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Samaritans sparks controversy with baby Jesus poster

LONDON - The Samaritans has run into a storm of flack with a controversial Christmas poster campaign, which bears the words 'I wish the baby Jesus had never been born'.

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The ad will target lonely people, for whom Christmas is the most difficult time of the year. It tells people, "Dreading Christmas? Call us", with the charity's phone number.

According to reports, The Samaritans thought carefully before deciding to run with the poster. Paul Girling, director of the Sheffield office where the campaign was launched, said: "The idea is that some people can feel so isolated at this time of year that this thought could cross their minds."

However, it could run into trouble with the advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Association, if anyone complains that they find it offensive. The ASA's code states: "Advertisements should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race or religion."

The poster campaign, which appears in Sheffield, follows a branding awareness drive undertaken by The Samaritans, which sought to get people to question their attitudes to mental illness.

One of the ads reads: "When there's more people on antidepressants in the UK than voted for 'Pop Idol', maybe it's time to start listening to something else. Each other."

That campaign was created by Agency Republic and appeared in the press, outdoor and on broadcast media, running until May 2003. Media was by MindShare.

The Samaritans was founded in 1953 and offers 24-hour, confidential emotional support to anyone in emotional distress. Its aim is to reduce the number of people who die by suicide because they have no one with whom to share their feelings.

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