Another week, another upheld ASA ruling against an online gambling advisement.
The ASA hasn't published many weekly rulings over the past few months. This is mostly due to its commitment to 'regulatory forbearance' during the pandemic. However, of the few rulings it has published, gambling ads make up a very significant proportion.
It is a sign that the ASA is not as willing to informally resolve complaints against gambling ads as it might be for ads for other sectors. To understand why, it's important to briefly consider the wider context, before looking at this specific example.
The wider context is that UK gambling laws are set to be reviewed and tightened, and the gambling industry (and CAP) is determined to get its house in order ahead of that review.
For example, the UK's Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which represents the regulated betting industry (excluding the National Lottery), had already identified the problem of online gambling ads that might appeal to under 18s or might be seen by under 18s and launched its own crackdown. Its members are required to follow the Sixth Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (the "Industry Code"), which contains stricter rules to rein in ads which could appeal to or could target under 18s. The updated Industry Code came into effect on 1 October 2020.
Last week, on 22 October 2020, CAP started its own consultation, which is likely to result in a tightening of the CAP Code rules around gambling ads in a bid to further prevent them reaching or having appeal to under 18s.
The updates to the CAP Code are not due to be implemented until next 2021. Nevertheless, the CAP Code already prohibits ads from targeting or having particular appeal to 18s. This week's ASA ruling is on that very topic. It involves an ad from August 2020, well before any new rules or guidance from the BGC came into effect.
ASA ruling against Gala Spins
A paid-for Facebook post by LC International Ltd t/a Gala Spins, seen on 12 August 2020, included a caption which stated “IT’S A ROLLERCOASTER OF CUTENESS!”. The post included a video which began with a voice-over that stated “What’s your spin?”. The video included text that stated “GALA Spins” and “What’s your spin?” following which the video showed text which stated “Fluffy Favourites” and five toy animals.
One person complained that the content of the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to children.
The ASA investigated whether the ad breached the following rules:
16.1 Marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited.
16.3.12 Marketing communications must not be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture
Gala Spins said the ad was posted on their Facebook account which was age-gated to those who were over 18 years old, so that age restriction would prevent those who were underage from viewing and accessing the Gala Spins page.
Gala Spins said they posted the video featuring stuffed animals in error and that it was an out-of-date video. They said that the stuffed toys featured in the eight-second video appeared between seconds four and six; viewers would have had to press play for the video to run. They said the video was part of a multi-channel campaign targeting females in the UK aged between 18 and 65 with an interest in gambling and online gaming.
They provided analytics of the campaign which they said showed that none of those who saw the ad were under 18 years old - all were adult women.
They said the ad had since been taken down on all channels.
Upheld: The ASA held that the ad was in breach of both of the above rules
Gala Spins had taken steps to target the ad only at those between 18 and 65 years of age but that targeting was based on an audience which had self-reported their age, on a platform which under-18s were generally free to use. The steps taken could not ensure that under-18s who falsely reported their age were not exposed to the ad.
Separately, gambling ads must not appeal more strongly to under-18s than they did to over-18s. The ASA considered that the cartoon-like imagery of five stuffed toy animals was likely to appeal to under-18s. The ASA also considered the game’s name “Fluffy Favourites”, and the ad’s caption “IT’S A ROLLERCOASTER OF CUTENESS!”, were likely to strengthen that appeal. They concluded that those factors combined to give the ad a child-like theme, and that the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s. The ASA therefore found that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code.
The upshot is that online gambling brands must be particularly careful to ensure that the targeting techniques they use are effective (and do not rely on self-reported age verification).
The Industry Code requires (among other things) that "sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted at consumers aged 25+... where operators do not hold any first party data about the consumers targeted, (i.e. where operators are wholly reliant on self-certified third party data, which may not always be correct.)... Given improvements in identification technology if a social media platform can verifiably prove that its age gating systems can prevent under 18s from accessing the gambling advertising content, then the Betting and Gaming Council, on the recommendation of operators and in consultation with other third parties, may consider whether to reduce the age filter to 18+." It is still necessary to ensure the content itself doesn't have particular appeal to under 18s.
The Industry Code reflects a sensible standard which could be followed even by gambling companies which are not members of the BGC.
Gambling advertisers should also look out for updates to the CAP Code following the current consultation period which closes in late January 2021. Of course, we will report on updates.
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told LC International Ltd t/a Gala Spins to ensure in future that their ads for gambling products did not appeal particularly to under 18s.