Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An in-game ad for the online game Dream Zone: Interactive Story, was seen on 4 January 2021 in the online property trading game, Landlord. It featured a cartoon video of a woman being splashed in her face with water by a faulty tap. On-screen text stated “Turn it off”. She bent down and looked into a cupboard under the sink and saw a leaking pipe. Behind her was a woman wearing a towel about to hand over a mobile phone. Two buttons were shown with the options “Help her” and “Take advantage”. A super-imposed cartoon hand selected the “Take advantage” button. The woman wearing the towel bit her lip and the video shot to the first woman’s face. She displayed a startled expression and then smiled. Beneath the video, text stated “Play and have fun You choose your destiny”. The app was described by SWAG MASHA in the Apple App store as a “series of interactive stories for guys” and a “thrilling game for men”.
The complainant, who believed the ad was sexually suggestive, challenged whether the ad:
1. was irresponsible and offensive because it objectified women; and
2. had been irresponsibly targeted.
1. SWAG MASHA LLC did not believe the ad featured sexually suggestive content or objectified women. They believed the ad would have appeared to have objectified women if there was a man present in the video, but that was not the case. They said that the term "Take advantage" meant to take advantage of the situation. The game featured different options for interactions, such as teasing and jokes and being tickled or pinched. They said that the ad showed a woman’s face and did not focus on her body and nudity was not featured. 2. They said that the game advertised had an age rating of 17+. They were aware of their social responsibility because not all of the content in the game was suitable for children. The app was monetized primarily through in-game purchases and not advertising, and they did not target people under 18 years of age.
Reality Games, the publisher of the game app in which the ad appeared, said that since they were notified of the complaint, they had blocked ads for the game Dream Zone: Interactive Story from being served. They had also set up filters in ad networks that would exclude any ads in their games which featured inappropriate content, but they did not have control over the way those filters worked.
The ad, which was for a dating and love simulation game for men, featured two women; one looking into a cupboard and the other behind her wearing a towel. Two options appeared on-screen for the woman standing up: to either “help her” or “take advantage” of the woman looking into the cupboard. We considered that the option to “take advantage” had sexual connotations and alluded to non-consensual sexual activity where the woman looking into the cupboard would be unaware of the second character’s intentions. We considered that the ad objectified and stereotyped women by presenting them as objects in a scenario designed for the purposes of titillating viewers. Overall, we considered that the ad was likely to cause serious offence and included a gender stereotype in a way that was likely to cause harm. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code.
On that point, the ad 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. 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 ad was for a game that featured adult themes and sexually suggestive content, which was seen in an unrelated online property trading game. We considered that because this specific ad was irresponsible and likely to cause serious and widespread offence it was not suitable to be featured in any game. More generally, we expected Dream Zone to have targeted their ads for adult games to users aged 18 and over by using age-verification measures including interest-based targeting factors that described an adult audience and excluded a child audience. However, the ad was seen in a game that had an age rating of 4+ years and therefore could be downloaded by children. The Dream Zone game had an age rating of 17+ years but did not feature any verification measures that would prevent the game being downloaded by children who had seen the ad.
Furthermore, we considered that those playing an unrelated game would not expect to be served an ad for a dating game which featured adult content. We acknowledged that on receipt of the complaint the publisher of the game in which the ad was seen had taken measures to ensure that the ad would not be shown in the game. Nevertheless, Dream Zone were responsible for ensuring that their ads were correctly targeted and had not done so. We therefore concluded that the ad had been irresponsibly targeted.
On that point, 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. (Social responsibility).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Swag Masha LLC to ensure that their ads were socially responsible and did not cause serious or widespread offence by objectifying women. We told them to ensure that they did not present gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm and to ensure that their ads were responsibly targeted.