If you still believed that the Advertising Standards Authority’s focus was entirely, or even primarily, on legacy media like TV ads and big outdoor billboards, the organisation’s latest round of rulings ought to give you pause.

Of the seven judgements the ASA announced yesterday on their website, only three related to traditional platforms, while four were digital only decisions. One, which made mainstream headlines because it was to do with an ‘irresponsible’ Katie Price Instagram post, might have put the frighteners on more than a few in the influencer business. We could (but won’t) name a few who have been sailing a little too close to the wind when it comes to meeting the transparency requirements of promoted content.

The remaining three judgments fall directly within our sphere of interest:

  1. Australian toothpaste and whitening company Hismile was found to have produced two misleading TikTok ads.

    These suggested the company was producing (or at least developing) a number of “mystery flavour” toothpastes, which could include Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough, Sour Patch Kids, Lotus Biscoff, Red Bull and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice.

    The company argued that “their intention was not to mislead but rather to demonstrate their innovation and creative process” and the ads made it clear these flavours “were unreleased and were unavailable.”

    The ASA disagreed and told Hismile not to show the ads again, or any others indicating a flavour of toothpaste was available when it was not.
  2. A Facebook ad for the mobile game Hunting Sniper was found “likely to cause widespread offence and unjustified distress to viewers.”

    The advertisement depicted game-play in which a first-person view through a rifle’s sniper scope showed the shooting of two wild dogs and a fox. Although the footage was computer generated, eight people, who believed the ad showed the inflicting of real harm to animals, were inspired to complain that it was offensive.

    By way of defence, the game company “explained that their advertising complied with local laws and regulations and did not violate animal protection law. They said that their ads also complied with the advertising policies of the platforms on which they were hosted.”

    They also said they had released a version of the ad which made clear that what was being shown was entirely fictional and no animals were harmed in the making of the game.

    Do better, said the ASA, who added that “the animals’ cries, echoing gunshots, and the sound of the gun reloading were audible.”

    Even without having seen the ad, or the game itself, it doesn’t sound much fun to us.
  3. Top Games Inc was deemed to have breached rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising) of the CAP Code with an ad on Twitter for the game Evony: The King’s Return.

    If you think you know where this is going, you probably don’t.

    The more complicated and unusual of the three rulings found that Top Games Inc’s ad did not include enough of the in-game experience to be deemed accurately representative. The company, however, argued that their was no mismatch between the ad and the gameplay, which included “a puzzle solving element that involved shooting targets, while having to avoid obstacles, such as the rolling barrels.”

    This is primarily what was shown in the ad. To support their defence, the company said that if customers generally felt misled, the game would not have a retention rate of more than 80%.

    The ASA was prepared to acknowledge and accept that what was shown in the ad could be found in the game. What they were unhappy with what was missing, namely “player versus player, player versus environment and city-building aspects, with the city-building element being the game’s core gameplay.”

    Their conclusion was “that the ad did not reflect the game’s core playing experience…” and “must not appear again in its current from.”

The lesson for advertisers is that what matters is not just what they choose to include, but what they omit as well.