Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A video ad for mobile phone retailer, OnePlus, appeared in various online media throughout August and September 2017. The ad started with a shot of a cabin by a lake in the woods and red on-screen text that stated ‘LAKE BLOOD’. A teenage girl was seen reading on the porch of the cabin and looked up to find a masked man holding a chainsaw standing amongst the trees. The girl smiled and raised her smartphone to record the masked man, and whispered “Awesome!”, as he slowly came towards her with the chainsaw turning. A teenage boy with blood stains on his clothes and blood pouring down his hands and legs then emerged from the bushes and ran towards the cabin, overtaking the masked man. The boy shouted “Go! What are you doing? Are you insane? What’s wrong with you?” The boy then knocked the smartphone out of the girl’s hands and said to the girl “You should be using one of these.” as he handed her the OnePlus5. The boy then proceeded to record the masked man with the smartphone, and encouraged the girl to get in the shot. As the girl posed in front of the masked man, the chainsaw stopped working and the masked man was seen to attempt to start it again. As the masked man managed to start the chainsaw and raised it above his head, the boy then took a photo on the phone and said “There we go. Awesome.” The ad then cut to a scene with an image of the smartphone with a photo of the girl posing with the masked man, and text on-screen stated “OnePlus 5 Dual Camera. Clearer Photos”. The final scene showed the masked man, who was covered in blood, sitting on the porch and taking a ‘selfie’ with the smartphone, with a chainsaw, a pair of legs and an arm, all covered in blood, next to him.
The ASA received 28 complaints:
1. Twenty-one complainants, who believed that the content of the ad was excessively gory, challenged whether the ad was unduly distressing; and
2. Eight complainants, who believed that the content of the ad was too distressing for children, challenged whether it was inappropriately placed where children might see it.
1. OnePlus Technology (Shenzhen) Ltd Co., Ltd t/a OnePlus stated that the ad was clearly ‘tongue-in-cheek’. It was developed as a parody of a horror which showed the ridiculous lengths that young people would go to in order to achieve the perfect ‘selfie’, even if it meant placing themselves in danger and in the instance of the ad, in the path of a masked man wielding a chainsaw. To ensure that that tone was conveyed, they said the film included well-known and predictable elements from horror films in order to induce a low level of fear. Reasonable measures were taken to ensure that viewers were well aware that the ad was a parody and that the fear-inducing elements should not be taken too seriously.
OnePlus said the masked man was given a comedic and endearing look by being dressed in a large blue gingham dress. They said that the teenage girl’s reaction to the appearance of the masked man – which was that she smiled, said “Awesome” and held up her phone to photograph the masked man – broke the tension of the moment and illustrated that she was not afraid. They stated that when the boy reached the girl and handed her the phone, light-hearted and up-tempo ukulele music began to play and this was intended to illustrate again that the ad was a parody.
OnePlus said that while the couple was covered in bloodstains, the joviality of their conversation was intended to remove any element of fear.
In regards to the final scenes, OnePlus stated that the choice of the voice-over artist was deliberately chosen to sound comical and that the reading was delivered in a way to sound like he was laughing at the situation. The overlapping of the voice-over and the final frame in which the masked man, who was covered in blood, ensured that any lingering elements of fear or intensity were allayed. They said that while the final scene contained large amounts of blood and lifeless bodies, the actions of the masked man were intended to defuse fully any elements of fear; the masked man appeared to be taking a ‘selfie’ with the phone and pouting into the camera, an activity which was common amongst teenage girls. The intended effect was the comedy that came from the juxtaposition of the action and the scene.
2. OnePlus stated that their media plan was targeted at audiences who were over the age of 16, with different layers of targeting applied across different channels. They provided details of the safety settings which they had applied. They had excluded the ad from appearing before videos containing or featuring sensitive subjects (such as tragedy and conflict, sensitive social issues, sexually suggestive content, sensational and shocking content, profanity and rough language) and certain topics (such as defence industry, military, politics, religion and belief, aerospace, law and government, world news, military history, intelligence and counterterrorism, religious music). They also applied other exclusions to their targeting based on digital content label, age and keywords.
For other platforms, OnePlus stated that the ad was targeted at those between 16 to 34 years of age and tech audiences or, where relevant, programmatically. They believed that the ad was comedic, thoroughly considered, and carefully targeted at an audience who could handle the content of the ad and would appreciate its comedic nature. They also believed that any reasonable consumer within the ad’s target demographic would likely understand its ‘tongue-in-cheek’ nature.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA understood that the ad was intended to be a parody of horror films. We noted that the narrative of reckless or ignorant American high school teenagers and violent masked murderers, characters that were both featured in the ad, were well known tropes used in the ‘slasher’ film genre.
We noted that in the majority of the ad, the scenes showing blood and gore, namely when the teenage boy appeared with dripping blood and a laceration on his leg, were brief and not excessive. We noted that suspenseful and unsettling music played in the background as the teenage girl encountered the masked man; it was only the scene in which the teenage boy handed the OnePlus 5 phone to the teenage girl that cheerful ukulele music began to play. We noted OnePlus’ comments that, in addition to the change in music, the jovial conversation between the boy and the girl alleviated any tension that had been created in prior scenes prior. Notwithstanding that, we noted that the masked man’s menacing laughter and grunts, as well as the noises from the chainsaw, could still be heard in the background as the ad progressed and as the masked man edged closer to the teenage characters. We therefore considered that the suspense had not been fully assuaged.
In the final scene, the teenagers’ bloody corpses were seen to have been strewn on the porch and at the front of the porch; the chainsaw and the masked man were covered in blood, whilst he was taking a ‘selfie’. We considered that some viewers would find the final image excessively graphic, notwithstanding that it was intended to be comedic. We further considered that the contrast in bloodiness and goriness between the preceding scenes, which were moderate, and the ending scene was unexpected and would be shocking for some viewers, particularly as they might have expected the preceding cut screen, in which an image of the product was shown against a white background, to be the conclusion of the ad. Because of the unanticipated amount of gore at the end of the ad, we considered that the ad was likely to cause undue distress.
Because of the nature of the ad and in particular its unexpectedly shocking content in the final scene, we considered that some adult viewers would find the ad distressing and in addition, that it was unsuitable for a child audience. We therefore considered that careful targeting was required to ensure that the ad was only shown to an appropriate audience, for example, to those who had expressed an interest in content aligned with the horror or ‘slasher’ genre, or those whose previous activity indicated that they were comfortable with viewing such content. We further considered that the ad should have been targeted in a manner that it did not appear around content that was likely to appeal to children. However, whilst we noted that OnePlus’s media plan targeted audiences above the age of 16, it had not otherwise been targeted towards audiences that were less likely to be distressed by the content, and in one instance the ad was seen by the complainant’s 7-year-old child on a video sharing platform account with parent controls settings in place, before a video that was related to Thomas the Tank Engine.
For the above reasons, we considered that the ad had not been appropriately targeted and was likely to cause undue distress. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On both points, 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. (Responsible advertising) and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told OnePlus to ensure that similar future ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause undue distress to its likely audience.