An in-game ad for the film Paranormal Activity 4, which appeared around the game apps "Angry Birds" and "Draw Something", included scenes of a person being dragged across a room by an invisible force. Another scene showed a young women talking to a friend online as a shadowy figure appeared behind her.
Three complainants challenged whether the ad was likely to cause fear or distress to children and was irresponsible, because it appeared during games likely to be played by children.
Paramount Pictures UK said they instructed their media buying agency, MEC Global, to buy advertising space aimed at 15- to 24-year-olds and that their instructions were issued in good faith on the understanding that the content would be appropriately placed. They said MEC purchased advertising space targeting that demographic from the sales house, Odyssey Mobile, who put together a package containing several apps, including "Angry Birds" and "Draw Something." They said neither Odyssey Mobile nor the owners of the apps raised concerns with them or with MEC about the ad being inappropriate for their audiences.
Zynga Inc., the owners of the mobile game "Draw Something", said the ad was delivered through one of their advertising partners, who were required to abide by strict advertising standards, including only serving advertising content on “Draw Something” that was suitable for all audiences. Their game audience research indicated that the majority of their players were 18 years of age or older. They had received some feedback from their gamer community that the ad may have been inappropriate for younger players and, once they became aware of the concerns, they promptly discontinued the ad and alerted the agency. They apologised if the ad had upset or offended any of their customers.
Rovio Entertainment Ltd, the owners of the mobile game "Angry Birds", said the ad was not suitable to be shown alongside their game and that its placement there was against their advertising guidelines. They said some gamers had complained directly to them via e-mail, with more doing so via online discussion forums. They said they used third party advertising platforms to place ads on their apps and that, as soon as they became aware of comments on the discussion forums regarding inappropriate advertising, they started investigating the matter. They soon obtained information about the ad and the country and context in which it appeared, and identified the company, Millennial Media, that had served the ad. The ad was then promptly removed from Rovio's apps. Rovio said their advertising guidelines were written into the agreements with their advertising providers and that this incident had breached those guidelines. They said Millennial Media had apologised to them for what was a human error, and that they committed to implementing additional safeguards to ensure the incident was not repeated.
The ASA welcomed the fact that the game owners, Rovio and Zynga, acknowledged that the ad was not appropriate for display around the mobile games "Angry Birds" and "Draw Something". Although we accepted that Paramount had instructed their agency in good faith, errors had clearly been made by the various parties involved in placing the ad. We considered that the ad contained scenes that could be distressing to children and we concluded that its placement around mobile games that might be played by both adults and children was irresponsible.
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 Paramount to ensure that all agencies instructed to buy advertising space for their ads took account of the context in which the ad was to appear, to avoid the risk of causing undue fear or distress.