The ASA has issued an upheld ruling against gambling firm Kwiff (Eaton Gate Gaming Ltd) for running a gambling ad on a Portsmouth FC webpage aimed at children.
The ad included the following offer: “Grab up to 200 Cash Free Spins on Book of Dead! Wager £20 on slots and Get 40 Cash Free Spins for five consecutive days. Sign Up Kwiff”.
The problem was that the ad appeared in the news section of the football club’s website, in an article about junior membership packages, titled “Join the Junior Blues”.
The CAP Code, which applies to ads on websites and other forms of non-broadcast media, states that marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at under 18s through the selection of media or the context in which they appear.
Kwiff said the ad was directed at viewers based on their online behaviour. The behavioural targeting was precise, accurate and sophisticated, designed to target specific individuals based on age, location and interests – and specifically excluded under 18s. Kwiff said that the majority of viewers targeted were existing Kwiff customers and the 33 viewers who had engaged with the ad were all age-verified. Nevertheless, Kwiff accepted, there was always a chance that the ads could be seen by minors – essentially even the best technology isn’t perfect. In any case, Kwiff also said that the web page was directed at parents, not children, highlighting the fact that it included the statement “do not worry if you are aged 18 or over, as we also have adult membership packages available”.
Although the ASA acknowledged the sophistication of the targeting efforts employed by Kwiff and that they had specifically sought to steer the advertising away from children, this wasn’t enough. The ad appeared on a page featuring a news article for children. The page invited viewers to a “Join the Junior Blues” - an obvious call to action aimed at under 18s. The content also included a cartoon image of the club mascot. The ASA also thought that the copy that referred over 18s to the adult membership packages only served to emphasise the fact that the page was primarily aimed at under 18s.
Kwiff’s response to the ASA refers to 33 adults who engaged with the ad, and makes no mention of whether any under 18s actually saw it. This doesn't really matter, because the CAP Code is concerned about the targeting of advertising, and where it actually lands, so whether any children actually saw the ad wouldn’t affect the ASA’s treatment of it (although it might indicate bad targeting).
However, interestingly, in the “Issue” section of the ruling, which usually refers to the specific issues raised by the complainant, it just says “The ASA challenged whether the ad was appropriately targeted”, suggesting that the ad may have been investigated by the ASA on its own initiative, rather than in response to a complaint from a member of the public, such as an angry parent.
This may or may not have been the case, but it would not be surprising, particularly in light of the ASA's just-released ASA and CAP Annual Report 2022.
The ASA notes that: “… with innovative technology at the forefront, we’ve undertaken proactive projects that tackle big issues: ads mis-targeted at children; unevidenced green claims; irresponsible crypto ads; and hidden influencer ads.
It also says: "We continued to monitor children’s exposure to age-restricted ads across media, with our 100 Children Report providing rich insights into children’s exposure to alcohol and gambling ads online."
There seems little doubt that the targeting of gambling ads is and will continue to be one of the ASA’s hot topics for the foreseeable future. And given the ASA's focus on an active, rather than reactive, approach, the risk of upheld complaints for gambling firms is going to be higher than ever and firms (especially those focusing on subjects of special interest to children such as sports) should be keeping an equally active eye on their targeting strategies going forwards.
We have written in more detail about the ASA and CAP Annual Report 2022 here.
we’re continuing to rebalance our regulation away from reactive complaints casework towards proactive, tech-assisted, intelligence-gathering, monitoring and enforcement