Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two pre-roll ads seen on YouTube in late December 2017 and early January 2018 for the 15-rated horror film, Insidious: The Last Key. Both ads featured a number of scenes in quick succession and tense sound effects:
a. The ad opened with a shot of a house in the dark and then showed a young woman walking through it. She was shown looking at some medical instruments on a table before being thrown backwards by a force. She was then depicted lying on the floor screaming whilst a humanoid creature with claw-like fingers probed at her throat. Further scenes included a creature hanging upside down, the same woman screaming on a hospital bed and a clawed hand emerging from a sleeve. Another female character said, “People who need help with hauntings come to me, but this house is my family’s house. I’m going to find it and I’m going to finish it”. In the final scenes of the ad a male character said, “Lisa there’s someone right in front of you”. Lisa replied, “I don’t see anything”. A hand was shown reaching out to her in the dark and then a sudden shot of a grinning creature with fanged teeth was shown next to a woman.
The ad was seen before a video of songs from Frozen, a video about how to build a Lego fire station and a video of the children’s cartoon ‘PJ Masks’.
b. The ad opened with a young woman lying on a floor immobile, bloodied and distressed while a humanoid creature crept towards her and then probed at her with claw-like fingers and pierced her skin. At the same time another female character said, “People with matters that can’t be explained, come to me. But this one is different. This was my family’s house.” A male character than stated, “I’m going to count back from five, four, three, two” and a number of brief scenes were shown, including a woman’s eyeballs turning to white, a huddled female figure on the floor in the dark, a woman lying on a bed screaming and a screaming woman appearing and then disappearing behind someone. In the final scene of the ad a woman was shown slowly opening a suitcase and a creature suddenly leapt from it.
The ad was seen before two Minecraft videos.
The ASA received five complaints, three of which were from parents who said their children saw the ads and two from adults who said they had found the ads distressing. They objected that:
1. the ads were irresponsibly targeted because they were seen before videos which were of appeal to children; and
2. the ads were unduly distressing.
1. Columbia Pictures Corporation Ltd t/a Sony Pictures Releasing UK said they had targeted the ads on YouTube to an adult audience, by excluding audiences below 18 years and preventing the ads being shown before content with unknown audiences. They said their agency had also added a layer of safety by using further YouTube targeting, including content exclusions such as content that was suitable for families, over 1,000 negative keywords exclusions including keywords with appeal to children, over 40 negative topic exclusions including religion, politics, news and children’s content, and they opted out of all display network content to ensure they had control over websites and apps with audiences aged under 18 years.
YouTube said that advertisers administered their own campaigns, and were responsible for determining the appropriate targeting, and could control what types of users saw their campaigns and against what types of content they did not want their campaigns to appear. They said advertisers could target specific demographics, excluding anyone who was not logged-in with a declared or inferred age of over-18.
YouTube stated that they required that advertisers complied with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements, including their obligations under the CAP Code, and that YouTube did not review ads on behalf of advertisers for compliance with the CAP Code.
YouTube also said that they provided the app YouTube Kids, on which they recommended children view YouTube, because they only displayed ads that had been through a rigorous review process and approved as family-friendly on that app. They said that ads (a) and (b) were not shown on YouTube Kids.
2. Sony Pictures Releasing UK said the ads were promoting the film Insidious and were derived from the content of the movie, which was essential in marketing a film. They stated that the ads had passed the advert approval system on YouTube. They also said that ad (b) was given clearance on television by Clearcast with a scheduling restriction of post 11 pm, whereas ad (a) did not feature in the TV campaign and so was not submitted for clearance, but that the content was similar to other TV ads which were given a post 9 pm restriction.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ads were for a 15-rated horror film and featured a series of clips from the film. The ASA recognised the complainants’ concerns that both ads were seen before content on YouTube with particular appeal or interest to children, including videos of songs from Frozen, of the cartoon PJ Masks and videos relating to Minecraft and Lego. We considered that the ads were unsuitable for children because they were excessively frightening and shocking, and were likely to cause fear and distress, most notably the scenes with the woman on the floor screaming and in distress while the humanoid creature approached her and clawed at her throat, and in which the creature’s face appeared suddenly.
We noted that three complainants also believed the ads were unduly distressing for adults and two stated that they had suffered particular distress from viewing the ads. We understood that ad (b) had been cleared for TV with a post 11 pm scheduling restriction by Clearcast, which indicated that it contained the strongest allowable content of a graphic or distressing nature for TV. Ad (b) featured in particular a close-up shot of the humanoid creature’s claw piercing the woman’s throat, and built suspense with sound effects and screaming, and a voice-over countdown, at the end of which a creature suddenly jumped out of a suitcase. We considered that ad (a), although slightly less graphic, contained a similar level of frightening content. Furthermore, both ads contained other content which was shocking in nature. Several scenes featured the sudden appearance of the creature’s face or a woman with white eyeballs, together with tense sound effects.
We considered that the ads may have been appropriate to show before limited content on YouTube with similar themes and imagery that was intended for adults. However, when seen by the complainants the ads were juxtaposed against unrelated content such as Minecraft videos. They also were not skippable until five seconds into the ads and did not contain any warning regarding their content. We therefore considered that the ads, in that context, were likely to cause excessive fear or distress for some adults without justifiable reason, because they were unexpectedly shocking and frightening.
We understood that Sony Pictures Releasing UK had identified and restricted the YouTube content before which the ads should not be shown, in particular putting in place topical and demographic exclusions on content with appeal to children or with unknown audiences. However, the ads had appeared before various videos that were highly likely to be of appeal or interest to children, and we noted that one of the complainants viewed ad (b) when they were not signed in to YouTube. The ads were also likely to be unduly distressing to some adults in the context in which they appeared. For those reasons, we concluded that the ads had not been targeted appropriately and were likely to cause undue distress, and therefore were in breach of the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility) and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and Offence).
We told Sony Pictures Releasing UK to ensure that future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children were appropriately targeted, and that similar future ads were targeted appropriately to ensure they did not cause undue distress to their likely audience without justifiable reason.