The dating website Zoosk has been ordered to ensure it places its ads appropriately after they appeared on an app for young fans of One Direction.
The app - a game called Date One Direction (D1D) - showed banner and full-screen ads from Zoosk featuring images of men and women and help to "meet local singles!", while one banner that appeared across the top of the screen featured icons labelled "browse", "chat", "flirt" and "date" with the accompanying offer of a free download of the site.
The free D1D cartoon-style game, which is classified 9+ in Apple's app classification system, gives fans the chance to build virtual relationship with members of the boyband and has accumulated millions of downloads worldwide.
Childnet International complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ads encouraged children to talk to strangers and had been inappropriately and irresponsibly placed within the app.
Zoosk said it took a number of steps to ensure that the placement of its ads was age-appropriate and did not target children and, on learning that they were appearing on the D1D app, had taken immediate steps to ensure they were removed.
But Zoosk also said it did not believe that the D1D app was suitable for children, highlighting that it encouraged the virtual dating of the members of One Direction, all aged in their early twenties, encouraged users to flirt with band members, included a game in which users were congratulated for their French kissing ability, and referenced further games which could be played once users had become a band member's "girlfriend", such as treating them to breakfast in bed and having a romantic candlelit bubble bath.
Zoosk suggested its agency "may therefore have been misled into placing their ad, for a dating service, into the app".
Digicub, the D1D app's developer, said the game's main demographic was 13 to 17-year-olds, but confirmed Apple had applied a 9+ rating.
Digicub said it applied a 17+ filter to advertising space on the app but the Zoosk ad appeared because the provider had not flagged it as 17+.
It had changed the filter for ads to 12+ and had asked Apple to reclassify the app's age rating to 12+ to ensure a similar situation did not occur in future.
The ASA acknowledged that Zoosk had procedures in place that were intended to prevent their ads appearing in apps targeted at children but noted that it had been unable to identify the third-party vendor responsible for placing the ad in the D1D app.
It said: "We appreciated that the D1D app had more mature themes than one would expect from a game with a target demographic of 13 to 17-year-olds.
"However, we were concerned that ads for an adult dating service that encouraged those who saw them to 'chat', 'flirt', 'date' and 'meet local singles' had not been flagged as appropriate only for adult audiences and had, as a result, appeared in an app that was targeted at children.
"For that reason, we concluded that the ads had been irresponsibly placed and were in breach of the code."
The ASA told Zoosk to ensure that their ads did not appear in apps that were targeted at children in future.
Zoosk said: "At Zoosk, we are committed to being honest, accurate and responsible in our advertising. Our advertising targets those over 18; anyone younger is not eligible to join.
"Last year we were disappointed to find out that a vendor had incorrectly placed one of our advertisements on a celebrity dating app which, although it contained adult themes, we later discovered was likely intended to appeal to people under 18. When we became aware of this we immediately took steps to have the ad removed.
"Zoosk has been in contact with the ASA and we have put additional safeguards in place to help prevent something like this recurring, including stopping work with certain advertising partners in order to maintain more control over the audiences for our ads.
"We regret that this incident occurred and it is not in our financial or ethical interest to have involvement from ineligible persons under 18."
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