The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against an advert for Konami title Crime Life: Gang Wars which claimed it exploited racial stereotypes and glorified violence.
The advert, which appeared in the London edition of Metro, showed five black men standing alongside each other in a street scene. Two of them were holding guns, while one carried a baseball bat and another held a hammer. The image was accompanied by the tagline: "Rule the streets or fall by the wayside."
Following the publication of the ad, the ASA received a complaint which claimed the advert was "offensive and irresponsible" on the grounds that it "exploited racial stereotypes, glorified violence and encouraged anti-social behaviour." The ASA followed up the complaint by launching an investigation.
In its defence, Konami of Europe pointed out that the men featured in the advert were members of hip hop band D12, who also appear as the main characters in Crime Life: Gang Wars - a game about black, urban American gangs.
Konami also observed that D12 had approved the image for use, and that the tagline was a reference to the main objective for players of the game. The publisher admitted that the advert could be seen to suggest violence, but noted that it did not portray any specific violent act.
Konami added that Metro's target audience is comprised of young, affluent commuters, and that as a result, they did not consider that the advert was likely "to cause serious or widespread offence." Konami added that there were no plans to run the ad again in future.
Metro defended the decision to print the advert by referring to a recent survey conducted by the newspaper which found that a large proportion of its readers play games. Metro said that it believed people could distinguish between real life and games, adding that, like Konami, they have not received any complaints about the advert.
However, in its adjudication, the ASA found that the advert breached CAP Code clauses for Responsibility, Taste and Decency, and Violence and Anti-Social Behaviour.
The ASA accepted that D12 had approved the use of their image, but "concluded that some readers may not understand that the men in the ad represented the band members and could take the image to be a negative portrayal of black men and be offended by it on those grounds."
The ASA also found that the tagline "could be seen to condone violence and present that choice of lifestyle as aspirational in a way that was irresponsible." Konami was instructed not to repeat the advert, and was advised to contact the CAP Copy Advice Team for guidance when promoting similar products in the future.
Speaking to our sister site, GamesIndustry.biz, about the ASA's decision, Alex Chapman of specialist solicitors Briffa said: "This matter highlights the importance of properly clearing creative content before authorising its use - whether it is advertising material or even the content of the games themselves."
"Creatives are often careful to clear certain elements but overlook their obligations under the various applicable codes of practice. With the increased desire for high impact in both the games and their advertising comes a greater risk of breaching these codes - at a time when the industry should be understanding them better."