An in-game ad for the mobile app game Cube Master 3D – Match Puzzle, seen in the mobile app game Nonogram.com on 31 May 2022, featured an animated video that depicted a female character, who appeared to be naked, standing in an enclosure formed of alphabetical puzzle tiles. She could be seen through gaps in the structure that partially exposed her large breasts. An on-screen hand attempted to solve the puzzle with the aim of clearing two remaining tiles that covered the female character’s breasts. Large on-screen text stated, "I CAN'T GET HER OUT!".
The complainant, who believed the ad was overly sexualised and objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive and irresponsible.
Higgs Technology Ltd said they were unable to identify the ad network that served the ad. They stated they had asked the agency who prepared and placed the ad on their behalf to remove the ad. They noted that the character’s breasts were not fully exposed in the ad, and therefore did not regard it as sexually explicit, irresponsible, or offensive. They emphasised that the ad was not representative of the gameplay of the advertised game.
Easybrain Ltd, the developer of the app in which the ad was seen, were also unable to identify the ad network that served the ad. They said they had received two complaints about the ad directly from app users in December 2021. As a result, they blocked the ad, as well as similar ads from the same advertiser, from appearing in the Nonogram.com app. However, that did not necessarily prevent the ads from reappearing if the advertiser placed them again as part of a new ad campaign.
They said that, because all their in-app advertising was served by third-party ad networks, their control over the content of ads was, in general, limited to blocking ad categories they considered unsuitable for their users, which included ads with sexual content. They noted that, in some cases, ads were miscategorised or incorrectly filtered, meaning they appeared in Easybrain apps despite the steps they took to ensure they would be filtered out. They added that one of their employees carried out spot-checks on ads served in Easybrain apps and blocked any that were considered unsuitable.
The ad portrayed a scenario in which an on-screen hand attempted to solve a puzzle that concealed an apparently naked female character. The ad showed the hand selecting the puzzle tiles that covered her breasts, and implied that correct selections would further expose the character, who appeared to be glancing around vacantly.
The ASA considered that, because of the character’s partial nudity and the implication that the aim of the game was to expose her fully, the ad included a harmful stereotype by presenting the female character as a sexual object in a scenario designed for the sole purpose of titillating viewers. We further considered that the ad depicted the character as a passive, voiceless figure subjected to a degrading situation, which we considered reinforced that stereotype.
For those reasons, we concluded the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause both serious and widespread offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
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: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. 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. and 4.9 4.9 Marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.
See Advertising Guidance: “Depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence?” (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Higgs Technology Co Ltd to ensure that their ads were socially responsible and did not cause serious or widespread offence, including by featuring a harmful gender stereotype by objectifying and sexualising women.