ASA rejects gaming 'health risk' ad complaints

Ben Parfitt
ASA rejects gaming 'health risk' ad complaints

The Advertising Standards Authority will not uphold complaints against charity-backed ads which implied video games are a health risk, MCV understands.

Last week, MCV broke the news that the Government's Change4Life campaign had put together a print campaign backed by the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and Cancer Research, which said young gamers were risking an 'early death' through inactive lifestyles.

The news and subsequent industry concerns sparked coverage across the media. The trade rejected the implication that games are solely to blame for obesity and other health issues and many in the industry, including MCV, filed complaints with the ASA to have the ads withdrawn.

However the ASA says there are 'not sufficient grounds for us to intervene on this occasion'.

A full statement provided by the ASA said:

"Whilst the ASA Council understood the concerns of Tiga and those complainants who worked in the video games industry, it noted that the ad did not claim that playing computer or console games alone would lead to illness or premature death."

The reply that the ASA is sending to those who filed objections to the ad reads as follows:

The ASA Council [...] didn’t think there were sufficient grounds for us to intervene on this occasion.
 
Our Code says that ads should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA bases its judgments on the content of the ad and the medium, audience, product type and prevailing standards in society.

Complaints about offence often require difficult judgements but we don’t intervene where advertising is simply criticised for being in poor taste. Apart from freedom of speech considerations, even well-intentioned and thoughtful people will have different and sometimes contradictory opinions about what constitutes ‘bad taste’ or should be prohibited. We can only act if the ad, in our judgement, offends against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards.
 
Whilst the ASA Council understood the concerns of Tiga and those complainants who worked in the video games industry, it noted that the ad did not claim that playing computer or console games alone would lead to illness or premature death. The Council considered that most readers would understand that the ad was discouraging a sedentary lifestyle and used the example of playing a console game as an illustration of the type of behaviour which might lead to long-term health problems if no exercise were taken alongside more sedentary activities. The Council considered it unlikely that most readers would infer from the ad that playing video games was the sole contributory factor in the development of the health problems mentioned in the ad. The Council concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or mislead for those reasons, or likely to be seen as unfairly targeting or denigrating the video games industry.
 
The Council also noted that the ad did not imply that children should not play video games at all, or that some games would not be beneficial for educational or cognitive development. We also noted that the ad advised parents to ensure their children were physically active for at least one hour every day. The Council considered that most readers were unlikely to interpret the ad to mean that video games could not be played or enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle. The Council did not consider the ad likely to mislead readers about the benefits of some video games towards fitness and cognitive development in children or to cause offence for that reason.
 
One parent objected that the ad was offensive and harmful because it frightened her young child who became scared that she would die if she played video games. The ASA Council sympathised with those concerns and understood that the reference to future health might, for some, be upsetting. However, it considered that the ad was unlikely to cause undue fear or distress to parents or children.

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Tags: advertising , appeal , rejected , asa , change4life

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