The ASA received ten complaints about a TV ad for a new car. The complainants saw the ad on Sky, Watch, ITV, Quest and UK Gold.
A TV ad for a new car featured different scenes in rapid succession. It also showed the word 'YES' flashing an orange background. The number of 'YES' words then increased in a short time until there was a regular pattern of approximately 304 alternating black and white small 'YES' words across the entire screen. A single large black 'YES' then appeared in the centre of the screen and flashed several times, whilst at the same time the smaller 'YES' words forming the background alternated between white and black.
Ten complainants objected to the flashing images in the ad. Some complainants said that the ad had induced symptoms associated with photo-sensitive epilepsy, including a seizure.
The broadcasters said that the ad has been cleared by Clearcast, who had also obtained a flashing images test certificate, showing that the ad passed the Harding FPA (Flash and Pattern Analyser) Test.
Clearcast said that the ad had passed the Harding FPA Test. They said they had spoken to the manufacturer of the test equipment and had been assured that they had reviewed and refined their algorithms to detect patterns better that were of the nature found in the ad. They said that these changes should prevent similar sequences being passed in future.
The ASA consulted Ofcom for further analysis of the ad. Ofcom stated that three conditions had to be satisfied for a sequence to be considered a breach of their Flashing Images Guidance: the change in brightness had to be greater than a defined level, more than three pairs of opposing changes had to occur in any second and more than 25% of the screen area had to change in brightness.
Ofcom said that the sequence with the 'YES' words was the most provocative in the ad. They said that the alternating of the smaller 'YES' words between black and white met the first condition concerning the change in brightness. They also said that there were seven pairs of changes in just over half a second in this sequence, therefore the second condition had been met. Concerning the percentage of screen area that changed in brightness, they said that the smaller 'YES' words occupied nearly 40% of the screen area and the large 'YES' approximately 15%. Ofcom therefore concluded that the large 'YES' flashing on its own did not constitute a breach. However, they also concluded that the smaller 'YES' words met all three conditions above and therefore did constitute a breach.
Ofcom stated that the use of automated test equipment did not, in itself, guarantee compliance with the guidelines in this area.
The ASA noted that the ad had been cleared by Clearcast, who had obtained a certificate showing that the ad had passed the Harding FPA Test. We noted the test certificate submitted by the broadcasters showed that the ad had passed with caution. We noted that Clearcast has spoken to the manufacturer of the equipment and been assured that the changes they had implemented would reduce the risk of a similar occurrence.
We also noted that the use of automated test equipment did not guarantee compliance with the Ofcom Guidance. We noted that Ofcom had identified that the ad had met all three conditions needed to be considered a breach of their Guidance. We also noted that several complainants had told us that they suffered symptoms associated with photo-sensitive epilepsy, including a seizure. We therefore concluded that the ad had breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule
Television only – Advertisements must not include visual effects or techniques that are likely to affect adversely members of the audience with photosensitive epilepsy. For further guidance, see Ofcom's Guidance Note for Licensees on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television at:
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/broadcast/guidance/831193/section2.pdf (annex 1) (Flashing images).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.