertising campaign, the ASA said.

The movie stars Daniel Mays, Jason Flemyng, Nitin Ganatra, Riz Ahmed and is written and directed by Eran Creevy.