GTAIV ads pulled because of San Andreas flap

Chicago Transit Authority gave up a contract potentially worth more than $200,000 in revenue because people complained about another ad campaign more than three years ago.


Earlier this week, a Fox TV affiliate reported on a series of ads for Take-Two Interactive's Grand Theft Auto IV being pulled from buildings and buses belonging to the Chicago Transit Authority. Like a delay on the Brown Line, details are only now starting to trickle out about the deal.

A CTA representative confirmed the aborted ad campaign for GameSpot, explaining that the reason for pulling it actually has more to do with the last installment of the Rockstar-developed gaming franchise, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In 2004, the CTA received a number of complaints about a series of ads promoting the Take-Two Interactive hit, but the furor hit as the campaign was ending, so the spots--reportedly worth $90,000 to the agency--weren't pulled.

Since that time, the CTA has found a new company to handle its advertising, one that was unaware of the previous flap. That company agreed to a six-week campaign featuring 385 ads for Grand Theft Auto IV, one that had barely begun before the transit authority decided to yank it. The CTA representative said the ads were removed specifically because of the 2004 complaints surrounding the San Andreas ad campaign, not because people were complaining about the Grand Theft Auto IV spots.

The ad company was set to receive $316,000 for the ads, but how much the move will cost the CTA is a little murkier. Under the terms of the deal, the ad company has guaranteed the CTA $22.5 million this year, or 65 percent of its net receipts, whichever is greater. So if the ad company has a banner year, pulling the GTAIV ads could cost the CTA as much as $205,400. On the other hand, if ad sales fall short of that threshold, the pulled ads won't cost the CTA a dime because of the guaranteed payout.

The CTA does not accept ads for alcohol or tobacco products, but it will allow campaigns promoting R-rated films.

"CTA guidelines require ads to be truthful, and not directed at inciting imminent lawless action," the CTA representative explained. "They cannot be legally obscene or portraying graphic violence."

The representative also dismissed concerns of the pulled advertising campaign opening it up to a lawsuit from Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games claiming violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech. According to the rep, "The CTA has the right to regulate and establish guidelines for advertising on its properties."

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