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Targeting of Ads for Gambling Products

10 December 2014

Gambling advertising is an area that receives significant public scrutiny and the Codes reflect the care that should be taken when marketing gambling products.

The Codes require that gambling advertising is prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society with a particular emphasis on ensuring children are protected.  Central to this is that the CAP Code requires that gambling ads aren’t directed at those aged below 18 years of age through the selection of media or context in which they appear.

The ASA has previously investigated ads that have been deemed to breach this rule and has made clear that advertisers should take the necessary steps to ensure that their marketing is correctly targeted.  This applies across all media including email and social media.

Making ads a safe bet

An email advertisement for a Bet Butler promotion that stated "SIGN UP TODAY FOR YOUR FREE £25 RISK-FREE BET* Join Now” prompted a complaint that it was inappropriately targeted because it was sent to the complainant’s 10-year-old son.

Because the advertiser had sent an e-mail promoting a gambling service to an under-18 the ASA deemed it was inappropriately targeted.

Social media and video sharing

The ASA has also examined ads in social media and video sharing platforms.  

A Facebook page for an online bingo game run by Profitable Play that was headed "Bingo Friendzy ... World's First Real Cash Games on Facebook" ran into trouble because a number of posts further down the page included images of furry cartoon characters.

Two complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it was likely to be of particular appeal to children.

Although the ASA considered the ad, in particular the imagery used, was likely to appeal to children, if they were exposed to it, the ASA noted the ad was accessed only via the advertiser's Facebook page, and that access to that page was age-restricted to website users who were 18 or over.  As Profitable Play had taken reasonable steps to prevent those who were under 18 from viewing the ad it did not breach the Code.

Likewise a post on the X Factor Facebook page for a Mecca Bingo competition to win prizes related to the show prompted a complaint that it was socially irresponsible because it was likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons.  However, the post was age-restricted so it would only be seen by Facebook users who were registered as aged 18 or over and as such the ASA considered the advertisers had taken reasonable steps to prevent those who were under 18 from viewing the ad and didn’t find it in breach.

The Ladbrokes Youtube channel also came under scrutiny because complainants believed that its ad could be seen by under 18s.  The ASA understood that the ad had appeared on Ladbrokes' own Youtube channel only, rather than having been scheduled to play elsewhere on the platform.  As the content was unlikely to appeal to under 18s and children and young people were unlikely to constitute a significant proportion of visitors to Ladbrokes' own Youtube channel the ASA was satisfied that the ad had been appropriately targeted.

National press

This contrasts with instances where the ASA has decided that the content of an ad for a gambling product appealed to children whilst appearing in an untargeted medium.   

For example, a regional press ad in the Metro newspaper, for an online casino, which featured an image of Optimus Prime from the children’s sci-fi franchise, Transformers fell foul of the rules because it appeared in an untargeted medium which was available to both under-18s and adults. Although the small print on the ad stated that the offer was only available to over-18s the depiction of the toy brand character was likely to have particular appeal to children and young people and therefore beached the Code.

Don’t gamble with the rules

How the ASA interprets and applies the Code demonstrates that advertisers are expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure that their ads for gambling products aren’t directed to under 18s.  Where it appears that the placement of the ads is in media that isn’t targeted at children, marketers should ensure that the content of the ads does not appeal particularly to children for example by using toy brand characters or popular comic book characters. 

The key is to consider who your audience is likely to be and take action where necessary to ensure that your advertising is correctly targeted.  If using agencies and third parties to place advertising in online media such as banner advertising or in-game advertising appearing in apps, advertisers should ensure that their advertising is being placed with the appropriate audience in mind.

For further guidance on this subject we recommend you contact the CAP Copy Advice Team

  By Daniel Ware, Compliance Executive

Daniel studied African Studies at the University of Birmingham and obtained an MSC in Global Politics in 2012.  He joined the ASA Complaints Team as an exec in 2004, has provided management cover in the Complaints department and moved to the Compliance team in 2007.  He ensures compliance by ensuring ASA rulings are adhered to and invokes sanctions where necessary.  He also conducts sector sweeps, produces surveys of advertising sectors and occasionally undertakes investigations into advertising.  

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