Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A video shown before an online game on www.agame.com/game/bloppy, for Blu-Ray and DVDs of The Walking Dead Season Four, showed disfigured and decomposing zombies. A scene in the ad showed a zombie being run over by a fast moving vehicle with spluttering sounds and body parts flying up in the air. The ad then showed scenes of bloody bodies scattered and close up shots of zombies being shot, struck and stabbed.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was:
1. offensive because it was excessively violent; and
2. unsuitable for a medium where it might be seen by children.
1. & 2. Entertainment One (UK) Ltd (eOne) responded that the ad was placed by a media agency on their behalf via a video advertising platform on the gaming website, agame.com. They stated the ad featured clips and images from series 4 of the programme.
eOne explained that they provided a brief to their agency detailing that the DVD was certified by the British Board of Film Classification as an 18 and that the agency clearly communicated to the video advertising platform that the ads for this campaign must only be targeted at adults aged 18 to 35. eOne stated that they only expected the ad to be shown in environments appropriate to this target age range and that the ad was cleared by SPIL Games B.V. (SPIL Games), which operated agame.com.
eOne stated that it was the responsibility of SPIL Games to examine each ad that was shown on agame.com and that they were entitled to remove the ad if they did not consider the ad to be appropriate for their usual audience, which they had chosen not to do so in this instance.
eOne said that they believed agame.com was not aimed at or intended for the children audience, notwithstanding that the website hosted puzzle games such as "Bloppy" and "Bubble Laguna". They further stated that agame.com also hosted games of a nature that were more suitable for adults, such as shooting games, war games, ninja games and zombie games.
They reiterated that SPIL Games was responsible in ensuring that games that were appealing to children were separated from 18+ games within their inventory, as well as the ads that they showed. eOne stated that their agency had confirmed that they would ensure adult themed advertising would be "age-gated" and would alert publishers to any risks associated with ads that could potentially cause harm or offence. They did not intend to show the ad again.
SPIL Games responded that agame.com was a website for predominantly teens and young adults. According to their data, the ad was shown 4.957 times between 23 September 2014 and 30 September 2014 to users of agame.com. They said that 2% of their users were between 5 and 10 years of age, 20% between 9 and 12 years of age, 56% between 13 and 24 years of age and 22% over 24 years of age.
SPIL Games had not received any complaints from their users regarding the ad. They stated that they implemented certain content filters and ad restrictions with all their sales partners, to ensure that only appropriate ad content was served to their users. However, the ad had fallen through their filters on this occasion. They stated that they had now notified their sales partners to adhere to their ad targeting specifications.
1. Not Upheld
The ASA noted that a number of scenes in the ad contained graphic details that showed exploding blood splatters with corresponding sounds of gun shots and flesh being cut, and depicted acts of violence such as shooting at close range and zombies being stabbed and struck.
We noted that the ad was for DVDs and Blu-Ray discs of a TV series, the premise of which was human survival in a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies. On this basis, we considered that the imagery featured, which eOne stated were taken from the series, reflected the theme of the products advertised. Although we acknowledged that some might find the content of the ad to be offensive, we did not consider the level of violence and gore depicted to be excessive within the context of ads for programmes in the horror genre that had an 18 rating.
On this basis, we considered that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to viewers in general.
On this point, the ad did not breach CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and Offence).
We noted eOne's comments that they had informed their agency, who had in turn provided instructions to the video advertising platform, to ensure that the ad was targeted at an audience aged between 18 and 35. We also noted their comments that it was SPIL Games' responsibility to also ensure that the ads served on agame.com were appropriate for their target audience. We informed eOne that, although those involved in preparing or publishing marketing communications were obliged to comply with the CAP Code, the primary responsibility to observe the Code fell on advertisers.
We acknowledged eOne's comments that a number of games on agame.com were based on themes that were more suitable for adult players. However, we considered that many of the games on agame.com were likely to appeal to children.
We considered that the level of violence and graphic detail in the ad was not suitable for viewing by children. On this basis, we concluded that the ad had been inappropriately and irresponsibly shown on a medium where it might be seen by children.
On this point, the ad 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form on the website on which it was seen. We told eOne to ensure that future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children were appropriately targeted.