A pre-roll ad on YouTube for the cinema release of the film ‘Pet Sematary’ (2019), seen on 9 and 13 February 2019, before Fortnite videos on the DanTDM and FGTEEV channels. It opened with a girl walking through some woods and was accompanied by a voice-over, which stated, “Something up in those woods, it brings things back; sometimes dead is better.” It then showed a number of scenes from the film, including someone with a serious facial injury, a boy with a protruding spine and shoulder blades crawling across the floor, and violent scenes depicting sharp objects and blood. Those scenes were interspersed with red, on-screen text, which stated “Based on Stephen King’s Terrifying Novel. They Don’t. Come Back. The Same”.
The complainants, whose child saw the ad and found it distressing, challenged whether it was irresponsibly targeted because it was seen before videos that were likely to be of appeal to children.
Paramount Pictures UK said their media buying agency worked with YouTube to establish brand safety control mechanisms and processes to ensure that all material published on their behalf was appropriate for the audience to whom it was directed. They provided a list of the content label exclusions and 34 category exclusions they applied when targeting the ad, including content suitable for general or family audiences and negative categories with appeal to children such as “toys”, “cartoons”, “comics”, “animated films”, “crafts”, “superhero films” and “family-oriented games and activities”. They also said that only adult users logged into their YouTube account and aged between 18 and 54 were explicitly targeted, so that the ad would not be served inappropriately.
Paramount Pictures said that they applied behaviour-based targeting to the ad campaign so that only narrow categories of logged-in users aged 18‒54 would see the ad, being those: (i) engaging with content falling outside of the excluded categories; (ii) with an interest in horror films; or (iii) who had viewed the film’s 2018 trailer ad. Paramount Pictures said that they applied a skip function so that users could skip the ad after five seconds or at any point thereafter. They said the first 5 seconds of the trailer did not show any of the scenes complained about and that the ad introduced cues as to its tone so viewers would have had the opportunity to skip it at any point if they considered the content to be distressing. They said while YouTube told them that their platform was not able to guarantee the ad would never be served inappropriately, their advice was that the recommended exclusions were best practice. They said that there was always a possibility a child might have viewed content while logged into an adult user’s YouTube account, but they and their media buying agency were engaging with YouTube to see what more could have feasibly been done to ensure greater safety.
YouTube said that under the terms and conditions of using their platform, it was Paramount Pictures’ responsibility to abide by applicable law and regulations. They said that based on the exclusions applied by Paramount Pictures, the ad would only have been served to users considered to be over 18, to content that was considered at least for ‘audiences with parental guidance’ or above (i.e. it would not have been served against content considered by YouTube to be suitable for general audiences or suitable for families), and content that was not considered to fall within the 34 exclusions applied by the advertiser.
The ASA noted the words “There’s something up in those woods, it brings things back” and the accompanying tense music in the opening scene of the ad. The voice-over then stated “But sometimes dead is better” and contained several scenes which we considered viewers, in particular children, would find frightening, such as a boy crawling across a floor towards another person and suddenly grabbing their leg, people dressed in facemasks walking through woodland during the night and bloodstains smeared on a door. In light of that, we considered that the ad was likely to cause distress to children, and therefore should have been appropriately targeted to avoid the risk of children seeing it.
We considered the ad might have been appropriate to show before content on YouTube that was unlikely to be of particular interest to children, but noted that it was seen by the complainants against unrelated content for the video game Fortnite. We recognised that Fortnite was not a video game that was only played by children. However, we considered that the game was likely to be of appeal to younger people.
The channels Dan TDM and FGTeeV each featured a significant amount of cartoon imagery, and the presenters spoke in an enthusiastic and animated manner which we considered was likely to be a tone used more so when communicating with children or young people. The DanTDM presenter appeared youthful and we noted he had been given an award by a popular children’s television network, and was therefore likely to be familiar to children. Furthermore, many videos related to Fortnite on the FGTeeV channel featured a young child playing the game alongside the channel’s presenter. Consequently, we considered that both channels would have appealed particularly to children.
We noted the exclusions placed by Paramount and we considered it reasonable for them to have expected that, by placing them, the ad would not have appeared around content such as the channels in question. However, those exclusions had proved insufficient to prevent the ad from being seen around videos on those channels. Because the ad appeared before videos of particular appeal to children, we concluded that it had been inappropriately targeted.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.2 (Harm and offence).
We told Paramount Pictures International to ensure that future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children did not appear in media that was of particular appeal to children.