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advertising watchdog shoots down frightening Call of Duty ad

25 July 2012

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against an advert for video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 after it was branded frightening. The advert contained scenes of major world cities under military assault with buildings ablaze, soldiers loading guns and tanks driving down streets.

Viewers complained that the advert, which was broadcast at 2:30pm during a Premier League football match, was inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children might have been watching. One complainant reported that their children had been frightened by it. The ASA ruled that the games publishers, Activision, must not broadcast the ad again before 7:30pm.

The advertising rules in relation to computer games carrying 18+, 16+ or 15+ rating, provide that they cannot be advertised in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to persons below the age of 16. The ASA agreed that only a small proportion of viewers watching the Premier League football match were children.

Nina Best, an expert in advertising law at Browne Jacobson, questions how the ASA is able to justify its decision that a "small proportion" equates to "commissioned for", "principally directed at" or "likely to appeal". According to Best the recent high profile criticism of the game would have been a key factor in the watchdogs decision:

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has received significant attention following mass killers Anders Brevik and Mohammed Merahs actions being linked to playing the violent video game. So it is difficult to see how the watchdog could have reached any other ruling than to ban its broadcast before 7.30pm. It simply highlights just how greatly the ASA is influenced by current media and public opinion," she added.

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