The Advertising Standards Agency publishes rulings every Wednesday on everything from psychic hotlines to videogames. I'm incredibly fond of their rulings. I think it's mostly because of the language the companies use to defend themselves, breaking videogame concepts down and presenting them in what's intended to be a neutral manner.
The upheld complaints are generally less entertaining for obvious reasons – the concerns have been, in some sense, valid. But the *not upheld* complaints often have an air of the ridiculous about them. Through the formal structure of the rulings you get a sense of raised eyebrows or rolled eyes, of overblown sincerity. I've also learned some unexpected things, like how many sugar puffs are in a portion...
Here are some of my favourites from the last few years:
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 complaint was that Time Team is a family show so having an ad for The Evil Within was inappropriate. It ended up not being upheld as Channel 4 uses a number of broadcast audience indices and for Time Team on 4OD they showed sufficiently low likelihood of child viewers that the ad placement was deemed fine.
What is wrong with children these days? Time Team used to be a show I looked forward to every week when I was 10 years old. I saw one of the geophysics experts on a train and it was like seeing Kim Kardashian, I was that excited. Time Team even came to my home town and I bumped into (like, physically walked into) Tony Robinson while he was chatting on his mobile. I demand modern children improve their attitude to Time Team immediately. Also that there be a Time Team level in a shooter because all those hip-height walls would come in handy.
"Let's rush A long!"
"They're in 'Midden'!"
"How do you know it's a midden?"
"Do you see all those oyster shells…?"
The website www.honeymonster.co.uk, for Sugar Puffs cereal, featured the "Munching Monster" game, in which the Honey Monster had to eat as many Sugar Puffs as possible and avoid the wasps.
The complaint was about whether the game encouraged "excessive consumption" of Sugar Puffs and poor nutritional habits in children. What I loved about the response to this was that Honey Monster Foods has worked out how many puffs are in a portion of Sugar Puffs and uses that in their defence.
"They said the recommended 30 g portion of Sugar Puffs comprised about 450 individual puffs and that a player would need to be well into level 3 before the Honey Monster had consumed that number, which no player had yet come close to achieving."
So basically the Honey Monster is incredibly inefficient at eating his own cereal, preferring some weird wasp-infested maze to a bowl and spoon.
The complaint wasn't upheld because children were unlikely to associate the Honey Monster's consumption of sugar puffs with their own. I'd say that was fair.
A TV ad, for a console game, included an animated character that had a human body and a dog's head. It stated "Are you an animal person? Well, not like me cos most people are made up entirely of person. And if you're a person person, then you'd be missing out on the duality of life. With the Sims 3 Pets you can have a pet or be a pet. You can play both ways. So, go on, experiment. Chase some tail. Play with life". The ad also included animated scenes of a man playing a guitar surrounded by animals and other people. He was also shown in a bath and then appeared about to kiss a woman on a bed.
As you might have guessed, the complaints related mostly to the couple on the bed – likely to cause widespread offence and unsuitable for children. They weren't upheld and the ASA points out most people would see the ad as light-hearted and mildly suggestive.
The latter is partially referenced in EA's response which has the glorious beginning: "the ad was designed to be light hearted and that was reflected by the main character being a man with a dog's head."
I might start using that as my main defence. "Your honour, I was being light-hearted - you can tell because I was wearing a frog costume at the time the incident took place..."
A TV ad, for an 18 rated console game, was broadcast in April 2011. It included a rapid sequence of action scenes, in war scenarios. Characters held large guns and the scenes included gun fire, rocket fire, multiple explosions, tanks, helicopters and jets. Text on screen included "'THE BEST-LOOKING FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER TO DATE.' - DESTRUCTOID" and "'BATTLEFIELD 3 IS UNNERVINGLY BEAUTIFUL.' - JOYSTIQ".
The complaints were because the ad was shown during a football match at 6.15pm and a) kids might be watching and b) it glorified war.
From the ruling: "'BATTLEFIELD 3 IS UNNERVINGLY BEAUTIFUL. - JOYSTIQ' formed part of a review of the product and viewers were therefore likely to interpret it as a comment on the quality of the game, rather than on war itself."
I like the idea that some people could have thought Joystiq was a site which went round reviewing the aesthetics of modern conflict.
An ad for the video game ‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ was displayed on a gaming website, www.eurogamer.net. An ad bordered the home page and was headed "Wolfenstein: The New Order ...] HOVER TO EXPAND THE VIDEO" and pictured two figures holding guns. A PEGI 18 symbol was also shown. Hovering over the top section of the border for three seconds, without clicking, opened a video trailer ad over the home page and played automatically. On-screen text at the start of the video stated "MATURE 17+ ... Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs". The video included a scene depicted in black and white where two Nazi officers wearing gas masks walked amongst the bodies of dead peace protestors. One Nazi soldier was shown executing a man on the ground with a bullet to the head, whilst a robot animal walked in the background. The trailer included other scenes of game footage which depicted people being killed or hurt, including by being shot. Dialogue included "What the fuck did I just do?", "What you been up to ...? Shooting, stabbin', strangling Nazis" and "Well, I'm on the motherfucking moon".
The complaint was about the "offensive and distressing" content and the fact that the Eurogamer homepage doesn't have any age restrictions so kids could view the ad.
The response has a lot of talk about the percentage of adults in Eurogamer's audience as well as the presence of PEGI ratings and the method by which you get the ad to play. But my favourite part of the "Not Upheld" ruling was the ASA reporting Zenimax's reaction because it includes the line:
"They said that any sense of realism in the filmed footage in the opening section of the ad would have been offset by the music used − a Germanic reworking of the popular folk song 'House of the Rising Sun' − and by the presence of the giant robot dog."
Seems legit if you ask me.
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