When it comes to video games there are a whole host of rules that might come into play, from ensuring appropriate targeting, taking care not to use harmful or offensive imagery, or avoiding misleading claims or gameplay representation. Here we delve into these areas in the context of ads for mobile games and give advice on how to avoid the ASA ‘ragequitting’ your campaign.
Know where the lines are
By its very nature harm and offense issues will contain elements of subjectivity, which means that considerations will be ‘case-by-case’. Marketers should be mindful of the impact that the content of their ads have and be cautious about crossing into problematic territory.
For example, while depicting people in a sexual way is not always offensive or harmful, marketers should take care to ensure that they do not over-sexualize or objectify those who are featured. An ad for a puzzle game was considered problematic at this point because it included an animation depicting a female character, who appeared to be naked behind some tiles, while implying that moving them would further expose the character. Another included imagery of two animated female characters wearing see-through lingerie with their breasts partially exposed, bouncing along to music. In each example, the imagery had been used with the sole purpose of titillating viewers.
Specific rules prohibit ads from portraying anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 in a sexual way. An ad for a game that included an anime/manga-style image of a young woman in a cage fell foul of this rule as the character’s face appeared youthful and a caption referred to her as a “LITTLE GIRL”.
When it comes to harm and offense, it goes without saying that portraying scenarios depicting assault or abuse will almost certainly be problematic. Whether that be in the form of showing clothing being removed from a female character while she was sleeping, a man poking a woman in her genital area and another that suggested physical violence by slapping a character – it’s an absolute no-no. These ads were all, unsurprisingly, considered to cause serious and widespread offense and found to encourage or condone sexual assault. Attempts at humor are unlikely to be a suitable defense if, overall, the effect of the content is likely to be seen as trivializing and condoning domestic abuse.
Most of these ads also included harmful gender stereotypes by portraying characters as a stereotypical sexual object. Depicting stereotypical roles or characteristics in a way that suggests that they are always uniquely associated with one gender are likely to be problematic. These can negatively reinforce the way in which people think about themselves and others and may have a harmful impact on individuals and wider society. See more guidance on harmful gender stereotypes here.
Targeting is important
Just as a well-placed maneuver for a game winning combo can make all the difference, so too can the placement of ads for mobile games that appear within other mobile games. This is particularly true for ads that include adult themes – such as violence or sexually suggestive content – and care will need to be taken to ensure that these are adequately targeted.
Placing ads for a ‘dating and love simulation game’ that have sexual connotations within unrelated games (a property trading game for example, where those playing would not typically expect to see such ads) is usually a bad idea, as is placing ads that show sexually suggestive content within games rated PEGI 3 that could be downloaded and played by children.
The content of these particular ads meant that they were unlikely to be suitable to appear in any game, however generally there are ways to minimize the risk of under-18s being served inappropriate content, by using measures including interest-based targeting factors that describe an adult audience and exclude a child audience. Notwithstanding the offensive nature of the content, the advertisers in these cases had not been able to show that they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that the ads had been suitably targeted.
For further guidance on online targeting, see here.
Is it really that good?
Mobile games, like all games, can be fun and frustrating in equal measure. But the scale tips towards the latter particularly if they don’t match expectations. Marketers should therefore ensure that any visuals or game descriptions accurately represent the game being advertised.
Two Facebook posts advertising mobile games included visuals of specific puzzle-solving sequences, however this was not representative of the overall game. Including qualifications such as “Not all images represent actual gameplay” was not considered sufficient, not least because users would have to play a significant amount of content that was different in style in order to access the limited amount of gameplay that was featured in the ads.
Another name, seen on Twitter, was deemed to portray significantly different gameplay to what was actually offered, including the ability to drive a harvesting vehicle or retrieve mineral-like resources from a free-roam area.
Need some pointers?
Getting stressed about your non-broadcast ads? Let us ‘console’ you. Simply check out our Advice Online here and contact the Copy Advice team for bespoke advice.
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