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A radio ad for LeoVegas-owned brand BetUK must not appear again in its current form after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

The advert in question featured retired footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa, who delivered a message about safer gambling tools available with the brand such as deposit limits, reality checks and timeouts.

A complainant asked the ASA to determine whether or not the use of Akinfenwa made the ad likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

BetUK defence

In its defence, BetUK pointed out that Akinfenwa was aged 41 and had retired from professional football in May 2022.

He was also not considered a ‘star’ player during his career, and never played for a club in the Premier League, having mostly played with teams in League One and League Two, the third and fourth tiers of English professional football.

Because his entire career was spent outside the Premier League, BetUK judged Akinfenwa to have a “low risk” of appealing to under-18s.

BetUK further acknowledged Akinfenwa’s general media profile outside football and assessed that he was not likely to be of particular appeal to minors.

The ex-footballer owns a clothing range called BeastModeOn, which BetUK “claimed had broad appeal and was marketed at people aged 16-66,” adding that he did not advertise any child-related products.

The operator did also acknowledge Akinfenwa’s social media profile, however, which boasts in excess of a million followers across multiple platforms.

On Instagram, 8% or 116,200 of his followers were thought to be under 18, as were a further 41,080 followers on Snapchat, around 13% of his total followers on that platform.

BetUK said age demographic information was not available for Akinfenwa’s followers across X, Facebook and TikTok.

ASA response

In its assessment, the ASA said that between Instagram and Snapchat, Akinfenwa had at least 157,000 followers who were aged under 18.

The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) states that “a generally high social media following that attracts a significant absolute number of under-18 followers, as determined through quantitative or qualitative analysis, is likely to be considered an indicator of ‘strong’ appeal.”

The ASA considered that Akinfenwa had a significant number of followers aged under 18 in absolute terms, with the true number expected to be higher than 157,000 due to the absence of data from other social media platforms.

“Although his career as a lower league footballer and his media profile in isolation would have placed him in the ‘moderate risk’ category, we considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers who were under 18 years due to his career and profile, Mr Akinfenwa would be placed in the ‘high risk’ category and was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s,” the authority concluded.

Popularity contest

This ruling demonstrated the breadth of consideration operators must undertake in the UK when considering advertising with celebrity partners.

Despite Akinfenwa’s career not having been analogous to that of a top-flight ‘star’ footballer, his widespread popularity led the ASA to rule that he was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

The authority said it “understood that despite Mr Akinfenwa playing in the lower leagues of English football, he became well-known among football fans due to his impressive physical strength. 

“That led to him being ranked as the strongest player in various editions of the FIFA videogame series and adopting the nickname The Beast. 

“We noted that in 2022, his career was documented in an Amazon Prime documentary, titled Beast Mode On, which explored how he gained a following and a reputation for being an extremely strong football player.”

The ASA also said it considered that “the manner in which he was portrayed in the media and by which he had marketed himself would have led some football fans to view him as a cult hero in the game.”

The ruling demonstrated that when assessing a celebrity’s appeal to under-18s, the ASA will take a broad range of considerations into account beyond, for example, their professional sports career.

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