Rarely does a weekly clutch of ASA case reports go by that does not feature a lurid computer game or film ad that has triggered complaints. UK ad code writers CAP and BCAP have now jointly published new guidance to stem the steady flow, as Nav Sunner reports.
Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
When: 22 July 2009
Law stated as at: 1 September 2009
The video game industry has long been criticised for the content and nature of some of its adverts, with some claiming that adult images are specifically targeted at children. Likewise with film ads there has been a need to ensure that certain age groups are not exposed to images and sounds that may cause them distress or offence. With these issues in mind, CAP and BCAP have launched new Guidance for video games and film ads.
The aim of the Guidance is to ensure that ads for video games and films are responsible and that advertisers and media owners share common responsibility to ensure that this is the case. The Guidance covers a range of issues including context, age ratings, violence, nudity, drugs and use of non-game footage.
The full text of the Guidance can be found at http://www.asa.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/9AEBC795-6727-4CB3-948B 40E32200FFF3/0/GuidanceonAdsforVideoGamesandFilms.pdf.
However, some key areas to highlight are:
- Age-rated products: ads should be suitable for the medium in which (and, if relevant, the time at which) they appear. An age-rating given to a product by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) or PEGI (Pan European Game Information) does not necessarily reflect the suitability of an ad for that product.
- Time of broadcast: the content of an ad should be carefully considered before deciding when it should be broadcast. It should not be assumed that, because an ad will be broadcast after 9.00pm, "anything goes".
- Condoning or glorifying violence: ad content, including text or voice-overs, that could condone or glorify violence should be avoided.
- The realism of violence: Violence depicted in some ads could be deemed totally unacceptable, regardless of when they are broadcast.
- Shocking images: the use of shocking images in any medium to draw attention to a product should be avoided.
- Guns and weapons: careful consideration should be given to how guns and weapons are depicted in ads. Care should be taken not to show the impact of violence and the use of realistic-looking human characters being shot or injured should be used with extreme caution.
- The use of explicit sexual images and innuendo: special care should be taken when selecting a medium for placing an ad that includes sexual images, allusions to sexual intercourse or innuendo.
- References to drugs: care should be taken when referencing drugs in ads. If images of drugs are directly relevant to the content of the product being advertised, extreme caution should be exercised to avoid being socially irresponsible or condoning drug use.
- The use of non-game footage: care should be taken to avoid misleading consumers if an ad includes images or sounds that are not representative of actual gameplay.
Why this matters:
In 2007, Dr Tanya Byron (a clinical psychologist) was asked by Gordon Brown to carry out an independent review of the risks children face from the Internet and video games – Safer Children in a Digital World (the "Review"). As part of her Review she looked at the advertising of video games, its effect on children and the clarity of guidance to the industry.
Although Dr Byron recognised the advertising industry had been proactive in putting in place a self-regulatory system to minimise children's exposure to inappropriate ad content she also urged the industry that it could be doing more. Dr Byron was of the view that the responsible advertising of video games should be seen as one of the key mechanisms to minimise and manage potential risks to children from playing video games inappropriate for their age.
As well as recommending the advertising industry and the video games industry working together to ensure consistency in the approach to advertising self-regulation and the video games classification systems, the Review made recommendations for the video games industry and those responsible for the classification of video games to work together to produce CAP and BCAP guidance.
As a result of the recommendation CAP and BCAP have compiled this new Guidance. It draws together all of CAP and BCAP's existing guidance on ads for video games and films, as well as lessons from relevant ASA adjudications.
Interestingly, although it appears that the majority of the Guidance is directed at meeting the needs of the Review, CAP and BCAP have clearly taken this opportunity to provide a useful central source of information that will hopefully clarify what has often proved to be a minefield for advertisers of video games, hence the inclusion of guidance of 'non-game footage'.