Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA); the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP); LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes; PPB Counterparty Services Ltd t/a Paddy Power[OC1] and Bonne Terre Ltd t/a Sky Bet.
Where: United Kingdom
When: 21 December 2022 and 8 February 2023
Law stated as at: 8 February 2023
The ASA has published its first rulings under the new rules that gambling and lotteries ads should not be of “strong appeal” to children and young persons.
In December last year, the ASA upheld a complaint against LC International Ltd (trading as Ladbrokes) for featuring Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly in an ad on Twitter. These footballers were deemed to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
However, this month, the ASA ruled in favour of PPB Counterparty Services Ltd (trading as Paddy Power) and Bonne Terre Ltd (trading as Sky Bet) whose ads featured Peter Crouch and Micah Richards respectively. These two ex-footballers were deemed not to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
A reminder of the rules
Under the old rules in the UK Codes of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code), gambling advertisements could not be of “particular appeal” to under 18s.
As of 1 October 2022, revised rules provide that marketing communications for gambling and lotteries must not:
- be likely to be of “strong appeal” to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture; nor
- include a person or character whose example is likely to be followed by or who has a “strong appeal” to those aged under 18.
The accompanying ASA Guidance states that betting ads for football are considered to be of inherently strong appeal to under 18s and are therefore prohibited unless steps have been taken to limit the ad’s potential appeal so that it falls under one of the “exemptions”.
Strong appeal: Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly
A promoted tweet for Ladbrokes featured an image reel of Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly.
The ASA held that the Ladbrokes ad was irresponsible and breached the CAP Code. In its decision it considered the fact that a significant proportion of under 18s have a general interest in football and participate in the game frequently, noting that there is a highly developed infrastructure surrounding organised participation and a very high media profile for the sport, including popular, dedicated media for under 18s. It also reminded that the ASA guidance marks Premier League footballers as high risk and ruled that all three players were likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s because they were currently playing in the Premier League and would be well known to their fans.
The ASA considered that it would have been acceptable to have the players feature in a medium from which under 18s were entirely excluded via robust age verification, such as marketing lists verified by payment data or credit checking. Ladbrokes had argued that it had used all available targeting and age-gating tools to exclude under 18s from the audience and its Twitter feed, and that tweets could not be accessed by users unless Twitter had accepted them as over 18. However, because Twitter users self-verify their age, this argument – and the data provided by Ladbrokes which showed that, of the tweet’s 50,000+ impressions, 0% of the audience targeted were under 20 – did not convince the ASA that under 18s were adequately excluded.
Not of strong appeal: Peter Crouch
Paddy Power had used Peter Crouch in a television advert to promote its free bet builder on all England matches in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Unlike Premier League footballers, retired players that have moved into punditry are classed as moderate risk under the new rules (with long retired players designated as low risk) and their appeal is to be assessed on the basis of social and other media profiles
Although a well-known retired footballer and TV personality, Crouch had not played professionally since 2019 and played only for smaller clubs Stoke City and Burnley between 2011-2019, with a large number of appearances as a substitute. In considering Crouch’s potential appeal to under 18s, the ASA agreed with Paddy Power that these factors meant that his footballing career did not render him of strong appeal at the time the ads were broadcast. Instead, the ASA concluded that Crouch’s potential appeal was more likely to be based on his more recent media and TV roles.
Paddy Power’s response to the complaint included demographic data in relation to Crouch’s social media following and the audiences of the TV programmes for which he was predominantly known. The ASA ruled that the shows were primarily aimed at adult audiences, as was his podcast, and his commercial partnerships were with adult-focused brands. The ASA considered Crouch’s role as a panellist on The Masked Dancer, noting that it was a family entertainment show with millions of child viewers. The ASA held that appearance on a show watched by a significant number of under 18s could, in some circumstances, be evidence of an individual’s strong appeal to children and young people; however, on this occasion it was unlikely. Notwithstanding the ASA guidance that gambling advertisers should avoid use of personalities with obvious and direct links to under 18s, such as a retired sportsperson who has moved into presenting and broadcasting in relation to that sport and also in other areas such as youth-oriented reality TV, the ASA gave weight to the fact that Peter Crouch was one of four panellists on The Masked Dancer, the programme was of broad demographic appeal and there was no evidence that this role led to him being viewed as aspirational or influential for under 18s. Paddy Power’s evidence in relation to Crouch’s social media accounts and followers supported this.
Not of strong appeal: Micah Richards
Similarly, the complaint against Sky Bet’s use of Micah Richards in a promoted tweet was not upheld. Richards, also a retired footballer, was not of strong appeal to children and young people owing partly to the fact he is now more widely recognised as a sports pundit and brand ambassador for Sky Bet, following the end of his England career in 2012 and last Premier League appearance in 2015.
Sky Bet also puts forward robust data about the audience demographics of Richards’ social media and the TV shows he appeared on. A regular on programmes such as Match of the Day, it was relevant that many of his appearances aired after the watershed. Significantly, although Richards had appeared on Football Academy on children’s channel CBBC, the ASA considered that because his short cameo was limited to a preview of the programme and one unaired episode, this was unlikely to enhance his appeal to children. The ASA noted that, had Richards appeared regularly and prominently on such a show, the alternative conclusion would likely have been drawn.
Why this matters:
These rulings are the first examples of the ASA applying the new BCAP Code rules for gambling and lotteries content and provide a useful insight into what it will consider when determining the strength of appeal to children. These rulings reiterate that the ASA expects advertisers to hold robust audience and follower demographic data and to use reliable age-gating mechanisms. They also demonstrate that the use of retired footballers may be acceptable to the ASA, if it can be convinced by data about their social media and other media audiences.