Trailers for the supernatural horror film “Insidious: The Last Key” were shown as pre-roll ads on YouTube videos with “particular appeal or interest to children,” Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has revealed.
The issue came to the ASA’s attention after it received five complaints, three of which were from parents, who said that the ads were “distressing.”
Two trailers for the film were flagged, both begin with a woman being attacked by a demonic figure with key-shaped claws who then inserts a finger into the woman’s throat. The ads were unskippable for the first five seconds.
They appeared on YouTube between December 2017 and January 2018 ahead of a video featuring songs from the wildly popular Disney film “Frozen.” They also featured around a clip on how to build a Lego fire station, a video of children’s cartoon “PJ Masks,” as well as two Minecraft videos.
According to the ASA ruling, Sony Pictures Releasing UK targeted the YouTube ads towards an audience of 18 or over, and wanted to make sure the trailer was not shown before videos with “unknown audiences.”
It also whittled down the audience by excluding videos that were “suitable for families” and by adding more than 1,000 negative keywords, including words that appeal to children.
The ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that the ads were “excessively frightening and shocking,” and therefore unsuitable for children. Furthermore, it judged that the unexpected placement of the ads even rendered them “likely to cause excessive fear or distress for some adults.”
YouTube and Sony pointed the finger of blame at each other.
YouTube told the ASA that advertisers are “responsible for determining the appropriate targeting” for their own campaigns. The BBC reported that an investigation by Sony found that YouTube’s content categorising algorithms were to blame.
YouTube made clear that the ads were not shown on YouTube Kids, the app on which it recommends children view YouTube.
The ASA told Sony Pictures Releasing UK to be more careful, and to ensure that future ads are appropriately targeted. YouTube was not admonished over the issue.
Business Insider has contacted Sony and YouTube for comment.