Tearful Offence…Advert censor whinges at adverts for the horror film Annabelle appearing in apps suitable for children

Posted: 30 March, 2015 in ASA Advert Censor
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Annabelle DVD Ward Horton Two in-game ads, a pre-roll YouTube ad and a digital outdoor ad promoted the film Annabelle , rated 15.

  • a. An in-game ad, which appeared on the Planet of Cubes app, opened with a shot of two houses at night, and the sound of a scream. A woman was then shown waking her husband and saying, John, next door, I heard a scream. The next scene showed the woman walking through the house and looking up to see another woman holding a doll and whispering, I like your dolls while a man whose clothes were covered in blood walked through a door behind her. The woman said, Just, just take whatever you want and just, just get out. Other scenes included the woman who was holding the doll slumped against a wall covered in blood, some of which dripped into the doll’s eye; a woman being dragged across the floor screaming; and a child running towards a woman through a doorway while the woman asked, Who are you? , before transforming into a woman in a blood-stained dress as she reached the door and attacking the other woman.
  • b. The same ad appeared on the Wordfeud app.
  • c. The same ad appeared as a pre-roll ad on YouTube before a Pokemon film. It also included a section at the beginning which displayed the text, BEFORE THE CONJURING THERE WAS ANNABELLE , and which showed a doll with blood dripping from its eye.
  • d. A digital outdoor poster, which was seen at London Bridge train station. Text stated, BEFORE THE CONJURING THERE WAS … ANNABELLE . A picture of a doll’s face appeared, with the text Miss Me? . Issue

Four complainants, some of whose children had seen the ads, challenged whether the following ads were likely to cause fear or distress, and had therefore been irresponsibly placed:

ASA Assessment

1. Upheld complaints about ads (a) and (b)

The apps Planet of Cubes and Wordfeud were rated as suitable for those aged four and over on Apple devices, which meant that they should contain no objectionable material , according to Apple’s rating system. They were rated low maturity , on Google Play, which meant they might contain instances of mild cartoon or fantasy violence .

The ad contained several scenes of characters in distress, and reflected the theme of the film from the outset, including through the use of eerie sound effects, and the whispered line, I like your dolls . The scenes including the man whose clothes were covered in blood, the woman who was holding the doll slumped against a wall covered in blood, the blood dripping into the doll’s eye, the woman being dragged across the floor screaming, and the child transforming into a woman in a blood-stained dress and attacking the other woman, were likely to be distressing to young and early teenage children.

Although the ASA acknowledged that the ad had the option to skip and that it would have been scaled down to fit a mobile phone screen, we considered that the ad was nevertheless likely to cause distress to young and early teenage children, and that care was therefore needed to ensure responsible targeting. We understood that Warner Bros had asked their media agency to target people aged 16 to 34 with an interest in the horror genre of films, in order to target the ad at an appropriate audience.

We considered, however, that some parents might allow a child to play with the app believing that the content, including all in-app advertising, would be suitable for that age range. In particular, we considered that a parent who might not usually allow a child to browse the internet independently on a device might be more inclined to allow them to play an age-appropriate app. Therefore, we were concerned that an adult and child could share a device within the same browsing session, and there was a risk that the child could have been served the ad while playing Planet of Cubes or Wordfeud.

In light of that risk, and because the way the ad was targeted, it could not take into account the possibility of a child sharing a device with an adult. We considered, therefore, that Warner Bros had not taken the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of a child viewing the ad by, for example, ensuring that it was served in line with the profile of the apps, and concluded that it had been irresponsibly targeted.

2. Upheld complaints about ad (c)

As in point 1, we considered that the ad was likely to cause distress to young and early teenage children, and would therefore not be suitable for display before content that children were likely to be watching.

We noted that the ad had been age-restricted by being served only to those logged in to an adult’s account, and that it was targeted toward users who had demonstrated an interest in horror films. However, we considered that the content of a Pokémon film was likely to appeal to children, and that it would not be unusual for a parent to be logged into their own account when accessing content for their children. In view of the content of the programme material being watched at the time, it was reasonable for consumers to expect that only advertising material that was suitable for a young audience would be shown.

Therefore, we concluded that the ad was inappropriately targeted and was irresponsible.

3. Not upheld complaints about ad (d)

Whilst we acknowledged some people might find the poster mildly threatening and distasteful, we noted that it did not show any scenes of violence. We did not consider the ad likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or to cause undue fear, distress or harm to children. We therefore concluded that it was not irresponsible.


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