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Out-Law News 2 min. read

ASA ruling against Ladbrokes highlights social media risks for gambling brands’ ad campaigns

The UK Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) recent ruling against gambling brand Ladbrokes and its operator LC International Ltd over a marketing tweet signals the regulator’s stringent approach in enforcing its new guidance to protect under 18s in the UK from gambling adverts.

The ASA ruling found that a post on Twitter by Ladbrokes featuring an image reel of Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly had breached its new guidance, which requires gambling companies to ensure that their ads are not attractive to under 18s.

It is the first ruling relating to the new regulations, which were published in October last year. While previous restrictions on creative content required that ads must not be of “particular appeal” to under-18s, the new rules (36 pages / 646KB PDF) are based on a “strong” appeal test and ban content – including imagery, themes and characters – that has a significant level of appeal to under-18s, regardless of how it is viewed by adults.

In its assessment, the ASA explained that “marketing communications for gambling products must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They must not include a person or character whose example was likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who had strong appeal to those aged under-18.”

A particular significance of this ruling, according to Pinsent Masons’ legal expert Scott Oxley, is how the ASA treated the evidence produced by Ladbrokes in its defence which was that the ad had been boosted on Twitter to only reach users who were aged 25 years or over and that the data showed that from a total of 50,666 impressions of the tweet, 0% of their targeted audience was under 20 years old.

“Despite the evidence, this did not persuade the ASA that the advert did not fall foul of the rules,” said Oxley.

In its decision, the ASA said that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience. However, it regarded Twitter’s self-verified customer sign-up process as one that lacks robust age verification.

“Ladbrokes had not excluded under-18s from the audience with the highest level of accuracy required for ads the content of which was likely to appeal strongly to under-18s. For those reasons, we considered that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code,” said the ASA in its conclusion.

The ASA’s conclusion, particularly the part relating to the lack of strict age-verification by social media platforms, echoes the findings in The 100 Children Report it produced at the end of November last year. The report looked at UK children’s real-world mobile phone and tablet use, the platforms and sites they visit and the ads they were exposed to over the course of one week. Amongst other things, it found that “at least 11% of children’s social media accounts are registered with a date of birth that falsely suggests the account holder is 18 or older”, calculating that it was therefore likely that over 1.6 million of children registered on social media accounts had registered as 18 or older. 

“This emphasises to brand owners the care they must take to ensure that their advertisements are only viewed by the intended audience, and, in particular, the risk that they accept if they place too much reliance on the age verification processes and procedures that social media platforms and websites have in place,” said Oxley.

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