ASA Ruling on giffgaff Ltd
260 Bath Road
19 February 2014
Internet (social games), Internet (display), VOD, Internet (video)
Computers and telecommunications
Number of complaints:
Fallon London Ltd
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one Not upheld.
Two video ads promoted a mobile phone network:
a. A video ad entitled Different Takes Guts #giffgaffguts, which appeared on YouTube and Facebook, was set in a swimming pool complex. Various people all dressed in white, including wedding dresses and bikinis, and others, dressed as mummies in bandages, were seen running down corridors. The people jumped into an empty swimming pool, as large plastic containers full of what appeared to be blood, guts and other organs were lowered in, and the participants started throwing the contents around and smearing blood on their faces and bodies. At various points the blood and guts were thrown across and onto the camera. A close-up of a drink showed an eyeball and a character opened her mouth to reveal another eyeball. One man was shown holding his nose and diving under the surface of a hot tub full of blood and guts, helped by others who pushed his shoulders and back down. The ad ended by showing the floor of the pool and the characters covered in blood. On-screen text read "Different takes GUTS".
b. A short video ad on YouTube, entitled "Do you have the guts?" featured people, some of whom were covered in blood, having mug shots taken and holding an identification panel which stated "DIFFERENT TAKES GUTS", a date and "#giffgaffguts”.
1. Fifteen complainants challenged whether ad (a) was likely to cause offence and distress; and
2. Two complainants also challenged whether ad (a) was inappropriately placed because it was likely to be seen by children and would cause them distress and harm.
3. One complainant also challenged whether ad (b) was likely to cause offence.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. ‒ 3. Giffgaff stated the ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. The ads had appeared around Halloween and had been created to celebrate Halloween. They stated that the aim of the ads had been to be playful and humorous rather than frightening and to highlight that being different 'took guts'. They did not consider that ad (a) contained material that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to children and they did not believe it was likely that the ad had caused serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards. They stated that the tone of the ads was light-hearted and the ad clearly used fake blood and guts, which was aimed at adding humour and playfulness, as well as to comfort any viewers and to avoid viewers from experiencing fear or distress. They stated that the literal use of 'guts' was an obvious play on words on being courageous. They believed that the video followed a similar tone set by many pop music videos and was a format which was very familiar to the target audience.
They stated that the ad was targeted at viewers who were 18 years old and older and by keyword interest areas, such as halloween, horror, scary movies, night-life-lovers, music-lovers (rock music, hip-hop), etc., which meant the ads were served to people who fit one or more of those targeting key words. Ads (a) and (b) appeared on YouTube. Ad (b) appeared on Facebook. They stated that the ads were approved by each platform before going live and, if it had been deemed appropriate to have an age verification requirement, they considered the approval process on each platform would have highlighted that and the ads would not have been run.
Google stated the ads had been reviewed by YouTube LLC and did not violate their community guidelines or advertising policies. They added that the ad was served through AdWords, a self-administered system. They stated it was the customer's responsibility to choose appropriate targeting of their ads and the AdWords system offered many different options. They stated that, under terms and conditions agreed to by advertisers using AdWords, it remained the advertiser's responsibility to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code.
Facebook stated the ads did not violate their ad guidelines and they had not taken any further action.
The ASA acknowledged that ad (a) appeared around Halloween, where horror or gory imagery was often more prevalent. We understood, however, that some complainants had seen the ad before videos, which were not related to Halloween or to horror films, such as music videos, and we also noted that there was no warning regarding the nature of the ad's content. We considered that the scenes of blood, guts and other organs being thrown around were extensive, graphic and excessively gory and considered that the depiction of eyeballs in blood and in a character's mouth were particularly graphic. We therefore considered the ad's scenes were likely to cause revulsion and distress to viewers. Although we considered that viewers would note that the characters were not frightened and would infer that the blood and organs used were likely to be fake, we considered that the images were sufficiently realistic and graphic to cause offence and distress to many viewers and concluded that the ad was in breach of the Code.
On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence).
We noted that the ad campaign was aimed at viewers who were 18 years old and older, but understood that ad (a) was not age-gated and could therefore be accessed by children. We considered that the graphic 'horror' scenes would be likely to cause offence and distress to children, as well as adults, as set out under point 1, and therefore concluded that ad (a) was in breach of the Code.
On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence) and 5.1 (Children).
3. Not upheld
We noted the characters featured in ad (b) had blood on their face or body and, in some cases, were covered in blood. Although we considered that some viewers would find that distasteful, we did not consider that the ad was likely to cause offence or distress.
We investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form.