ASA orders Activision to can 'misleading' Call of Duty ads

'Common practice' says publisher.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints from three television viewers that adverts depicting scenes from Activision title Call of Duty 2 and its current generation console counterpart CoD2: Big Red One were misleading, and declared that they must not be shown again in their present forms.

The adjudication, published today, is likely to send shockwaves through the industry as it focuses on the question of whether pre-rendered footage is an acceptable representation of a computer game - in its defence, Activision didn't argue that it was, but rather that using pre-rendered footage was "common practice".

In this case, the ASA received three complaints - two concerning Call of Duty 2 (PC, Xbox 360) and one concerning Big Red One (PS2, Xbox, Cube), both of which argued that the graphics used in the advert were superior to that of the game itself, and that viewers were being misled on those grounds.

The ASA's investigation revealed that the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) understood the adverts to be made of scenes taken from the games themselves, although apparently no checks were made because it wasn't until afterward, when contacting Activision about the complaints, that it was informed by the publisher that the computer-generated scenes had been produced solely for the ads. "They said they therefore immediately made the ads unacceptable for broadcast as they did not consider that this was common practice in such ads."

"The ASA noted that the ads did not include any indication that the images shown did not reflect the quality of graphics of the games. While the scenes used communicated the themes of the game, they were not accurate representations of the graphics in the games themselves. We considered that this was misleading.

"The ads breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.2 (Implications). They must not be shown again in their present forms," the adjudication concluded.

Activision, for its part, argued that using pre-rendered footage was "common practice" and that "they had not been told that it was not acceptable to use material created specially for an ad in this way" and had acted "in good faith".

With that defence regarded as insufficient by the ASA, the adjudication is likely to raise concerns for other publishers who uniformly use rendered footage to publicise computer games - in print as well as during television adverts - at the prospect of similar complaints being dealt with in much the same way.

Activision UK could not comment on the ASA adjudication at the time of publication.

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