Two in-game ads for games, seen in the Scrabble GO-Classic Word Game mobile app in April 2022:
a. The first ad was for the mobile game app Naughty Puzzle: Tricky Test and featured an animated depiction, from behind, of a woman struggling to escape from a fence in which she was stuck, with a man watching from the foreground. The woman’s buttocks and torso were obscured by a black rectangle, but she appeared to be wearing short shorts and a strappy top. Two icons were then presented as options on-screen: one featured text that stated “HELP” underneath a shot of a broken fence; the other, which was selected by an on-screen mouse, featured text that stated “SLAP” underneath a cropped close-up of the woman’s buttocks with superimposed red handprints. The woman was then seen with tears streaming down her face, still trapped in the fence, before further options were presented on-screen. One featured text that stated “JUTSU” underneath a shot of hands forming a gesture with pressed palms, crossed thumbs, and pointed index and middle fingers; the other, which was selected by an on-screen mouse, featured text that stated “UNDRESS” underneath a shot of a bra and pants.
b. The second ad was for the mobile game app Naughty Quiz: Brain Out Puzzle and included the same content as described above for ad (a).
IssueTwo complainants, who believed the ads trivialised and condoned sexual assault, and objectified and sexualised women, challenged whether the ads were offensive and irresponsible.
OneSoft Studio did not respond to our enquiries.
Scopely, the developer of the app in which the ads were seen, said they had blocked the ad from appearing in their app on 7 April due to a breach of their own guidelines.
Mintegral, the ad network that served the ads, told us that the ads had been placed via their self-service portal. All advertisers who used the portal were required to agree that all the ads they uploaded would comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Their automated system was designed to preliminarily flag whether ads were at risk of violating that agreement. Whenever a possible violation was identified, an additional manual review would be performed by their in-house content review specialist, who also carried out random spot-checks on approved ads.
In this case, their automated system did not identify either ad as a risk and had therefore approved the ads without the requirement for a secondary manual review. However, after a random spot-check in April, Mintegral blocked both ads.
Subsequently OneSoft had re-uploaded the ads, which were then approved to be served again in apps because their algorithm had erroneously taken the ads’ past approval to reflect a low risk of violation. They assured us they had manually reviewed all OneSoft ads on their platform and blocked any they considered to breach their agreement, including the ads under investigation. They were in the process of modifying their algorithm to prevent previously blocked ads from being automatically reapproved, and to improve the enforcement of their internal ad policies more generally.
The ASA was concerned by OneSoft Studio’s 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 ads depicted a female character stuck in a vulnerable position while a male character, instead of helping, slapped her buttocks. She was depicted in a tight, short, outfit and was drawn from behind in a position that emphasised her legs and buttocks, despite the presence of the black rectangle. Both ads ended with the male character about to undress her. The female character was seen crying, clearly distressed by the male character’s behaviour.
We considered that viewers would interpret the ads as depicting the female character as a sexual object to be manipulated without consent and as portraying an act of sexual violence against a helpless victim. We further considered that the ads appeared to present that scenario with the sole purpose of titillating viewers, and implied that such acts were included in the gameplay of the advertised games. We considered that the ads trivialised and condoned sexual assault and encouraged sexual violence. We further considered that they sexualised and objectified women, and therefore included a gender stereotype likely to cause harm.
For those reasons we concluded the ads were irresponsible and likely to cause both serious and widespread offence.Ads (a) and (b) 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. 4.4 4.4 Marketing communications must contain nothing that is likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour. 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 ads must not appear again in their current form. We told OneSoft Studio to ensure that their ads were socially responsible and did not cause serious or widespread offence, including by trivialising, condoning or encouraging sexual violence, or including a harmful gender stereotype by objectifying and sexualising women. We referred the matter to the CAP Compliance team.