Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Fuero Games Sp. z.o.o. (Fuero Games)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 22 February 2023
Law stated as at: 9 March 2023
Two in-game ads for the mobile app game titled “Jigsaw Puzzles – HD Puzzle Game” featured various animations of young children suffering physical injury and emotional distress. An individual who saw the ads complained to the ASA, believing that the ads promoted self-harm.
The ASA held that the ads were irresponsible, had been inappropriately targeted to children, and were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and this breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).
While the ASA accepted that the scenes in the ads reflected actual gameplay where players needed to complete jigsaw puzzles to improve the conditions of the rooms that the characters were in, the ads nevertheless depicted young children coming to physical harm to advertise mobile gameplay. Although the characters were computer animated, the depictions of their injuries were graphic.
The depictions of the injuries were likely to cause serious and widespread offence and distress, particularly in their context as ads for mobile app games. The ASA further considered that the ads breached the CAP Code by depicting children in hazardous situations and behaving dangerously in a context other than safety. In addition, the ASA had not seen any evidence that the advertiser had taken steps to target the ads away from those under 18 years of age. The ASA told Fuero Games that the ads must not appear again in their current forms and referred the matter to the CAP Compliance team.
The developers of the games in which the in-game ads were seen responded to the ASA’s enquiries. One said they took care to ensure that ads served through their games were audience appropriate, and blocked “Jigsaw Puzzles: HD Puzzle Game” from showing ads in their games again. The other said they did not consider the ads to be appropriate or suitable for their players and confirmed that they had started their own internal investigation. They did not review ad creatives in advance as ads were served through ad-networks, although they had blocked all ads by Fuero Games served through an ad network that they could access.
The ad network confirmed that they had served both in-game ads and said that their content policy did not permit ads that were excessively violent or shocking, including content that depicted self-harm. Advertisers were responsible for the content of their ads, although the ad network voluntarily applied their own moderation process to most ads served through their network. Ads that the ad network’s third-party moderation provider identified as containing restricted content were blocked from running on the network. The moderation provider also determined whether any age restrictions should be applied to an ad. The ad network said that they did not believe that either ad breached the CAP code or their own content policy, but said that they were reviewing their moderation decision for the in-game ads.
Why this matters:
This ruling serves as a warning to advertisers to take care when considering how to advertise their products. Adverts must not contain content that is likely to cause serious and widespread offence and must not depict children in hazardous or dangerous situations other than in a safety context. Game developers and ad networks should take care to ensure that in-game ads are audience appropriate and that sufficient moderation processes are in place. Advertisers should also be able to provide evidence of steps taken to target inappropriate ads away from those under 18 years of age where necessary.