Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
Three TV ads for Google, were seen on Channel 4:
a. The first TV ad, with clock number AVV/GOOG001/210, was three and a half minutes long, and was scheduled during an ad-break of the screening of the TV programme ‘Taskmaster’. It had the word #ad superimposed on the bottom right of the screen for the whole duration. The advert featured Alex Horne, the regular host of the programme and two celebrities, Al Murray and Desiree Burch, who were given a task to complete in a similar style to the programme. This required them to “teach the teacher how to make an origami boat”. During the task the celebrities received a phone call from the host informing them that using Google’s ‘translate’ feature on their mobile phone’s may assist them in the task. They both proceeded to use this feature, alongside the ‘Google Lens’, an image recognition technology feature. At the end of the ad the Google logo appeared on the screen.
b. The second TV ad was an edited thirty-second version with some content similar to ad (a). The Google logo was briefly visible on the screen at the start of the ad, followed by the Taskmaster logo. The text “#ad” appeared on the bottom right of the screen for approximately three seconds before it disappeared. The ad referenced the Google Translate feature, and briefly showed the Google Lens feature. The ad was made up of brief clips in the style of a trailer and text on the screen encouraged viewers to find out “Who built the best boat? www.youtube.com/google.co.uk” with the Google logo shown below the text.
c. The third TV ad was thirty seconds long and related to a Taskmaster task entitled “Who ate the Malina quickest?”. The Google logo was briefly visible on the screen at the start of the ad, followed by the Taskmaster logo. The word “#ad” appeared on the bottom right of the screen for approximately three seconds. The same two celebrities were seen to use Google Translate and Google Lens in order to try and solve the puzzle. The ad was made up of brief clips in the style of a trailer before it finished with text on the screen encouraging viewers to find out “Who ate the Malina quickest? www.youtube.com/google.co.uk” with the Google logo shown below the text.
The complainants challenged whether:
1. ad (a); and
2. ads (b) and (c) were obviously distinguishable from the Taskmaster television programme.
1. Google UK Ltd said ad (a) was "in the style" of the Taskmaster show, and therefore they took extra care to ensure it met the requirements of BCAP rule 2.1. They said the universally accepted signifier “#ad” was clearly displayed on-screen for the entire duration of the ad. Google said the superimposed text was displayed in a font type and size that was clearly visible to viewers, contrasted well with the background it appeared against, and exceeded the minimum recommended font height for superimposed text. Google said whilst ad (a) did not open with a Google logo, the enduring presence of the “#ad” text coupled with the end card of a white screen, with nothing but the Google logo displayed on it, made it clear that the entire video was an ad, and was entirely separate and distinguishable from the Taskmaster programme itself.
Channel Four Television said that ad (a) featured a phone with Google Translate on screen at the start as well as “#ad” in the bottom-right corner of the screen throughout, clarifying to viewers that it was distinguishable from editorial content. They said the background music and assistive technology used in the ads had never featured in the programme. They said the task was evaluated by Alex Horne at the end of ad (a) and therefore resolved much quicker than in the programme, where the task analysis was taken back to the studio with each contestant being evaluated and scored by another presenter - Greg Davies, the Taskmaster. They said Taskmaster was a well-established programme with twelve series and the same celebrity contestants in each episode of a series. They highlighted that the contestants used in the ad - Al Murray and Desiree Burch - were not a combination of contestants that had ever appeared together during the programme and Al Murray had not appeared during the programme during which the ad was shown.
Channel Four Television reiterated that Google branding appeared at the end of the ad, which they believed clarified that this was an ad and not part of the programme. They believed that these measures in the context of such a well-established show meant that viewers would be able to differentiate between the ad and the editorial of the programme. They believed that there had been an increase in the media literacy of audiences in recent years which further allowed them to distinguish advertising from editorial content, particularly when that advertising content appeared in commercial airtime.
Clearcast said they had considered that it was necessary to include the superimposed text stating “#ad” for the entire duration of ad (a). They reiterated the text passed all minimum standards for height and legibility, and clearly marked out that this was an ad rather than a segment of the TV show. They said the ad featured Google Lens and Google Translate much more prominently than would be the case if it were an episode of Taskmaster, and highlighted that the ad ended with a Google logo. They believed that those features ensured that it was clearly branded as an ad throughout, and so no matter at what stage a viewer tuned in they would quickly understand this.
2. Google said the text, “#ad” was displayed on-screen for the opening three seconds of ads (b) and (c), which they said exceeded the recommended minimum of 2.2 seconds in the BCAP guidance on the Use of Superimposed Text in Television Advertising. They said the ads also opened with the Google logo clearly displayed in the front and centre of the screen and closed with an end card pointing viewers to Google's UK YouTube channel and another appearance of the Google logo. They believed this made the nature of the ad clear to viewers.
Channel 4 highlighted there were no specific rules about the length of time that “#ad” or a brand's logo should be displayed on screen during contextual adverts that appear in commercial airtime. They said that ads (b) and (c) used a range of devices to enable the audience to distinguish them from editorial content. They said the ads were edited with fast cuts, which was an effect viewers would not experience when watching the programme. They said the ads featured end shots with Google branding and a link to Google’s UK YouTube page. They stated that as part of the show the contestants would be judged and scored in the studio by Greg Davies, further helping viewers to easily distinguish this ad from editorial. They believed that these measures in the context of such a well-established show meant that viewers would be able to differentiate between the ad and the editorial of the programme. They believed that there had been an increase in the media literacy of audiences in recent years which further allowed them to distinguish advertising from editorial content, particularly when that advertising content appears in commercial airtime.
Clearcast said the ads were different in style to ad (a) and started with a Google logo on screen, something which would not happen in a regular episode of Taskmaster. They said that this clearly set up the ad from the start as relating to Google rather than purely to Taskmaster. They noted that BCAP rules 2.1 and 2.3 require that the audience should quickly recognise the message as an advertisement. They believed that as the text “#ad” was displayed on screen for the opening three seconds of the adverts, a viewer would quickly recognise that they were watching an ad.
They said the quick editing between elements of the task, showing only highlight clips rather than a complete task performance, was different to task videos as they appeared in a regular episode of Taskmaster. They also highlighted that ad (b) and (c) ended with an instruction to go online to Google’s YouTube account to find out more, which they said would not happen on the TV show. They said the website to which people were directed did not mention Taskmaster, only the advertiser, Google.Clearcast did not think it was necessary for the on-screen text to appear throughout ads (b) and (c), because those ads featured a number of other factors which made them much more clearly and quickly recognisable as ads. They said the “#ad” text therefore appeared for the first three seconds of each ad, and they reiterated Google’s point that this was in excess of the minimum requirements for duration, height and legibility.
Clearcast said they were content that the ads had been prepared with sufficient care and would be clearly and quickly recognised as such by a viewer and distinguished from editorial content.
Avalon Television, who produced the ads, reiterated the comments of Clearcast.
1. Not upheld
The ASA considered that the content and style of ad (a) was very similar to the programme content of Taskmaster and was therefore likely to be associated with programme material by viewers. The BCAP Code required that ads must be obviously distinguishable from editorial content, especially if they used a situation, performance or style reminiscent of editorial content, to prevent the audience being confused between the two. The audience should quickly recognise the message as an ad.We noted that ad (a) was played at the start of an ad break during the programme Taskmaster and understood that the programme made it clear that an ad break was coming. We understood that although the ad itself did not open with a Google logo, it had been preceded by a programme bumper, sponsorship credit and channel ident. We considered that this would have helped viewers identify that the ad was separate from the programme.
We further considered that the presence of the superimposed text “#ad” throughout the duration of the ad meant viewers were likely to recognise it as advertising material and sufficiently distinguishable from the programme. We considered that the full-screen appearance of the advertiser’s logo at the end provided further clarity to viewers that they were viewing an ad.
We therefore concluded that ad (a) was obviously distinguishable from editorial content and would quickly be recognised as an ad.On that point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 2.1, and 2.4.1 (Recognition of advertising), but did not find it in breach.
As with ad (a), we considered there were some contextual features that would have helped viewers in distinguishing ads (b) and (c) from programme material. The ads were played at the start of an ad break; the Taskmaster programme made it clear that an ad break was coming. The ad break had been preceded by a programme bumper, sponsorship credit and channel ident.
We noted that ads (b) and (c) were edited in the style of a trailer for Taskmaster rather than more closely resembling the typical programme content, and that the Google logo was featured at both the start and end of the ads. However, we considered that ads (b) and (c) remained reminiscent of the programme Taskmaster and particular care should be taken to ensure viewers were not confused between the two.
We acknowledged that the BCAP guidance on the Use of Superimposed Text in Television Advertising made recommendations about the duration of hold of on-screen text, so that viewers were given an appropriate length of time to read it. However, the guidance also indicated that when a qualification was particularly significant, other measures should be taken to place emphasis on it, such as including using a longer recognition period when calculating the duration of hold.
We also considered the purpose of the on-screen text was not to qualify a particular claim in the ad, but to signal to viewers that they were watching an ad rather than actual programme content.
Although we recognised that “#ad” was displayed on-screen for the opening three seconds of ads (b) and (c), we considered that, in the absence of that on-screen text for the full duration of the ads, the Google logo and link to the YouTube page were insufficient to enable viewers to recognise that they were not viewing editorial programme content. We therefore concluded that ads (b) and (c) were not obviously distinguishable from the editorial programme content and breached the Code on that basis.
On that point, the ads breached BCAP Code rules 2.1 and 2.4.1 (Recognition of advertising).
Ads (b) and (c) must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Google UK Ltd to ensure that future ads were obviously distinguishable from editorial content.