Violence: Condoning or encouraging

May 14th '24

Marketing communications must contain nothing that is likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour. Approaches that feature violent scenarios or imagery, especially if its use is gratuitous, could be considered irresponsible and likely to condone violent behaviour.


  • Depictions of violence

Graphic depictions or implications of violence should be avoided, even where they rely on humour.


In 2022 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints about an embedded YouTube ad for a VPN service that featured a conversation in which one presenter became increasingly frustrated and smashed a glass over the head of the other presenter, who was then shown whimpering with a blood-like substance on his face. (Surfshark B.V. 18 January 2023). The ASA acknowledged that the ad was intended to be humorous and satirical, and that the ad had a ‘slapstick’ tone.  However, the ASA concluded that the ad irresponsibly featured scenes with a level of violence that was likely to cause distress to viewers that was unjustified and was irresponsibly targeted on YouTube where is might be seen by a general audience.


  • Violence against women

The ASA has upheld several complaints about ads that seem to condone domestic violence, sexual assault or violence against women.


In 2021 the ASA upheld a complaint about an in app ad for a mobile app game that implied a threat of violence against a woman, ruling that the ad trivialised and condoned the serious and sensitive subject of domestic violence.(AppQuantum Publishing Ltd 24 November 2021).  Complaints about two more in-app ads were upheld on similar grounds in 2023. (Dreame Media 3 May 2023) and Play&Date Entertainment Zone 29 November 2023).


An ad that appeared in a mobile app game rated as suitable for all was banned in 2024 because it trivialised and condoned sexual assault and sexual violence and presented a woman as an object of sexual gratification.  This use of a gender stereotype was also considered likely to cause harm. The ad featured a drunk soldier threatening to sexually assault a frightened and distressed woman (FunPlus International AG 17 January 2024).


A complaint about a programmatic ad that appeared on the Guardian website was upheld May 2023.  It advertised a T-shirt that featured the text “BEAT ME BITE ME WHIP ME FUCK ME LIKE THE DIRTY PIG THAT I AM CUM ALL OVER MY TITS AND TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME THEN GET THE FUCK OUT”.  The ASA concluded that the aggressive and sexual swearing and allusions to violent sexual acts in “BEAT ME”, “BITE ME” and “WHIP ME” dehumanised and presented women as stereotypical sexual objects to be used by men for sexual gratification. (Redbubble Ltd 17 May 2023).


  • Depicting weapons

Marketers who depict guns should take great care to ensure that the approach is suitable both for the product being advertised and the intended audience.


In 2023 the ASA upheld complaints about an Instagram ad for a clothing retailer that featured a hooded figure repeatedly firing a semi-automatic weapon at a human shaped figure wearing a pink coat, agreeing that it condoned and encouraged violence. (ThruDark Ltd 18 October 2023).


Although this ad for kitchen knives did not show any violence, the complainants were particularly concerned that, at a time of rising knife crime, the ads could encourage violence, particularly amongst young people.  The ASA noted that the ad did not refer to food preparation or feature a kitchen setting. They considered that way the knife was shown meant that at least some of those who saw the ad would interpret it as an ad for a potential weapon. (UAB Ekomlita 11 May 2022)


See Weapons: General for further guidance.


More subtle images are less likely to be problematic, although advertisers should be careful with ad placement and targeting. Thanks to its careful targeting, the ASA chose not to uphold complaints about a TV ad for a film, shown during coverage of a European football match.  The ad featured scenes of guns and a man being shot and the ASA considered the ex-kids scheduling restriction applied by Clearcast was appropriate because content of the ad was unsuitable for younger children. (ITV Broadcasting Ltd 22 April 2022).


  • Relevance to product

Marketers might have more leeway if the violence depicted is relevant to the product, for example, if it reflects the content of a book, film or computer game. But relevance is not always a ‘get out of jail’ card. See Video games and films for further guidance on advertising these products.


  • Public sensitivity

Marketers should be mindful that the public’s sensitivity can shift over time and with current events. In 2019, following incidents of milkshake being thrown at public figures, the ASA upheld complaints that the claim “Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #justsaying” in a tweet advertising a fast food restaurant encouraged violence and antisocial behaviour (BKUK Group Ltd 2 October 2019).


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)


About CAP

The CAP is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.


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 ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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