Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Advertising Standards Authority Bans Email Ad Campaign For New Film

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned an email campaign for the new film Shifty after the agency received a complaint from an employee who worried that the campaign might jeopardize his or her employment. The ad featured language that suggested the recipient was under investigation by a (fictional) law enforcement agency and used a (fictional) email address, The ad also included the following message: "If you fail to respond to this email within seven days of receipt please be aware that this will then become an official matter and there will be a strong likelihood of criminal investigation."

The ASA also noted that the sender falsified its true address. The ASA wrote in part:

The ASA noted Metrodome's response. We considered, however, that the ad's claims that the recipient was involved in illegal drugs, had been named in a police interview and was at risk of criminal prosecution, as well as the implication that the e-mail had been sent by an official body, could cause alarm and undue distress to some recipients. We also considered that further distress could be caused to recipients were the e-mail to be seen by their employer or friends and family. We noted that Metrodome had amended the ad to include text at the end of the email that stated "If you are still reading this e-mail please be aware this is a hoax sent to you by one of your friends". However, we considered that that sentence was not sufficient to mitigate the possible distress caused by the overall impression of the ad. We acknowledged that Metrodome had withdrawn the e-mail function from their website. However, because we considered that the ad was irresponsible and could cause serious distress, we concluded that that approach should not be used again.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Principles) and 9.1 (Fear and distress).


We noted that the email appeared to have been sent from the address, and that references to the Community Drugs Team were repeated throughout the email. We also noted that the e-mail contained a reference number that included the recipient's name and stated that a copy of the e-mail had been sent to the address at which the recipient was registered on the electoral role. We considered that that approach could mislead recipients into believing that the email was a communication from a government body or other official organisation. We noted that there was nothing in the body copy of the e-mail, or its subject line and sent address, that identified the email as marketing material, and whilst we acknowledged that recipients who clicked on the community-drugs-team link provided in the e-mail were taken to the film's website where the hoax was revealed, we considered that the ad should have been clearly identified as marketing material without the need to open the email or click on the link. Because it was not we concluded that the ad was misleading.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 22.1 (Recognising marketing communications and identifying marketers).


We noted that the film's website did not seek to obtain the explicit consent of the recipient to receive e-mail marketing, or ask the friend who initiated the hoax e-mail to confirm that they had the consent of the recipient. We also noted that the website stated that the sender's e-mail address would be withheld, and we were concerned that it would not be made clear to recipients how and when their e-mail address had been obtained. We considered that Metrodome should have taken steps to satisfy themselves that the recipient was happy to receive e-mail marketing from them, and because they had not we concluded that the ad was in breach.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clause 43.4c (Database practice).  


The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Metrodome to make clear that future ads were marketing material and to ensure that they had the explicit consent of the recipient to receive marketing by e-mail in future. 


Here's comment from the Press Association regarding the email campaign.

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