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Remember these ads from Homescapes or Gardenscapes?
Well, on September 30th, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority published a ruling that bans Playrix from using such ads in the UK to acquire users for its games, because they were deemed to be misleading. Playrix tried to justify its strategy by making three points:
1. The ads included the line “Not all images represent actual gameplay”.
2. They stated that the ad content was implemented in their games as “mini-games” that show up at various points of the game experience.
3. They said that Facebook’s ad policies limit ad length, and it’s not possible for them to showcase all game content in a short period of time.
Unfortunately for Playrix, all these arguments fell on deaf ears. The ASA understood that the Homescapes and Gardenscapes games in large part consisted of gameplay that did not represent the ad content and Facebook’s ad time limits were enough to showcase more representative gameplay. Therefore, the ads are misleading in the eyes of the ASA.
It is important to note, however, that the ASA is a self-regulatory and non-statutory organisation of the UK’s advertising industry. It is not funded by the British government but by a levy on the advertising industry. Therefore, it cannot interpret or enforce legislation. In other words, a ruling by the ASA does not directly translate to Playrix abiding by it. That said, the UK government does take misleading advertising cases very seriously, and Playrix’s ruling falls into that category.
The following piece of text from the UK House of Common’s August 2020 briefing paper on Regulation of Advertising by the ASA makes this ruling significant and therefore important for Playrix to fix its ads for the UK market:
“Importantly, for misleading or unfair advertising, the ASA can refer the matter to Trading Standards to take action under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. It is the ASA’s decision whether to make a referral to Trading Standards. It will normally do so in circumstances where ASA’s sanctions have not deterred a marketer from continuing with misleading advertising. It is then Trading Standards independent decision whether to investigate or take any enforcement action, in accordance with their own enforcement policy and administrative functions.”
Misleading ad practices have been rampant in the mobile gaming industry for some time now, and in most cases to the detriment of the acquired players’ gameplay experience. These ads are great at lowering user acquisition costs due to their high top-of-the-funnel conversion rate, and therefore highly effective in ROI driven ad campaigns. While the start of misleading ad practices is rooted in the highly competitive nature of the UA market, other major companies like King have been able to sustain their games without succumbing to such tactics. As King puts it, they value building brand trust over short term UA gains.
We’re in full support of ASA’s ruling and while it is just limited to the UK, we hope Playrix steps up to set the right example for the entire industry. And given that the ASA is a founding member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), our hope is the ruling helps instigate a larger scale domino effect to eventually move the industry towards a better future for both developers and players.