Who: Kaspersky Lab UK Ltd. (“Kaspersky”) and the ASA

Where: UK

When: 5 April 2017

Law stated as at: 16 May 2017

What happened:

The ASA upheld complaints from 70 viewers about a TV ad for Kaspersky’s latest IT security product on the basis that it normalised sexting and could cause harm to under 18s.

Kaspersky’s ad showed a young woman taking selfies with her mobile phone as she removed her clothes. The woman said, “I want to show myself. But only to my boyfriend”. The following scene showed a couple in bed with their laptop on. The scene cut to a shot of their son next door on his tablet device and the couple said, “We want our son to feel free surfing online, but not access the stuff we like.”

The ASA said that it was clear the ad depicted sexting. The ASA also thought the other scenarios were everyday occurrences and that, by including them alongside the scene of the woman taking a personal photo of herself to send to her boyfriend, the ad had the effect of normalising the act of sexting. The ASA were particularly concerned as they believed the act of sexting could be easily emulated by younger viewers with potentially disastrous consequences.

The ASA also consulted separately with the NSPCC about the ad. The NSPCC confirmed that seeing the types of images depicted in the ads could “increase the pressure and coercion that young people already experienced to engage in the practice”.

The ASA did not consider that older children who saw the ad would draw the conclusion that the internet security product would provide protection against third parties seeing personal photos if they were shared by the recipient.

Why this matters:

Internet safety for children is of increasing importance in an age when children of all ages can have their own smart phones. Internet safety is also the subject of a new Government scheme (the Internet Safety Strategy) which aims to look at the specific risks for young people on the internet, including pressures around sexting. On one hand, this may have been why Kaspersky chose to include the scene in their ad, as it was topical and relevant. However, advertisers must take care when dealing with sensitive issues in their ads. The nature of Kaspersky’s product obviously meant that they wanted to deal with acts or information that users would want to keep secure, however, the use of sexting could be perceived as a poorly thought through attempt by Kaspersky to seek controversy. If advertisers decide to take such risks with their ads, then they should be aware of the potential backlash from viewers and watchdogs alike.