Clampdown on adverts by `irresponsible' Sony

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The Independent Online
SONY UK has been ordered to submit all its advertising posters to watchdogs before they are displayed after being branded "irresponsible" following a number of rulings against it.

In the most recent cases, complaints against two campaigns have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for being distasteful and offensive.

The company is only the third advertiser to be forced to take the extraordinary measure of now having its advertising vetted in advance. The other two are the Commission for Racial Equality and Talk Radio.

In the most astonishing case, 80 complaints were upheld against Sony's Playstation division for sending to 500,000 homes in October envelopes marked "Private & Confidential" and "Test Results".

Many of those who complained were sick people awaiting real medical test results. One man in Scotland who received the mock test results was awaiting the outcome of chemotherapy for cancer.

Sony's mock results included an addressed card headed, "This is your medical card", and then went on to say: "I am writing as a matter of urgency with your scan results - they reveal early stages of a progressive condition for which I am prescribing immediate treatment...". The mailing also contained mock X-rays. The warning that it did not contain real results was in small print on the other side of the card.

In a separate ruling, the same division of Sony has been told to have all its posters vetted after the ASA upheld eight complaints against a poster for its game, Tekken 3. This poster featured a dismembered body in a mortuary with its feet pointing out of opposite ends of a sheet. The advertiser said the poster was meant to be surreal and comic like a cartoon, but the ASA ruled that it was too realistic.

"Sony is certainly irresponsible," a spokesman for the ASA said. "It is quite rare to have two taste and decency complaints upheld in one monthly report. Admittedly, there have always been problems with computer games because they are targeted at 18- to 25-year-olds, but the companies have enough money to buy posters which are seen by everyone. The same adverts would not attract rulings if they had been in style or Playstation magazines."

Sony had to rapidly take down a poster campaign for its Playstation game Coolboarders last year after it attracted complaints about the drug-references in the advertisement. The posters included the phrase: "My body aches for Powder, I need the rush. Have to get higher than last time."

And in 1997 Sony was again in trouble when it printed an advert on thin perforated card so that 70 small oblong shapes could be torn off and rolled up to form "roaches" - filters for cannabis joints. The cards appeared in style magazines, such as i-D and Mix Mag, and were handed out to clubbers.

A spokesman for Sony denied that the company deliberately used shock tactics: "The Tekken 3 poster campaign was seen by 10 million people and just 10 complained about it, but of course we will comply with the ASA ruling. We have already apologised personally to everyone who was aggrieved by the mail out."