ASA Adjudication on Coors Brewers Ltd
Coors Brewers Ltd
137 High Street
19 November 2008
Number of complaints:
An ad for a football game on a free games website, Mousebreaker.com, was headlined "AGAINST THE WALL". A screen-shot from the game showed a man about to kick a football against a wall that had an outline of a goal on it. Text beneath that said "CLICK TO PLAY". The link directed would-be players to the Carling website where the game was hosted.
1. The complainant believed the ad was irresponsible because it appeared on a website used by children and therefore encouraged children to visit the Carling website.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad breached the Code by not making clear that it was a marketing communication.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. Coors Brewers Ltd (Coors) said they took their responsibilities under the CAP Code very seriously, and had no interest in targeting under 18-year-olds in their marketing campaigns. They said research data showed that the average age of computer gamers was now 35, with just 25% of gamers generally being under 18. They said the Mousebreaker site was held by its publishers to target the 18- to 34- year-old male demographic and believed the nature and themes of the site corroborated this. They said the games on the site reflected adult themes and humour, in some cases with a topical or satirical edge, such as the "Run the Red Light" David Cameron cycling game or the "Merchant Banker" game. They said all the advertising on the site was targeted at an adult market, and cited ads for car finance, broadband internet, airlines, university Masters programmes and multiple links to gambling websites. They said there were no reliable data to show the absolute proportion of partiular site users who were under or over 18.
Coors said they did not become aware of the January 2007 Mousebreaker.com survey that gave a breakdown of site demographics indicating that 29.7% of users were under 16 until May 2008. They said that, whilst this survey suggested a relatively high proportion of under 16s used the site, they did not believe it was reliable because it was now over 18 months old and because the survey respondents were self-selecting, which meant they could not be taken to be a representative sample of users. They also said the way this online survey was constructed may have influenced the way user age was recorded.
Coors said, at present, the most widely accepted website demographic statistics within the industry did not provide direct data usage for website users under 15. However, they believed the statistics on15- to 18-year-olds gave good comparative evidence as to whether a site had a higher or lower proportion of under 18 users than others. They said these statistics demonstrated that over 85% of the Mousebreaker website's users were over the age of 18. They sent figures for the 15 to 18 age bracket by month from July 2007 to June 2008.
IPC Media, owners of the Mousebreaker Ltd (Mousebreaker) site, said it was designed for, and had always been marketed to, 18- to 44-year-old men. They said the site was not marketed to younger users. They said industry statistics showed that 74% of the Mousebreaker audience was over the age of 25 and only 26% of the audience fell into the 15 to 24 age category at the time the ad appeared. They sent statistics for the month of May 2008 to show that. They said they did not believe the medium was being used to advertise alcoholic drinks to an audience of whom more than 25% were under 18.
2. Coors said the agency responsible for the Coors website, FastWeb Media, had arranged for a screen shot and link to the game "Against the Wall", which was hosted on the Carling site, to appear on the Mousebreaker site. They said visitors to Mousebreaker were required to click through to the Carling website in order to play the game. They said Coors had inserted an age verification page in May 2008 which asked for the date of birth of the visitor before the game could be played on the Carling website. They said, if a visitor entered a date of birth indicating they were under 18, they were refused entry and redirected to the Drinkaware website. They also said the screenshot and link for "Against the Wall" were no longer active on Mousebreaker and there were no plans for their future inclusion on the Mousebreaker website.
Coors said the content relating to the "Against the Wall" game on Mousebreaker did not contain any Carling branding. They said, however, that it had not been Coors' intention to hide the fact that the game was created and hosted by Coors. They said the game itself had clear Carling branding in various places within it and was also hosted on the Carling site.
Coors said they believed the screenshot and link on Mousebreaker had appeared as editorial content, and were therefore outside the ASA's remit. They said the content on Mousebreaker had been selected and controlled entirely by Mousebreaker and not by them. They believed that the fact that a remuneration relationship existed between Mousebreaker and Coors did not prevent the screenshot and link from being editorial content. Nevertheless, they said they would insist that all paid-for links on third party sites be clearly flagged as links to Carling activity in future.
IPC Media said they hosted the image and link for the "Against the Wall" game as part of a commercial arrangement. They said they were paid each month to promote the game from their website.
The ASA noted the "Against the Wall" football game required a relatively low level of skill and considered that its content was likely to appeal to children. We nevertheless considered that the screenshot that comprised the ad was not directed at children in its style of presentation, content or context. However, we were concerned that the evidence submitted by Coors to demonstrate the audience for the Mousebreaker site did not provide figures for visitors aged under 15 and therefore did not provide a complete picture of the possible under-18 audience for the Mousebreaker site. Because Coors had not provided definitive figures for the percentage of Mousebreaker users in the under 18 age group, and because the Mousebreaker 2007 survey recorded 29.7% of Mousebreaker users as being under the age of 16, we concluded that the ad was directed at people under 18 through the selection of media. Although we acknowledged Coors' statement that they had not intended to target people under 18 through the screenshot and also that they had subsequently inserted an age verification page which asked for the date of birth of the visitor before the game could be played on the Carling website, we concluded that they had not proved that the medium for the screenshot, the Mousebreaker website, had an audience of fewer than 25% under 18s. We concluded, therefore, that the ad breached the Code provisions for the marketing of alcoholic drinks.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 56.5 (Alcohol: children). We also investigated the ad under CAP Code clause 2.2 (Social responsibility) but did not find it in breach.
We noted Coors' belief that, because neither they nor their agency retained creative or editiorial control or signed off on the content of the screenshot for the Mousebreaker game, the screenshot was editorial content and therefore did not constitute a marketing communication for the purposes of the Code. However, we noted there was a payment received by Mousebreaker from Coors and, furthermore, the screenshot directed people to a game that contained Carling branding. We therefore considered that it was a marketing communication analogous to a sponsored link. We concluded that, by not making clear it was a marketing communication, the screenshot could mislead. We welcomed Coors' assurance that they would ensure such commercial activity would be clearly marked as such in future.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 22.1 (Recognising marketing communications).
The screenshot and link to the game must not be hosted again on the Mousebreaker website. We told Coors to ensure similar commercial activity was clearly marked as such in future.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)