The Advertising Standards Agency (“ASA”) has ruled that advertisements for (a) William Hill Vegas, (b) Betfair, (c) LottoGo EuroMillions and (d) Dunder breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.1 and 16.3.13 (Gambling). In each of its rulings, it stated: “given the use of cartoon characters, cartoonish violence and the relatively simple nature of the game, we considered it was likely to appeal to many under-18s”.
An affiliate, Tapjoy Inc, had placed each of the ads in the “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem” app (which had a rating of PEGI 7 in the UK Google Play app store, meaning it was suitable for players aged 7 and up). Scopely, Inc., the publisher of “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem”, said that the ads went against their advertising policies and were strictly prohibited under their contracts with their advertising partners.
In its rulings against the ads (each of which can be downloaded below), the ASA said:
CAP Code rule 16.3.13 required that marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at those aged younger than 18 years through the selection of media or context in which they appeared. The ASA therefore considered that marketers should be able to demonstrate that they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that gambling ads were directed at an audience aged 18 and over so as to minimise under-18s’ exposure to them.
We considered that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not be targeted solely based on age data, because of younger users misreporting their age or different people sharing the same device, and that advertisers should support that method of targeting by using interest based factors to help remove those aged under 18 years of age from the target audience of gambling product ads.
The ad appeared in the app “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem”, which had a rating of PEGI 7 in the UK Google Play app store, meaning it was suitable for players aged 7 and up. The game allowed players to build worlds and situations based on the Looney Tunes cartoons and collect characters to “battle” each other. Given the use of cartoon characters, cartoonish violence and the relatively simple nature of the game, we considered it was likely to appeal to many under-18s. However, we acknowledged that the characters would be well-known to older players, and the game was likely to have more general appeal.
We understood that the ad had been labelled as “mature-gambling”, and therefore should only have appeared in apps that had specifically opted in to receive “mature-gambling” content. According to Tapjoy, “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem” had been marked to display “mature-gambling” ads in error. We acknowledged that action had been taken to correct this promptly, following receipt of the complaint.
Because we understood Tapjoy’s system allowed advertisers to target a defined set of users, the relevant test under the Code was whether the ad had been directed at people under 18, rather than the proportion of users who saw the ad who were under 18.
We understood users were required to self-declare that they were aged 16 or over in order to play the game. However, the relevant age restriction was 18. Furthermore, ages could be misreported and devices were commonly shared between adults and younger users. In any case, because Scopely did not provide us with data on the demographic breakdown of users, we were unable to gain an insight into the proportion of players in each age group, even on a self-declaration basis.
As stated above, we considered that although the content of the app also had broader appeal, it was likely to appeal to under-18s and its audience was likely to include under-18s. Therefore, even taking into account the option app publishers had to exclude ads labelled “mature-gambling” from their apps, which had not been used in this case due to error, we expected [William Hill, Betfair, Annexio] to have used some additional interest based factors to reduce the likelihood of under-18s seeing the ad. We noted that the Tapjoy platform allowed advertisers to target their campaigns by using interest-based data inferred from the gaming preferences and self-reported demographic details. However, [William Hill, Betfair, Annexio] had not chosen to engage those options. We concluded that the ad had been inappropriately targeted and breached the Code.
Unsurprisingly The Guardian was quick to pick up on the rulings in its article entitled “William Hill and Paddy Power ads appeared in app aimed at children”, quoting:
- Carolyn Harris MP, Chair of the APPG on Gambling Related Harm, as saying: “I am deeply concerned that online gambling companies are marketing their products at children and enticing them to gamble. This is wholly unacceptable” and
- Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, as saying: “The issues highlighted in this ASA ruling rightly underlines that it is unacceptable for children to be exposed to gambling online.”