The UK Council for Child Internet Safety was subsequently launched to deliver the recommendations of Dr Byron’s report, ‘Safer Children in a Digital World’.
One of the recommendations of the Byron Review was that the Government should commission an investigation into whether video games were being advertised in a responsible way and whether children were being encouraged to play games that were unsuitable for their age or experience.
The ASA noted the concerns raised by Dr Byron and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety about the advertising of video games and has, in response, conducted a Compliance Survey of ads for these products.
The Compliance team assessed broadcast and non-broadcast ads for video games that appeared in all media between April and June 2008. Of the 241 ads assessed, 178 appeared in non-broadcast media (newspapers, regional press, magazines, posters and the Internet) and 63 appeared in broadcast media (TV and radio). We have not included in the results, duplicates of ads that we found more than once in the survey. In all, 130 separate games were advertised in the sample period in the 241 ads we considered.
Of the 241 ads examined, we considered that only one was unacceptable. The ASA has investigated and upheld complaints about it.
Some of the other broadcast ads raised compliance questions because their content seemed to be more graphic than others. However, when considering the ads in the context of when they were broadcast, we concluded that they did not breach the CAP or BCAP Codes.
The overall compliance rate was over 99%.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) maintains high standards in advertisements by enforcing the CAP and BCAP Codes, which apply to the content of non-broadcast and broadcast marketing communications. It is responsible for ensuring that the self-regulatory system works in the public interest and takes effective and consistent action to prevent ads from being misleading, harmful or offensive. The ASA achieves that by investigating complaints, monitoring advertisements through systematic research and giving marketers advice and training to help them avoid potential breaches of the Codes.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the body that created and revises the CAP Code. It represents advertisers, promoters and direct marketers, their agencies, the media and trade and professional organisations in the advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing industries. CAP provides a pre-publication copy advice service and co-ordinates the activities of its members to achieve the highest degree of compliance with the CAP Code. CAP’s Broadcast Committee (BCAP) is contracted by the communications industry regulator, Ofcom, to write and enforce the Codes that govern TV and radio ads. BCAP comprises representatives of broadcasters licensed by Ofcom, advertisers, agencies, direct marketers and interactive marketers.
The Compliance team works to ensure that marketing communications comply with the CAP and BCAP Codes and with ASA adjudications. The team follows up ASA adjudications, monitors both broadcast and non-broadcast marketing communications and takes immediate action to ensure ads that breach the Codes are removed from the media. One of the team’s objectives is to create a level-playing field for marketers in each sector and it ensures that by communicating decisions that have sector-wide ramifications. The Compliance team conducts surveys (of which this is one) to assess compliance rates in particular industries, sectors or media. The surveys help to identify marketing trends and to anticipate subjects of concern that need to be addressed by the ASA and CAP.
In March 2008, Dr Tanya Byron published her report into child safety and digital media. The study looked at the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful and unsuitable material on the internet and in video games.
The review considered the effect of violent video games and how they are rated and advertised. Dr Byron drew two key conclusions: (1) the playing of video games was correlated to violent behaviour but no causal link has been proven; (2) many children saw the violence in those games as the key to progress to the next level and did not relate it to their understanding of violence in real life.
When considering how and when children were exposed to violence in video games, Dr Byron suggested that advertising played a role. She concluded that although she had no evidence to demonstrate that video games were being advertised irresponsibly, research should be undertaken. Dr Byron stated:
I recommend that the Government should commission and oversee research to examine (1) if video games are being advertised responsibly, in line with the age-ratings, and (2) the role of marketing in stimulating children and young peoples’ desires to play video games that are not appropriate for their age”.
The review also recommended more wide-ranging action across the video games and advertising industries. The recommendations that were specific to the ASA were:
• the advertising industry should take steps to future proof advertising regulation; tackle the regulatory challenges posed by emerging technologies, such as digital advertising, to ensure that the ASA’s remit was extended to cover them.
• ongoing training be provided for advertisers so that they were fully aware of the requirements laid down in the Advertising Codes.
• advertising guidance notes, or specific code clauses, should be produced for the advertising of video games.
The report recommended a dialogue between the gaming industry, advertisers and regulators to ensure that games could be produced, rated and advertised in such a way that children were not exposed to harmful video game content.
2.2 CAP and BCAP Codes
The purpose of the Codes is to maintain the integrity of marketing communications in the interests of both the consumer and the industry. All ads should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society and be in line with the accepted principles of fair competition.
The BCAP Television and Radio Codes set out the rules that govern ads on television and radio channels licensed by Ofcom. The CAP Code covers non-broadcast media, including internet advertising (pop-up and banner ads, virals, commercial e-mails, sponsored search).
A list of relevant CAP and BCAP Code clauses are in appendices one, two and three.
2.3 Survey Objectives
The purpose of the survey was to:
• Assess compliance rates for video game ads in the national press, consumer magazines, posters, online, on TV and on the radio;
• Address the specific concerns raised by Dr Byron about whether video games were being advertised responsibly and in line with their age restrictions;
• Identify and resolve potential breaches of the CAP Code or BCAP Codes;
• Act as a deterrent to bad practice and an encouragement to good practice.
3.1 Sample Method
The Compliance team used Billets Media Monitoring, an online provider of ad monitoring in the UK, to identify the ads for assessment. The sampling period ran from 1 April 2008 to 30 June 2008 and the media included national newspapers, regional newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and internet banner advertisements.
3.2 Media Examined in the Survey
We surveyed ads from 19 newspapers, 58 magazines, 76 websites, 79 TV channels, ten radio stations and four posters. Please refer to appendix five (section seven).