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Principles and Guidelines for Responsible Advertising Practices


In fulfilling a key aspect of the self-regulatory mission of the ESRB, the Advertising Review Council (“ARC”) is responsible for the implementation, administration, and enforcement of advertising guidelines adopted by the interactive entertainment software industry. The following ARC Principles and Guidelines for Responsible Advertising Practices (the “Principles and Guidelines”) apply to all “qualifying advertising” for games rated by the ESRB, and all publishers utilizing ESRB ratings are legally bound to comply with the guidelines and to ensure compliance by their co-publishers, licensee, agents and/or other third parties authorized in connection with the development, creation, distribution or placement of qualifying advertising. Failure to comply with ARC requirements can result in points, corrective actions, and monetary fines.

The term “qualifying advertising” shall mean all forms of interactive entertainment software advertising, i.e., all commercial messages and/or marketing materials related to the promotion, consumer testing or sale of a product or service (including but not limited to packaging, advertising, promotional materials, newsletters, cross-promotions, demos, trailers, videos, billboards, and audio-visual materials) which are (a) directed at consumers within the United States and Canada and (b) distributed or disseminated through any medium currently known or hereafter developed.

Therefore, all materials produced and distributed by a company for promotional purposes (including demos, trailers, or videos), regardless of whether the company paid for media placement, will be considered “qualifying advertising” and subject to the same standards and review.

Editorial content is not subject to review by ARC. Editorial content is considered to include, but not be limited to, game reviews, news stories, TV series/specials, etc. that a company did not produce, underwrite, sponsor, or pay a third party to produce (i.e., through money, barter, or other consideration of value). ARC requirements do not apply to any advertisements or promotions directed solely to the trade.

When conducting a compliance review, ARC will examine whether an advertisement meets and conforms to the following Principles, with particular focus on whether it satisfies the following core Guidelines. In so doing, ARC will consider both the spirit as well as the specific text of these Principles and Guidelines. While the Principles set forth some basic tenets of responsible advertising practices to which companies should adhere, the Guidelines are intended to provide greater specificity, and therefore certainty, regarding that content which typically may run afoul of ARC’s Principles and Guidelines. When compliance reviews are conducted, the weight accorded each Guideline will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the demographic profile of the audience for which each product, and its associated advertising, is intended and the advertising medium involved. Regardless, in all cases, the advertising at issue will be assessed with an eye towards the likely reaction of the broader general public, not merely those who purchase or play the game.


1. An advertisement should accurately reflect the nature and content of the product it represents and the rating issued (i.e., an advertisement should not mislead the consumer as to the product’s true character.)

2. An advertisement should not glamorize or exploit the ESRB rating of a product or a ruling or determination made by ARC, nor misrepresent the scope of ARC’s determination.

3. All advertisements should be created with a sense of responsibility toward the public.

4. No advertisement should contain any content that is likely to cause serious or widespread offense to the average consumer.

5. Companies must not specifically target advertising for entertainment software products rated “Teen,” “Mature,” or “Adults Only” to consumers for whom the product is not rated as appropriate.


These Guidelines are not intended to restrict or impede creative and/or innovative advertising. Rather, they highlight certain types of content that publishers should avoid when creating qualifying advertising. These Guidelines also are not intended to address or illustrate every type of extreme or offensive content that could lead to a violation; they merely provide illustrative examples.

The following Guidelines are applicable to all qualifying advertising EXCEPT FOR demos, trailers, and videos released on the Internet. For demos, trailers, and videos released on the Internet, any content from the game or live-action or pre-rendered sequences may be included, provided that such content reflects the game's true nature and does not supplement or exceed the Pertinent Content in the game. While not required, ARC strongly recommends that companies adopt an internal set of standards and practices for Internet-distributed trailers and videos, which may include voluntarily adopting the content restrictions outlined in the following Guidelines. Alternatively, should companies choose to do so, they may still submit their trailers and videos to ARC for a determination as to whether the content is consistent with the following Guidelines.

1. Violence

Graphic and/or excessive depictions of violence
For example: Repeated blows or gun shots inflicted upon people/creatures, violent blows to the head, guns/weapons pointed at head, impaling, exploding body parts, guns/weapons pointed toward reader/audience, depictions of fatal injuries and/or suicide, strangulation/choking, inflicting wounds with swords/knives, kicks to the groin

Graphic and/or violent depictions of the use of weapons
For example: Prolonged and/or excessive gunfire or use of weapons

Graphic and/or excessive depictions of blood and/or gore
For example:
Excessive and gratuitous amounts of blood and/or fleshy body parts, blood spurting from wounds

Allusions or depictions of acts of verbal or physical abuse toward children
For example:
Molestation, physical child abuse, children in peril

Allusions or depictions of violent or degrading behavior toward women
For example:
Women harassed, abused, punched, beaten, bound, or gagged

Allusions or depictions of torture or other violent acts toward animals
For example:
Cruelty to animals

Allusions or depictions of torture, mutilation or sadism
For example:
Dismemberment, decapitation

Violence toward a political or public figure
For example:
Assassination of a president or celebrity

Allusions or depictions of acts of arson or fire play
For example:
People/creatures on fire, weapon/bomb making

2. Sex

Allusions to or depictions of acts of sexual violence
For example: Rape, molestation, sexual assault

Allusions or depictions of necrophilia or any other sexual acts
For example:
Sexual fetishes

Graphic and/or excessive depictions of nudity or sexual situations
For example:
Overtly sexualized depictions of a character's body parts, such as breasts, buttocks, etc., partial or full nudity (e.g., female breasts, pubic hair, genitalia), depictions of sex or sexual references (e.g., intercourse, oral sex, masturbation)

Ridicule, references to or portrayals of individuals with sexually transmitted disease
For example
: Venereal diseases

3. Alcohol and Drugs

References to illicit drug use and/or depictions of illicit drugs and any accompanying paraphernalia
For example: Use or references to illegal drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, heroin)

Glamorizing, encouraging and/or depicting the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs
For example:
Underage drinking or substance abuse, socially irresponsible behavior due to alcohol or drug consumption (e.g., drinking and driving)

4. Offensive Verbal or Bodily Expression

Crude and/or offensive language
For example: Profanity, excessively violent/sexual ad copy, offensive gestures (e.g., giving the finger), offensive song lyrics, hate speech (e.g., racial epithets)

Offensive depictions or ridicule of basic bodily functions
For example:
Defecation, urination

5. Insensitivity to Religious Beliefs or Physical/Mental Disabilities

For example: Desecration or disrespectful treatment of a person, place, thing, or idea held sacred by some

Degradation or ridicule of disabled individuals
For example:
Offensive depictions or remarks towards physically or mentally disabled individuals