Advertising Principles and Guidelines

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 video game industry. The following ARC Principles and Guidelines for Responsible Advertising Practices apply to all “qualifying advertising” for physical games rated by the ESRB. Furthermore, all publishers, co-publishers, licensees, and/or other third parties utilizing ESRB ratings for physical games are legally bound to comply with the guidelines. Failure to do so can result in points, corrective actions, and monetary fines.

The term “qualifying advertising” means all forms of video game advertising, such as 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.

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 such as game reviews, news stories, or TV shows that a company did not produce or sponsor is not subject to review by ARC, nor do ARC requirements apply to advertisements or promotions directed solely to the trade.

When conducting a compliance review, ARC will examine whether an advertisement conforms to the Principles, focusing on whether it satisfies the core Guidelines. ARC considers the spirit as well as the specific text of these Principles and Guidelines. While the Principles set forth basic tenets of responsible advertising practices, the Guidelines provide greater specificity regarding content which may be inconsistent with ARC’s Principles and Guidelines. When reviews are conducted, the weight accorded to each Guideline will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on audience demographics, products, advertising, and the advertising medium involved. All advertising will be assessed with an eye towards the likely reaction of the broader general public, not merely those who purchase or play the game.

Principles

  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.

Guidelines

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 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. However, any demo, trailer, video, or live stream for a game rated (or anticipated to be rated) Mature that is NOT suitable for a general audience (i.e., does not conform to these Principles and Guidelines), or that promotes a game rated (or anticipated to be rated) Adults Only (regardless of its content) must comply with the ESRB Age-Gate Policy so as to restrict access to persons under the age of 17 (18 in the case of Adults Only titles).

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 groinGraphic 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 assaultAllusions 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
    Sacrilege
    For example: Desecration or disrespectful treatment of a person, place, thing, or idea held sacred by someDegradation or ridicule of disabled individuals
    For example:
    Offensive depictions or remarks towards physically or mentally disabled individuals