The Chinese online marketplace which burst on to the scene earlier this year with a flurry of flashing adverts and frankly suspiciously cheap products has been reprimanded by the ASA for causing widespread offence with the use of sexualised images, including one of a child seemingly under the age of 11, and not appropriately targeting its adverts.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the exact examples of the complained about adverts. Although Twitter and Mumsnet users had queried the bizarre products in the featured image. From reading the ASA ruling, one of the key issues was the juxtaposition of a number of different images. For example, one of the images was of a facial roller and another of balloon tying tools - both of which were considered to be ‘phallic shaped’ by the ASA. Yes… it certainly needs to be seen to be believed. However, those images were juxtaposed next to images of a jock strap and women in various tight fitting, revealing clothing. Taken together this starts to reveal the bigger picture here as to why the adverts attracted complaints and ultimately why the ASA upheld those complaints.
What interests me though from a media buying perspective is the various stakeholders involved in the saga. We have the advertiser (Temu), ad-tech provider (Google and an ad management platform) and the media owners (a regional newspaper and chess website).
It's like a whodunnit, but for media buying geeks like me. Who was at fault? Who dunnit?
All of the images originated from third party sellers using the Temu platform. Temu sought to argue that the sellers were obliged to adhere to its marketplace policies which prohibited pornographic, obscene or harassing images. Such argument would have had little sway with the ASA as Temu had chosen to upload those images to its Google Ads account and even Temu admitted that one of the images (of the child in the bikini) violated its policies. Temu should have been moderating the images.
Ad-tech provider #1?
I can see why Temu may have been hard pressed to moderate over ONE MILLION product descriptions and images uploaded to their Google Ads account which were labelled by product category, price range and sales volume. Temu only chose the product categories to be promoted and Google Ads used their algorithm to pick products from that category. Thus Temu didn't have control over the specific products advertised. They also stated they didn't have control over the arrangement or combination of products or the websites/apps that the ads were featured on. Was it Google's algorithm that chose the combination of saucy images?
Two of the media owners (a regional newspaper and chess website) have subsequently blocked Temu adverts from appearing again. One stated they did have strict controls to prevent inappropriate advertising but as the ad was listed a shopping site it was permitted.
Ad-tech provider #2?
The other media owner was using a third party ad management partner to ensure that images with sexual content were prohibited. The ad management partner only appeared to vet the advertiser as opposed to the content of the advertisement, and stated that they believed Temu, as an e-commerce platform, was not a part of any banned category. The plot thickens.
Enter Sherlock Holmes (AKA the ASA) who only ever had one suspect in their sight… because they really only have jurisdiction over the advertiser… so the player in the frame was… Temu.
The ASA upheld every complaint against Temu.
The ASA noted Temu’s explanation that the items had not been chosen directly by them but picked by their ad server’s algorithm based on very broad product categories. However, while we acknowledged that Temu had stated there had been no intent to curate the ads in a sexual way, we assessed how they were likely to be interpreted by readers, regardless of the mechanics behind them.