A TV ad, for an 18 rated console game, was broadcast in April 2011. It included a rapid sequence of action scenes, in war scenarios. Characters held large guns and the scenes included gun fire, rocket fire, multiple explosions, tanks, helicopters and jets. Text on screen included “‘THE BEST-LOOKING FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER TO DATE.’ - DESTRUCTOID” and “‘BATTLEFIELD 3 IS UNNERVINGLY BEAUTIFUL.’ - JOYSTIQ”.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with an ex-kids restriction, which meant it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children.
The ASA received four complaints from members of the public, who saw the ad during a football match at 6.15 pm.
1. The complainants objected that the violence in the ad was offensive, in particular because they believed it glorified war.
2. Two of the complainants also challenged whether the ad was appropriately scheduled, because it was broadcast at a time when children might be watching.
1. Electronic Arts (EA) said the PEGI 18 logo was clearly displayed at the beginning of the ad; that message was repeated by the voice-over and on-screen text that stated “THIS BATTLEFIELD 3 FOOTAGE HAS BEEN CAPTURED FROM THE NEW FROSTBITE 2 GAME ENGINE”, which they believed, in conjunction with quotations from gaming publications, helped to demonstrate that the ad related to a game and not real life.
Clearcast said they did not believe the ad glorified war but that it did the opposite; using the advanced software video games now had, it showed war in all its grim reality. They said they understood the text “‘BATTLEFIELD 3 IS UNNERVINGLY BEAUTIFUL.’ ...” to be a comment from the specialist press about the quality of the game, rather than on the subject of war.
2. EA said they had entered into the clearance process at an early stage to ensure the ad was approved. They said the campaign was planned around the football match, which was not the type of programme that was directly made for or targeted at children, because they wanted to target adult male football and gaming fans. EA said it was never their intention to target children, either directly or indirectly, because the game was rated 18. They had entered into a lengthy approval process, making amendments in line with Clearcast’s suggestions each time, because they wanted to make the ad acceptable for an ex-kids timing restriction. They said the changes had involved removing any direct gunfire and impact shots and removing scenes Clearcast had considered might be offensive.
Clearcast said EA had initially not submitted footage that would allow the ad to be shown any earlier than post-9pm. They said they had subsequently approved a version that would be suitable for post-7.30pm, before sufficient changes were eventually made to allow an ex-kids restriction. They said they had reviewed the various versions and considered the ad was toned down from the previous versions they had seen. They said they believed on balance the ad had been given the correct timing restriction, in particular given the relatively small number of complaints received. Clearcast said the ex-kids restriction did not prevent an ad from being shown around football and a later timing restriction would not have made any difference in terms of showing the ad around a football game.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted Battlefield 3 was a console game based in war scenarios, some of which included shooting and explosions, and that the action sequences in the ad reflected that. We also noted, however, the ad did not include any direct interpersonal violence and also showed some war situations that did not include any gunfire or explosions. We considered the graphics and the inclusion of captions from reviews, as well as the PEGI rating, made clear the ad was for a game and therefore viewers would understand the footage did not reflect real life.
We considered it was clear, particularly in the context of the other quotation on screen, that the text “‘BATTLEFIELD 3 IS UNNERVINGLY BEAUTIFUL.’ - JOYSTIQ” formed part of a review of the product and viewers were therefore likely to interpret it as a comment on the quality of the game, rather than on war itself. We acknowledged some viewers might find the product, or the content of the ad, to be in poor taste but considered it was unlikely to be seen to condone real life violence or to glorify war. We concluded that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. and 4.2 4.2 Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards. (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We considered the ad did not feature scenarios that were likely to have a directly harmful influence on older children; the sequences shown were clearly fictional and were therefore unlikely to cause harm to older children by condoning violence. Because it was based on war scenarios and included shooting and explosions, we considered the ad could cause harm to younger children but that the ex-kids restriction was sufficient to ensure the ad would not be broadcast at times when younger children would be watching TV alone. We considered the ad had been appropriately scheduled and the ex-kids restriction was sufficient.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules
Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners.
Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them.
computer or console games carrying an 18+, 16+ or 15+ rating, including those that have not yet been classified, but which are expected by the publisher to secure a 15, 16+ or 18-rating.
(Scheduling of television and radio advertisements) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.