ASA rules against Paramount UK’s Comedy Central pre-roll ad for “irresponsible targeting” and being “likely to cause serious offence”

The advertising watchdog has also called up two influencers for misleading promotions.

Paramount UK Partnership was warned to “take care to avoid causing serious or widespread offence in future and to ensure their ads were appropriately targeted” this week by the Advertising Standards Authority.

In a ruling from the UK’s advertising watchdog, a complaint made against a pre-roll ad on YouTube for a programme on Paramount’s Comedy Central channel was upheld for being likely to cause serious offence in the context and media in which it appeared and for being irresponsibly targeted.

The ad, for the TV show ‘East Mode with Nigel Ng’, featured a man sitting with his parents who expressed concern that he hadn’t brought a potential partner home to meet them. It continued with the parents announcing that they had arranged a partner for him to engage in casual sex. The clip then went on to use explicit language to make reference to sexual activities. 

The ad raised a complaint of irresponsible targeting because it was shown right before a YouTube video that would potentially be of interest to children and the complainant also challenged whether the explicit language used in the clip was offensive.

“No intention for ad to be seen by children”

Paramount UK Partnership told the ASA that they believed the content was “lighthearted and comedic” and was created as editorial content for a show. It contended the ad was a parody that was meant to playfully poke fun at social norms, though the broadcaster acknowledged that some viewers may not have been amused. 

It also conceded that the ad wasn’t suitable for children, and that there was no intention for it to have been seen by or served alongside content of interest to children. It said its agency set its audience targeting to age 18 or over, using specific keywords and topics relating to comedy sketch shows, and the fact that the video that followed it was not labelled ‘Made for kids’ meant that adult content would not be completely restricted, especially if the viewer was logged in on an adult user’s account.

Paramount UK Partnership confirmed the ad was no longer running. It said it has initiated a review of their compliance procedure relating to age restrictions of programme content advertising. Meanwhile, Google confirmed the ad had been served through Google Ads and was found to be in breach of policies, meaning it had taken steps to prevent it being served again.

“Avoid serious offence and ensure appropriate targeting”

The ASA noted that the ad reflected the content of the show it was promoting, that it was intended to be “humorous and irreverent” and showed no explicit visuals. 

But it considered the “profane” comedy and language and explicit sexual references likely to cause serious offence to a general audience, particularly those unfamiliar with the advertised show with no prewarning of adult content. In this case the ad was found to breach the CAP code for ‘harm and offence’.

The ad was also found to be irresponsibly targeted, breaching the same CAP code alongside that for ‘Responsible advertising’. The ASA said that while the video that followed the ad was not explicitly targeted at children, the channel, Facts Machine, showed content that was likely to appeal to children, like content about animals. It therefore should have been appropriately targeted to avoid the risk of children seeing it.

Influencers rapped for ad breaches promoting alcohol and nicotine products

The ASA also this week banned two ads from influencers. 

A TikTok post by influencer Rosie Breen in February this year for Whisp Drinks – a seltzer alcoholic drinks brand – was deemed irresponsible by encouraging excessive drinking, and was found to breach the CAP Code by using weight loss claims not permitted for alcoholic drinks and for featuring someone who was or appeared to be under the age of 25.

The post, called “3 Reasons I Drink Whisp”, has the influencer dancing and pointing to captions including “I’m on my weight loss journey & they’re only 63 calories a can” and “they actually get you drunk”.

Whisp Drinks stated they would remove the post, while TikTok said it had been removed as branded content promoting alcohol was prohibited on the platform.

Breen apologised and said she would ensure all future content was compliant with the rules. She said at the time she was new to working with brands and was unaware of the sensitive nature of the message, and of rules relating to non-permitted weight-control claims for alcohol.

Breen added that her intention was never to promote irresponsible behaviour, but also confirmed she was 24 years old when she posted the content.

Meanwhile former Geordie Shore alum Louis Shaw has had an Instagram story banned on the basis that it was not clear the post was an ad.

The Instagram story, posted just before Christmas last year, shows Shaw holding two boxes of Relx e-cigarettes, with text stating “@RELXUK” and “GET YOUR OWN – RELAX WITH 15% OFF – LOUISXMAS15”. Alongside the complaint that the ad did not make clear its commercial intent, the post was also challenged on potential breaches of the Code for its “promotion of unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and their components on Instagram”.

Relx argued that the Instagram story was user-generated content that it did not see or approve before Shaw posted it. It said the discount code was a referral reward for Shaw to share with his friends who were existing smokers or vapers, and the post was to reach more of his friends. Shaw received no commission from Relx, and both he and Relx assured the ASA that similar stories in future would include a label like #ad.

The ASA however upheld the complaint, noting that the ad contained a discount code, which Shaw’s followers could still use to purchase products to Relx’s financial benefits. There was no clear statement that the story was an ad, and the ASA also noted that Shaw had a contractual relationship with Relx as an affiliate, and “stories posted under that relationship fell within the remit of the CAP Code”.