The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) receives numerous complaints a year about ads for films, TV, mobile apps and music, and in the majority of cases, these concern sexual or graphic content, violence, weapons, or fear and distress.
As with all ads, the acceptability of an ad for an entertainment product will depend on the final execution. As this can be a nuanced area, marketers who are unsure of the acceptability of their film, TV, music or game ads are encouraged to seek Copy Advice.
- Sex and Nudity
Ads featuring gratuitous nudity are very likely to breach the Code. Any marketer wishing to include nudity in their ads should read our guidance on Offence: Nudity.
Sexual depictions and references are not inherently problematic – however, marketers should ensure that the content is appropriate for the audience. Mild sexual content may be considered acceptable in untargeted media – however, some material should be appropriately targeted. For detailed guidance, see Offence: Sex.
Some material is likely to cause serious or widespread offence regardless of where it appears, and ads which use sexual content in a way which could be considered objectifying, demeaning, exploitative, degrading or humiliating are always likely to cause serious and/or widespread offence. See Sexualisation and Objectification for further guidance.
- Violence, Weapons and Anti-Social Behaviour
Marketing communications must contain nothing that is likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour.
In untargeted media, marketers should be careful to ensure that any violent imagery, even when reflective of the content of the film/game, is not excessive or graphic. See below for more on violence:
With regards to weaponry, marketers should be aware of how the item is positioned to ensure that the ad does not cause unjustified fear or distress. Guns or other weapons pointing towards the audience, or showing guns which have just been fired, may be considered more likely to cause distress to viewers. See below for more:
- Weapons: General
- Weapons: Firearms, Air weapons, Stun guns and Replica guns
- Weapons: Knives, Martial Arts Weaponry and Crossbows
Ads which present anti-social behaviour in a negative light are less likely to be considered problematic for condoning or encouraging this type of behaviour.
Appropriate placement and/or targeting should be a priority for marketers of ads for films, TV, games and other media, and will depend on the product and the content of the ad. Any ads that feature graphic violence, nudity, and/or sexual elements should be targeted away from children. As above, the existence of a weapon in an entertainment ad isn’t always inherently problematic but marketers should ensure that the content is not excessively graphic, or likely to cause fear or distress. Marketers should see our guidance on targeting below, or seek Copy Advice if they are unsure:
Any ads that feature any alcohol (including, for instance, a character holding a glass of wine) are subject to Section 18 and therefore should be targeted appropriately.
- Social responsibility and offence
Whilst offence on the grounds of issues such as gender, race, age etc. in terms of entertainment ads will be context dependent, marketers are again reminded that they do not have a carte blanche for offence even if is (for instance) the subject or topic of a film, such as a movie about the history of slavery or women’s rights etc. This is also the case for issues of social responsibility.
As these issues can be nuanced, the ASA will of course consider offence and social responsibility on a case-by-case basis. Marketers may however find the following guidance of use:
- Social Responsibility
- Anti-Social Behaviour
- Harm and Offence: Gender Stereotypes
- Social Responsibility: Body Image
- Offence: General
- Fear and distress
Rule 4.2 states that marketers should not cause fear or distress without ‘justifiable reason’. As such, marketers for entertainment products should not use overly scary or distressing content in their ads, and should consider the need for appropriate placement and/or targeting. See Fear and Distress for more.
- Children and young people
Marketers are advised against including depictions of children in dangerous scenarios in entertainment ads if they could be seen to cause distress, encourage emulation or similar. Marketers who are including these elements should ensure that their ads are targeted appropriately. See Children: Safety. Marketers should also see the ‘Targeting’ section above.
Additionally, marketers should not depict those under 18 in a sexual manner – see Children: Sexual Imagery.
Marketers of video games/gaming apps should not exploit children’s credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.
Marketers should consider Section 5 of the Code before addressing or featuring children in marketing communications.
- Alcohol, Smoking and Drugs
Ads which feature alcohol will be subject to the rules in Section 18: Alcohol, and marketers should consider the rules in this area before featuring alcohol in their ads. For instance, ads must contain nothing that is likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise (18.1), must not link alcohol with activities or locations in which drinking would be unwise, show anyone who is, or appears to be, under 25 drinking or playing a significant role , and must not be likely to appeal particularly to anyone under 18.
Marketers should be wary of creating ads which depict characters smoking tobacco/cigarettes as these elements might be considered socially irresponsible. Generally, marketers should not show nor imply that smoking is any way glamorous or aspirational or is going to enhance smokers sexually, socially or physically.
Marketers should also avoid depictions or implications of drugs in their ads, as references are likely to breach the Code in terms of social responsibility.
- Cars, Motoring and Speeding
Marketing communications must not condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving. Ads which glamourise irresponsible driving in a way which is likely to encourage emulation are likely to be considered problematic. It may be acceptable for ads for films, TV shows or games to feature irresponsible driving (such as a car chase) provided this is not presented in a way which is likely to encourage or condone this type of driving. Furthermore, marketers should avoid depicting driving that is obviously illegal.
Any marketers who are unsure of these elements in their ads are welcome to contact Copy Advice.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
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