An ad on the advertiser's YouTube channel, seen in December 2016, for the mobile game app Mobile Strike, featured two women wearing bikinis and sitting on sun-loungers. They were playing the game on their phones. In another scene, shot in slow motion, a third woman, who was wearing a swimsuit, was seen walking down a path towards them and also playing the game on her mobile phone. As she approached, she flicked her hair back from her face and then stopped and looked into the camera. In the final scene, she approached the other two women and stood with one hand on her hip whilst looking and smiling at the two other women.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive, because they believed it objectified women.
Machine Zone Inc explained that their mobile app game Mobile Strike, was a modern military-themed combat game where players could battle against other players. One important feature of the game was that it could be played on mobile devices, the game was therefore portable and could be played anywhere. They believed the juxtaposition between what people normally did by the pool (i.e. relax and lounge) with the visuals of the players battling it out with jets and tanks was what made the ad so striking. That theme was used in other ads for the game – for example, players battling one another in cafes, restaurants and the launderette. The intention was to show that the Mobile Strike game could liven up a player's time spent in everyday, sometimes boring, spaces.
They did not believe the ad objectified women. They said that because of the setting, the women were wearing bathing suits. The intention was to feature "real-sized" women and reference mythical warrior women like Amazons and "Wonder Woman", as the women were seen making strategic moves in battle against one another. They said they had concerns that the complainant's objection was the size of the women featured rather than what they were wearing or doing in the ad. They suspected that had the women been typically thin models seen in ads, it was unlikely that a complaint would have been made. They had decided to feature "real-sized women" as a nod to their diverse player base.
They said they had run the ad globally for a number of months and had not received any other complaints about it. In fact, they said they had received considerable support from their players for featuring real-sized women in their ad, as they were often under represented.
YouTube said the ad did not violate their Community Guidelines or Advertising Policies. They said the ad had been served through AdWords, a self-administered system and it was the advertiser's responsibility to choose appropriate targeting of their ads, as well as to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code.
The ASA noted that the images of the women wearing swimwear bore no relation to the product being advertised – a combat-themed mobile game app. We also noted that in some of the scenes, the mannerisms of the women were seductive or sexually-charged. For example, in one scene, a woman wearing a thong bikini was seen walking towards a sun lounger and the camera angle was taken from below and behind so that as she walked into the scene, only her legs and her thong bikini bottoms were in view. We noted that another scene featuring one of the women wearing a swimsuit was shot in slow motion, and the emphasis was on her body rather than the mobile game app she was playing. One of the camera angles was shot side-on which highlighted her waist and chest. As she approached the camera, she flicked her hair back, stopped and looked seductively into the camera. We noted that the ad featured plus-sized models but we considered that fact was irrelevant. For those reasons, we considered that the ad objectified women and was therefore offensive.
The ad breached 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Machine Zone Inc to ensure that its ads in future did not objectify women and cause offence.