Australia’s advertising watchdog has upheld a complaint against Sony Pictures Australia over online advertising for animated comedy movie Sausage Party that viewers found offensive.
The Advertising Standards Board (ASB) released the case reports of two separate complaints about the advertising, one appearing on Facebook and the other appearing on news.com.au.
The advertisement shows characters from the movie in danger, with dialogue including “fuck you up,” “move your fucking ass,” and “shit”. The dialogue is not only spoken, but the words appear written on the screen in large letters.
The complainants told the ASB the advertisement was a pop-up, which they did not choose to open, and involved no warning of inappropriate language.
“The text that appeared used inappropriate language for a mainstream website at this time of the day and could easily be accessed by minors. Whenever this website displays swearing in article content, the word is blanked or masked, however the full word appeared in the advertisement and there was no warning of inappropriate language,” said one complainant.
“The language included the words “fuck” and “shit”, and as the advertisement was viewable by young children, I consider it an unsuitable trailer to be shown on Facebook or other sites children can access,” said the other.
Advertising expert Narissa Corrigan told SmartCompany that advertisers can sometimes get lazy when it comes to online campaigns, leading to these sorts of infringements.
“Sometimes advertisers think they can be more lax with these niche forms of advertising. You see it on the internet and even on posters and in pubs, it’s directed towards a more targeted audience,” Corrigan says.
In a response to the complainants and the ASB, Sony claimed the advertisement was purchased programmatically and was not intended for viewing by people under the age of 15. In response to the complainant who saw the video on Facebook, Sony said, “Facebook requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account”.
Both complaints regarded the advertisement as breaching section 2.5 of the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics, which defines the boundaries for inappropriate and strong or obscene language.
Sony claimed that due to the programmatic purchasing of the online advertisement, which is intended to limit the age groups that can view the ad, the content did not breach the code.
“In regards to the specific part of Section 2 (2.5) identified in the complaint, the advertisement doesn’t use obscene language that is inappropriate for the relevant demographic it is deemed suitable for as per the MA15+ film classification,” Sony said in the report.
However the ASB disagreed, believing the advertisement’s use of the word “fuck” infringed on the code of ethics, and upheld the complaints.
In research conducted in 2012, the ASB determined “in terms of advertisement unacceptability, the broader community was in general more conservative than the Board may have anticipated regarding themes of strong language”.
“Consistent with its previous determinations regarding the use of the “F” word in advertisements likely to be seen by a broad audience, the current advertisement, although using language which is appropriate in the context of the advertised movie, does use language which is strong and obscene,” the Board stated.
The ASB also determined the ad’s placement on Facebook would include people under the age of 15, as website allows users to register once they turn 13.
Corrigan agrees the ad should have never been on Facebook, saying “everyone knows that kids are on Facebook despite the restriction”.
“I wouldn’t have put it on Facebook, especially because it’s animated. It’s going to catch kids interest and attention,” she says.
Regulating the online advertising space can be difficult, says Corrigan, as it’s not as clear-cut as advertising on TV or radio. Limiting audiences to different age groups is also much harder.
“It’s pretty much impossible to completely restrict who the audience is. The best way to do it is introduce an age gate, but even then people can just make up their date of birth,” Corrigan says.
“Pornography websites are required to do this by law. Advertisers could put steps like that into play, but it relies too much on goodwill and truthful indication.”
For businesses looking to advertise online, Corrigan says it’s best to use ads that have already been approved on other mediums.
“Generally if it’s been allowed on TV, it’s fine online. The jurisdiction is more rigorous for TV ads compared to online ads, but online are subject to the same classification systems,” she says.
“There are of course some exceptions, and unless there’s an age gate on your website, you should always be a bit careful about what you put online.”
The advertisement can be viewed below.