E-mail route enables ASA to slam viral game push

Vivendi Universal Games has been slammed by the Advertising Standards Authority over a viral video and e-mail campaign to promote its PlayStation2 game Cold Winter.

The ruling is significant because the ASA’s remit does not normally cover viral advertising. However, because the viral was distributed by Vivendi as an e-mail, the ASA has jurisdiction. Had the video just been placed on a Vivendi website for viewers to download, the ASA would have been unable to act.

The whole issue of how the regulatory structure can be changed to better control viral ads is due to be discussed at a meeting of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the body which sets down the advertising rules, next month.

The promotion, created for Vivendi by agency Making Waves, involved e-mails with an attached video clip showing the game’s character, former MI6 agent Andrew Sterling, apparently being interrogated and tortured in a Chinese prison. One e-mail added: “Unveil the truth! click here to forward this e-mail on!” Both e-mails linked to a website.

Consumers complained that the contents were offensive and disturbing. The ASA agreed, ruling that “because [the video] depicted a violent interrogation and torture, the advertisement was likely to cause serious offence”. It has warned Vivendi not to use the same tactics again, and has told it to consult CAP before making similar ads.

Vivendi said the game was gritty, realistic and carried a British Board of Film Classification rating of 18. It argued that the mailing was carefully targeted as it was only sent to people over 18 years of age with broadband connections.

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