An in-app ad for “Words of Wonders: Crossword”, seen in the “Simon’s Cat – Crunch Time” app on 12 February 2023. The ad stated, “Can you clear the board?” and featured 20 boxes containing different letters. One box contained the letters ‘F’ and ‘U’ and the box to the right of it contained the letters ‘C’ and ‘K’.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and had been targeted irresponsibly.
Fugo Information Technology and Software LLC t/a Fugo Games did not respond to the ASA’s enquiries.
Tactile Games, the developers of the game in which the ad was seen said they took care to ensure all ads served through their games were appropriate and that they blocked specific categories of advertising and only displayed ads that were suitable for a teen audience. They said Simon’s Cat – Crunch Time was a game not aimed at children and that the majority of those who played the game were female and aged between 25 and 54 years.
They said that it was unlikely many under-18s would have seen the ad, and said that viewing data from their YouTube channel showed 2% were registered as under 18. They also said that the ad was for a word search game and that whilst it was suitable for their audience, they had blacklisted the advertiser from advertising across their entire gaming portfolio. They said they had also written to the advertiser to request an explanation for the ad and had notified AppLovin, the ad network through which the ad was served, of the incident.
They said that upon being notified of the complaint, they took steps to stop the ad reappearing on mobile apps served by the AppLovin platform. They also said they told Fugo Games not to use the ad again and reminded them of their policies, and the consequences for non-compliance.
The ASA was concerned by Fugo Information Technology and Software LLC t/a Fugo Games’ lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to respond promptly to our enquiries and told them to do so in future.
The CAP Code stated that ads must not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and must be prepared with a sense of responsibility for consumers and society.
The ad was for a game where players had to create different combinations of words from the available letters in close proximity to other letters in order to score points. We therefore considered that consumers would look for different hidden words in the ad.
The ad featured 20 boxes, including one that contained the letters ‘F’ and ‘U’ and immediately to the right featured a box that contained the letters ‘C’ and ‘K’. We therefore considered that those who saw the ad would see that it spelled out the word ‘FUCK’. We considered that ‘fuck’ was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising.
The ad had appeared in the game “Simon’s Cat – Crunch Time”. We acknowledged Tactile Games’ response that the majority of its users were registered as over 18. However, the game was rated as being suitable for those aged 9 years and older which meant it could be downloaded by children, and the advertiser provided no information on how they targeted their advertising, or if they used interest-based criteria when doing so. The game also contained imagery of cartoon characters that was likely to have broad appeal to those under 18, and we noted the complainant’s eight-year-old granddaughter had seen the ad. Because the ad contained extremely offensive language in a medium that would have broad appeal, including to children, we considered the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and had been inappropriately targeted.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Fugo Information Technology and Software LLC t/a Fugo Games to ensure their ads were socially responsible and did not cause serious or widespread offence, including by avoiding references to expletives. We referred the matter to CAP’s Compliance Team.