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A YouTuber who chose to play with fire by making progressively edgier adverts for a VPN company in the hopes of losing the brand deal has finally hit the limit – by having his latest promo banned by the UK’s advertising watchdog.
Thomas Ridgewell, known online as TomSka and the creator of the animated series asdfmovie, has been in a fierce battle with the brand Surfshark to get them to reject an advert in one of his YouTube videos.
He’s tried gun violence, child death, namedropping competitors – all of them perfectly fine, according to Surfshark.
In a video titled “Dear Surfshark, Please Fire Me”, uploaded to his second channel TomSka and Friends, Mr Ridgewell explained: “The challenge was to find Surfshark’s breaking point, and I would do anything – I would do anything – to find it. I have to know.
“I say, ‘you know what, guys? Maybe I just do a really brutal torture scene? How do you like that?’
“And they said, ‘yeah, we like that. Do it. Do it, you f***ing coward.”
The advert, included as part of an upload titled “Thomas The Tank Engine Is Darker Than You Think” – yes, really – featured a bloodied hostage, stabbings and someone being tasered.
But while the brand was perfectly fine with having it go live on YouTube, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – who regulate ads in the UK - wasn’t.
A complaint was made over the advert being “excessively violent and threatening”, and so they decided to investigate.
In its ruling, published on Wednesday, the ASA said: “The ad portrayed a realistic depiction of a man tied to a chair, beaten and attacked with weapons, in an attempt to convince him to take out a Surfshark product.
“The man was shown with visible injuries, he was punched in the face, stabbed in the leg and tasered around the neck.
“The victim exhibited a genuine state of fear and the threats of violence and torture in the ad were directed to the viewer at the end of the ad, when it was implied that they would be the assailants’ next victim.”
Although the ASA did recognise the ad was “cinematic in presentation and content” and that it was “hinted that the violence was satirical”, it had “very little relevance” to Surfshark’s service and the “realistic” violence was depicted “without obvious humour”.
“We considered that the overall presentation of the ad was excessively violent, threatening and distressing to the extent that it overshadowed any attempt at humour and any commercial message the ad intended to convey about the product.
“We therefore concluded the ad was likely to cause fear and distress to viewers without a justifiable reason,” it concluded.
So while Mr Ridgewell didn’t find Surfshark’s limit, he did discover where the line was in terms of regulation.
He told Indy100: “I asked the universe how far I could push it and, while the indifferent cosmos remained silent, the ASA answered.”
Asked if he would continue to play with fire around branded adverts on his YouTube channel, Mr Ridgewell replied: “I’ve asked the ASA how best I can avoid crossing the line in the future, because I fully intend to walk it like a tightrope for the rest of my career.”
Meanwhile, in their response to the ASA, Surfshark said a “clear disclaimer” was provided at the beginning of the TomSka and Friends video, warning of strong language and violence, mild gore and providing a suggested age rating.
“Therefore, they said the audience was warned about the content and those unfamiliar with the channel, who did not want to see such things, would have been prevented from seeing it.
“In addition, those who followed the channel would be well aware of the humour featured in the ad, which they believed was clearly satirical.
“Surfshark said that the video had more than two million views but only received one complaint. They stated the large number of views, with only a single complaint, showed that the ad was unlikely to cause viewers fear and distress,” the ruling reads.
With the advert banned under the Committee for Advertising Practice’s (CAP) Code, the promo has since been edited out of the video.
The full ruling is available to read on the ASA’s website.
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