A video-on-demand (VOD) ad for the video game 'The Evil Within' was seen between 19:00 and 19:30 during an episode of 'Time Team'. The ad began with a shot of a record player and the sound of classical music, which was replaced abruptly by a shriek and low-pitched atonal music. The ad then showed a metal door with a small window, and a close up of a man making barbed wire. This was interspersed with footage of a platform descending, carrying a figure wearing a bloodied apron, holding a large mallet and with a metal box covering his head. There was then a shot of a bubbling red pool from which a figure arose, covered in red liquid. This sequence was interspersed with footage of burning flowers, an arm reaching out of the metal door, shots of the character whose head was covered by the metal box, and an eye with a red iris. During these sequences extracts from three reviews were superimposed over the footage, two of which referred to the horror genre of the game and the third describing the game as "wonderfully vile." The product name was then displayed on screen, alongside shots of the packaging and the PEGI 18 logo.
The complainant, who believed that 'Time Team' was a family programme that children were likely to watch, challenged whether the ad had been responsibly placed.
Zenimax Europe Ltd stated that the game held a PEGI 18 rating and that they had been advised by Clearcast that a post 21:00 broadcast restriction was applicable to the identical television version of the ad. They stated that they therefore made all placements in accordance with the PEGI rating and the Clearcast report. They had advised their agency that the campaign around 'The Evil Within' was to be solely targeted towards an audience aged 18 and over, with no activity planned to reach those below this age, and that a similar targeting plan had been used for their other marketing activities. They said that it was not their intention for the ad to be shown in any programme not aimed at an adult audience, that no such placements were made by their agency and that the Clearcast report showing all relevant restrictions and timings had been submitted to Channel 4.
Channel 4 stated that, as the game held a PEGI 18 rating, the ad was automatically restricted to disallow it being served in children's programmes or other programmes that had rated over the 120 index on linear broadcast. They stated that ‘Time Team’ was not a programme commissioned for, principally directed at, or of particular appeal to children, and that on linear broadcast it was transmitted across the year in various sections of the day encompassing daytime, peak and late night day-parts. They provided the linear broadcast audience index figures for ‘Time Team’ in 2014 for both C4 and More4, the average of which peaked at 32.8 for all children, 46.3 for children aged 10−15 and 18.8 for children aged 4−9 during the peak day-part (the period from 18:00 to 23:00) on More4.
The ASA noted that there were no specific placement restrictions applying to non-broadcast ads for PEGI 18-rated games, but that such ads should be placed responsibly to reflect their content. We considered that the tone of the ad was generally menacing and tense and included shots of a figure covered in a red blood-like substance, although we noted that there was no explicit violence or peril. We considered that it could cause distress to younger children, but was unlikely to do so for older children and that reasonable steps were necessary to ensure responsible placement away from programming that was particularly likely to appeal to children.
We noted that ‘Time Team’, not being obviously adult-themed, had the potential for broad appeal and that care must be taken with the placement of ads around this type of content. We understood that Channel 4 automatically restricted such ads from appearing around such programmes by preventing them being placed within content that had a 120 child index in linear broadcast, a measure used to demonstrate whether the TV broadcast version of a programme had a significantly higher proportion of children in the audience than there was in the general population. The linear broadcast audience indices provided by Channel 4 demonstrated very low audience representation for children in general and children under the age of 10 especially. We considered that this indexing data gave a reasonable indication of a programme's appeal and that it had in this instance demonstrated that children, and young children in particular, were very unlikely to be viewing ‘Time Team’ on 4OD. Although we understood that the programme had not been subject to the parental guidance controls available on the platform, we considered that the use of careful and appropriate targeting could mitigate the placement of adult-themed ads in such programming. We considered that, by targeting audiences over the age of 18 and using linear audience indices to determine the likely appeal of programming and thus avoid programmes with particular appeal to children, the advertiser and Channel 4 had acted responsibly in placing the ad. We concluded that its placement did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social Responsibility) but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.