An online trailer for the film ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’, which played before games on www.girlsgogames.com, began with a woman saying, "What is this?" and a man replying, "It's some black magic stuff". A number of brief scenes from the film followed, including a sheet flying quickly towards the camera, a man pulling a long thread from his eye, something smashing through the window of car, objects flying around a living room as a woman screamed, arms breaking through a door, a girl looking through a trapdoor and being grabbed by the arm, a close-up of a woman looking frightened, and two young girls with a ghostly appearance and no eyes speaking in demonic voices. The ad also featured night vision clips of cinema audience members screaming, shielding their eyes and looking frightened. On-screen text interspersed between scenes stated "NEW YEAR ... NEW FEAR".
The complainant challenged whether the ad had been responsibly targeted, because it was likely to be seen by children and would cause them harm and distress.
Paramount Pictures UK said that, because the film had been given a 15-rating by the BBFC, they had instructed their media buying agency MEC Global to buy online advertising space aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds. The agency had purchased ad spots through a network, Videology, which MEC understood would serve the ad on a range of websites targeted at that age group. MEC said Videology did not raise any concerns that the ad was inappropriate for their audiences. Paramount Pictures UK said that as an extra measure Videology was asked to restrict the times at which the ad would be served to between 8 pm and 6 am. Paramount Pictures UK said the ad was served on the Girls Go Games website without their knowledge and, had they known, the ad would have been pulled immediately. They said Videology had confirmed that all views of the ad served on that website during the period when the complainant saw the ad were served in accordance with the timing restriction.
SPIL Games BV, which operated the Girls Go Games website, said that according to their records, the ad was served to website users 7,233 times between 30 December 2013 and 2 January 2014, between the hours of 9 pm and 4 am; it had not been served at any other times. They said that 1% of their audience were between five and eight years of age, 31% were between nine and 12 years of age, and 61% were between 13 and 22 years of age. They said they had not received any complaints directly from website users.
SPIL Games BV said that although the ad had been served only in the evening, they regretted that it had appeared on their website. They said they utilised content filters and ad restrictions to ensure they served only appropriate advertising to their users. This ad had, unfortunately, fallen through those filters. They said that as a result of the complaint, they had notified their sales partner who served the ad, as well as all other sales partners in the UK, to strictly adhere to their ad specifications.
The ASA considered the overall tone and the content of the ad, including in particular the scene of two young girls with a ghostly appearance and no eyes speaking in demonic voices, was likely to cause harm and distress to children.
We acknowledged Paramount Pictures UK had instructed their media buying agency to buy online advertising space aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds, and that the ad should only be served between 8 pm and 6 am. We considered, however, that the Girls Go Games website was, due to its overall design and the type of games it featured, likely to have strong appeal to children, and to young girls in particular. We noted that according to SPIL Games BV, 32% of users of the Girls Go Games website were 12 years of age and under, which we considered to be a significant percentage of the website's users. We also noted that 61% of website users were between 13 and 22 years of age, and we considered it likely that a significant portion of websites users in that age group would fall into the lower end of that age range, given the design of the website and types of games featured.
Because the ad had been targeted to a website which was used by a significant proportion of children, and we considered the ad was not suitable for children, we concluded it had not been responsibly targeted.
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), 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) and 5.1 5.1 Marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm: (Children - Harm).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.