LONDON — In one advertisement, a sun-kissed couple laughs and chases each other on a sandy beach. But the beachgoers are holding not surfboards, but wooden coffins.
The ad offers a “one-way” trip with “roasting temperatures” for 1,195 pounds, or about $1,570. But this is for cremation, not vacation.
It is the work of a company called Beyond, which offers funeral price comparisons. It says it deliberately made the edgy ads in an effort to start a national conversation about death and burial costs.
But when it comes to the business of burying or cremating people, the company learned, it can push the envelope only so far.
Transport for London, which runs and regulates transport in the British capital, rejected the ads, citing concerns that they would cause “serious and widespread offense.” The regulator, known as TfL, said that it did not actually see the four ads for Beyond, but was advised by a partner that they were likely to cause offense.
“All advertising campaigns running on the TfL estate need to comply with both TfL’s and wider national advertising policies,” the authority said in a statement.
But Beyond, which says it wants to break taboos about the big sleep, continues to push its advertising campaign online and around the city.
“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,” said Ian Strang, the company’s co-founder.
“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.”
Cremations cost, on average, £3,311, while burials run £4,257, according to the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report 2017.
Mr. Strang noted that the ads were appearing as Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority is investigating funeral costs and trying to bring transparency to the industry.
“This is a recognition that it has never been more important to be engaging in conversation about death, not shutting it down,” he added.
One ad proposed for the London Underground looks like something that would sell flu medicine: “Headaches? Aches and pains? Sore throat?” it asks. “Better write your will then,” it says, with an image of a box of pills.
Beyond has revised those ads for the Tube. But the original ones are emblazoned on billboards. The reaction of Londoners on social media? “Shocking,” “vile,” “insensitive” and “tasteless.”
One ad plays off the Salt-N-Pepa song “Let’s Talk About Sex,” replacing the word “sex” with “death” and superimposing the lyrics over a picture of a woman with her finger between her lips.
Another ad likens choosing a funeral director to car shopping by saying, “Don’t get R.I.P.’d off.”
One Facebook user, Caroline Wilkins, described the ad as “truly awful.” “It shows a complete lack of compassion or understanding,” she said, adding, “These adverts are just harmful and extremely upsetting.”
Despite the negative reaction to the campaign, Mr. Strang said the company was adamant about opening the conversation about death.
“We’re stripping away the emperor’s clothes, the over-reverence assigned to what is, after all, an inevitable conclusion, an inescapable purchase — using humor,” he said.
“We’re turning up the volume to 10 in the hope it paves the way for everyone else to at least make it to five — planting a flag and saying, ‘Here’s permission to talk about death.’”
Orignially published in NYT.