Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes and WHG (International) Ltd t/a William Hill Online
Where: United Kingdom
When: 9 and 23 August 2023
Law stated as at: 19 September 2023
Two of the UK’s largest bookmakers have encountered differing outcomes with the UK advertising regulator following complaints about whether their ads appealed to children and young people.
The ASA has ruled in favour of the popular bookmaker, William Hill, in relation to a social media post which featured the pundit and former footballer, Robbie Savage. The post contained a video of Savage discussing the possibility of Leeds United being relegated from the Premier League. The video prominently featured William Hill’s logo as well as the BeGambleAware logo.
In its defence, William Hill cited previous ASA rulings where the ASA had accepted that former professional footballers whose career had ended many years previously did not have strong appeal to children. Mr Savage finished his career at Derby County in 2011 and had not played for his national team, Wales, since 2004. William Hill believed he fell within the “low risk” category of strong appeal to children. The bookmaker also provided details of Savage’s audience demographics on his social media accounts which showed that only a very small percentage of his followers were aged under 18.
The William Hill ad was not deemed to be of strong appeal to children or young people.
In a similar case, the ASA has upheld a complaint made against Ladbrokes, which looked at whether featuring tennis players in promotional posts would appeal to under-18s. A series of social media posts from January and February 2023 included images of tennis players Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The ASA challenged whether the tennis players featured would appeal to under 18s who may have come in contact with the posts. Ladbrokes had found itself in hot water with the regulator for ads that appealed to young audiences earlier this year.
Ladbrokes defended itself by saying that the posts were intended to be editorial content designed to engage with the bookmaker’s audience. Ladbrokes said it had reviewed the follower demographics and sponsorship partnerships of each tennis player to ensure that they did not particularly appeal to under 18s. The bookmaker also presented data on which age groups actually saw the posts and the data showed that only one impression came from the 18-24 age bracket. This was believed to be an anomaly.
The complaint was upheld by the ASA, having noted that the tennis players in question were “star players” who had a high profile and would be considered high risk according to advertising guidance, and were likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18. Ladbrokes provided data which showed that the vast majority of the followers each player had on social media were over 18 and that their commercial partnerships were with adult-focused brands. However, that did not override the ASA’s assessment due to the fact that all four players had performed well at high-profile events in the past year, including Djokovic and Nadal who are widely regarded as two of the greatest tennis players of all time.
The ASA ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form.
Why this matters:
From 1 October 2022, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing has stated that marketing communications for gambling products must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young people, 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.
In both cases the ASA considered the relative fame and prominence of the people featured in the social media posts, including the number and demographic make-up of social media followers. Recent rulings indicate that the use of current prominent sportspeople is much more likely to bring criticism from the regulator.