An ad posted on Instagram for Rank Group-owned Mecca Bingo must not appear again in current form after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it breached UK advertising codes.

The advert was originally posted in August 2023 and featured RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Baga Chipz (pictured).

It featured one image of the drag queen not smiling and wearing plain, dark clothes with no make-up, alongside a second image in which the character held up a champagne glass and bore a happy expression, red sequinned outfit, jewellery and a full face of make-up.

Text above the images said “Before playing Mecca Bingo vs after playing Mecca Bingo,” while a caption on the post stated: “A good game can transform you! Don’t you just love that post-bingo glow.”

ASA response

Two complainants referred the ad to the ASA, saying that it suggested gambling could enhance a person’s self-image or self-esteem, and therefore breached UK advertising standards for gambling.

The ASA determined that indeed, the juxtaposition of the two photos presented the character as having a higher level of confidence and an enhanced self-image as a result of playing bingo.

Further, the caption’s suggestion that a game of bingo may “transform” players “created an impression that an individual could improve their self-esteem, as well as their self-image, by not just playing bingo related games, but also by winning them.”

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached advertising codes.

Mecca Bingo defence

Mecca Bingo Ltd said it believed the ad did not suggest gambling could improve personal quality or enhance a person’s self-image or self-esteem.

It said its goal was to offer customers “an exciting and entertaining experience,” and that the purpose of the ad was therefore to convey that its services were fun and entertaining.

The use of a “before and after” structure, as well as references to a “post bingo glow” and the word “transform”, were used to convey the sense of enjoyment related to bingo rather than to suggest the game could alter a person’s self-image, it said.

It added that Baga Chipz had risen to fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, and that such language was regularly used on the programme meaning “viewers of the ad would be aware of that context and therefore would not take any reference to transformation literally.”

Rather, the juxtaposed images of the drag queen would simply reflect “a highly exaggerated portrayal of the emotions a person would have after enjoying the entertaining environment of a Mecca Bingo venue,” it argued.

The operator also said it deliberately omitted any reference to winning at bingo, in order to avoid suggesting that the “feel good” factor of the game could only come from winning.

Mecca Bingo acknowledged, however, that the ad could have been misinterpreted if viewed without understanding of its context.

It added that it would ensure future marketing conveyed its messaging more clearly, and confirmed it had permanently removed the Instagram post.

Three tweets posted by Betfred and featuring boxer Anthony Joshua must not appear again after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deemed them to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

The tweets were published in March and April 2023, and featured videos of the former heavyweight champion being interviewed on various topics including his diet, how he prepared for fights and his mentality when fighting.

The ASA considered whether the ads were likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s, and concluded that they were due to Joshua’s large social media following, which included a relatively high number of followers under 18 years of age in absolute terms.

Betfred response

Betfred presented several arguments to challenge whether the ads were likely to be of strong appeal to children.

The operator pointed out that Joshua was a former world champion boxer whose activities were almost exclusively limited to boxing and his sporting career.

It also acknowledged that Joshua was “undoubtedly a star in the sport of boxing,” but that he was reaching the end of his career and posed a low risk of appealing to children.

In terms of Joshua’s general profile, Betfred said he had not appeared on any form of reality TV, and that the companies with which he held brand deals such as Under Armour, Beats by Dre and JD Sports, had universal appeal and were well-known brands regardless of his endorsement.

Betfred also provided data showing that under-18s made up less than 1% of those brands’ social media followings.

As for Joshua himself, Betfred acknowledged his extensive social media presence and media profile but said this stemmed almost exclusively from his sporting career, not from any other activities which may be of strong appeal to under-18s.

Social media data showed that 0% of Joshua’s followers on X, Facebook and TikTok were registered as being between 13 and 17.

Elsewhere, however, 5% of the boxer’s Snapchat followers and 6.6% of Instagram followers were registered as being underage.

Overall, Betfred argued that Joshua had 29.3 million followers worldwide, with 1.1 million or 3.85% being under the age of 18.

This, Betfred argued, meant he had an overwhelmingly adult following online.

Further, the operator added that only UK social media data should be considered in this case, and that assuming the 3.85% global rate of under-18s was reflected in the UK, around 280,000 of Joshua’s UK followers were under 18.

Betfred argued that was not a significant number of followers in absolute terms.

In addition, the operator pointed out that boxing is an adult-orientated sport unlikely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

It said Joshua’s fights were usually shown late at night, mostly on a pay-per-view or subscription basis and were not directly available to anyone under 18.

ASA rejection

In response, the ASA accepted much of what Betfred argued, including that boxing is an adult-orientated sport and that the number of children participating in the sport is low.

That reflects a previous ruling made by the Authority, which determined in June that a bet365 ad featuring boxer Chris Eubank Jr. was not likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

In this case, however, special consideration was given to Joshua’s large social media following and, in particular, the number of under-18s who follow him.

Based on his extensive media and social media presence, the ASA determined that Joshua was in the “moderate risk” of strong appeal to under-18s category.

While the proportion of his followers aged under-18 was low, his large number of followers in absolute terms still left him with over a million underage followers worldwide, it said.

It added that Betfred’s assessment of the number of followers aged under 18 in the UK was not necessarily accurate (did not necessarily reflect the proportion of followers under 18 worldwide), but that even if it were accurate, the boxer would have at least 280,000 underage followers in the UK.

That, the ASA considered, was a significant number in absolute terms.

“We therefore considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers who were under 18, Mr Joshua was of inherent strong appeal to under-18s,” the ASA concluded.

Joshua vs. Eubank Jr.

The conclusion has raised eyebrows across the sector, not least for its comparison with the ASA’s previous decision on an ad featuring Chris Eubank Jr.

Speaking to, partner at Northridge Law LLP Melanie Ellis said: “The latest ruling from the ASA does raise questions, as Chris Eubank Jr. and Anthony Joshua are figures who quite likely have a similar overall popularity with under 18s, both being 33-year-old successful professional boxers.

“The distinguishing factor was their total number of social media followers who were aged under 18, which was considered by the ASA to be the relevant figure, rather than the percentage of their total followers who were under 18. 

“The ASA is placing a high degree of importance on a sports person’s social media presence as a barometer of their appeal to under 18s, where in reality this figure will primarily reflect the individual’s general level of engagement on social media.

“This approach would make sense if the advert in question appeared on their own social media accounts, but arguably falls down when the advert appears elsewhere,” Ellis concluded.

A promoted tweet for Sky Bet featuring former footballer Gary Neville has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for breaking rules on gambling advertising.

The tweet, posted on 9 February, contained an embedded video clip from The Overlap football podcast, a YouTube series sponsored by Sky Bet and produced by Neville.

The video showed Neville discussing which team might win the Premier League this season.

Sky Bet’s logo appeared throughout the video, which ended with text stating: “Brought to you by Sky Bet”.

The ASA ruled Neville was “likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s” and therefore breached the advertising code.

Sky Bet, however, disagreed and said it will be seeking an independent review of the case.

Sky Bet’s arguments

The company said the podcast was “distinctly adult in tone and did not feature any content of a childish nature”.

It also argued that Neville’s professional playing career had ended nearly 12 years ago, in 2011, when today’s 18-year-olds would have been just five or six years old.

Sky Bet added that Neville was now more widely recognisable as a football pundit, political commentator and successful businessman.

The firm also assessed his profile, including his social media profile, before publishing the tweet. 

According to Sky Bet, Neville had around 5.5 million Twitter/X followers as of March, of which 1% were aged 13 to 17.

Assuming the 1% were all UK-based, Sky Bet said that equated to just 0.39% of the UK’s total population of under-18s.

He also did not have active public personal accounts on YouTube or Twitch.

Moreover, the company added that Neville was 47 years old at the time the tweet appeared, and that his social media profile was consistent with his mature age.

ASA’s reasoning 

The ASA acknowledged that Neville was “now more likely to be widely recognised as a TV sports pundit” rather than a football player. 

However, it added that the guidelines “classed retired footballers who had moved into punditry as likely to be of ‘moderate risk’ of strong appeal to under-18s”.

The ASA therefore assessed the tweet on the basis of Neville’s social and other media profiles.

The regulator pointed out that although Neville didn’t have active public personal accounts on YouTube, Twitch, or Snapchat, he regularly posted on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X.

While specific numbers for under-18 followers on TikTok and Facebook weren’t available, the ASA noted that of Neville’s 1.6 million Instagram followers, 5% were registered as under 18, totalling 80,000 users. 

In addition to his 55,000 under-18 followers on Twitter/X, the ASA concluded that he had a minimum of 135,000 social media followers who were under 18 years old.

The ASA further determined that this represented a substantial number in absolute terms, making Neville inherently appealing to the under-18 demographic.

The regulator instructed Sky Bet that the tweet in its present form should not be used again and cautioned Sky Bet against featuring individuals or characters with strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their future advertising.

“Flawed process”

A spokesperson for Sky Bet parent company Flutter Entertainment said: “We fundamentally disagree with this decision and the flawed process which led to this outcome – it defies both precedent and common sense.

“The ASA did not receive a single complaint from the public or wider stakeholders about the social media post in question.

“We will be seeking an independent review of this case while we consider other options open to us.”

An advert for the People’s Postcode Lottery must not appear again in current form after suggesting gambling can be a solution to financial concerns, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled.

Ad details

The advert in question appeared in print in the Daily Mail on 1 July this year. It featured an advertorial with a headline, photo and further text describing the plans of a couple who had won a prize on the lottery.

The headline read: “Couple’s wedding is back on after they scooped £62,500 on People’s Postcode Lottery,” alongside another bubble stating “we had to postpone the wedding when Craig lost his job.” 

A photo of the couple holding a cheque for their winnings was accompanied by more text, providing further detail on the plans for their winnings.

“An NHS nurse and her fiancé, who had to put their plans to wed on hold when one of them was made redundant, are celebrating after winning People’s Postcode Lottery’s Millionaire Street prize,” the text read.

Other references to the couple’s situation, including that they had just paid the deposit for their wedding before finding out that one of them had been made redundant, were made.

“We had to put the wedding on hold because we didn’t know how long he’d be out of work. Awful thoughts go through your mind,” the text added.

It also referenced the fact that Craig, who had been made redundant, had just started a new job.

A complainant asked the ASA to determine whether or not the advert suggested that participating in a lottery could be a solution to financial concerns, thus breaching UK regulations on gambling advertising.

Operator response

In response, the People’s Postcode Lottery argued that the ad did not present lotteries as a solution to financial concerns, as it did not suggest the couple had been struggling financially before winning the prize.

While references to one member of the couple’s redundancy were made, the operator argued that as the only material financial impact of the prize was to be the resumption of their wedding plans – usually a large discretionary cost – it had not suggested gambling was a solution to serious financial difficulties.

The ad “did not present the couple as suffering from financial hardship, such as being unable to pay for day-to-day expenses such as food or bills,” People’s Postcode Lottery argued.

It is common, the operator further suggested, for gambling ads to highlight large wins enabling customers to buy items such as homes or cars, which would otherwise require them to save up large amounts of money.

The suggestion that the featured couple’s win allowed them to resume their wedding plans was more analogous with that kind of advert, it argued, rather than showing the couple using their winnings to overcome serious financial difficulties.

The Daily Mail added that it was not aware of having received any complaints about the advert.

It said it did not believe the ad implied that participation in the lottery was a way to achieve financial security, and did not suggest the couple had changed their lifestyle as a result of the win.

ASA assessment

The ASA ruled overall that the ad did suggest participating in a lottery was a way to solve financial concerns, and thus breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

It considered that the ad suggested a direct connection between the couple winning the lottery and being able to resume their wedding plans.

It also suggested that the couple had continued to play the People’s Postcode Lottery after one of them had been made redundant.

Crucially, the ASA considered that the text: “We had to put the wedding on hold because we didn’t know how long he’d be out of work. Awful thoughts go through your mind,” suggested the couple had been stressed about the repercussions of not being able to pay for the wedding after the redundancy.

As the ad also made reference to the couple having previously paid a deposit for the wedding, the ASA said it implied the couple were financially committed to the decision, and that the ad suggested therefore that winning the prize had provided a solution to their financial concerns.

The ad must not appear again in its current form, and the ASA has reminded the People’s Postcode Lottery not to imply that participating in a lottery can be a solution to financial concerns.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that an advertisement published by bet365 on Twitter (now X) must not appear again in its current form.

The ruling refers to an advert published on the social media platform in February 2023, and featured former Arsenal footballer Granit Xhaka.

The ad featured footage of a goal scored by Xhaka, who at the time played for Arsenal but now plays for Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen, as well as being captain of Switzerland’s national team.

Originally, the tweet was published by the Sky Sports Premier League Twitter account, and was subsequently reshared and promoted by bet365 using Twitter’s Amplify feature.

Amplify places advertisers’ content before the main content of a video, which bet365 said was intended “to replicate the broadcasting of ads ahead of sport content on television”.

It argued that the Sky-produced video which followed its ad was not therefore an advert for bet365 in and of itself.

The operator added that controls were in place to ensure the content would only be promoted to Twitter users aged 25 and over.

In response, the ASA said that because bet365 had promoted the original tweet, “we considered that they had incorporated all of the tweet’s contents into their advertising, and the whole tweet was therefore an ad for bet365.”

It also reiterated previously issued guidance that “UK footballers who played for top clubs were considered high-risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s.”

While the ASA determined that the ad would have been acceptable where under-18s could effectively be excluded from seeing it, but that because Twitter users can verify their own age without robust checks, advertisers cannot guarantee that audiences there are over the age of 18.

Bet365 is just the latest operator to fall foul of ASA rules.

Two Ladbrokes ads have been banned by the regulator in recent months, with one featuring top-flight football managers and another featuring social media influencer and boxer Jake Paul.

Elsewhere, a BetVictor ad featuring Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets was deemed “irresponsible” by the ASA and was ordered to be removed.

Curiously, another complaint brought against bet365 in June, related to an ad featuring boxer Chris Eubank Junior, was not upheld by the ASA.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled two more gambling ads seen on Twitter to be “of strong appeal to children.”

In January and February this year, Entain-owned Ladbrokes published two promoted tweets featuring managers from top-flight football clubs.

One tweet featured two images of Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe, while the other offered odds on the “next manager to leave,” alongside images of David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil.

Ladbrokes response

Ladbrokes said the first tweet was intended as editorial content, as it contained no calls to action, promotional offers or links directing customers to its website.

It added that Eddie Howe’s online presence and career record had been considered when making the post, providing links to relevant Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, each of which had fewer than 1,000 followers.

The operator concluded therefore that “because Eddie Howe had a modest online presence and much of his managerial career had been spent outside of the Premier League, it was unlikely that he would appeal strongly to under-18s.”

The second tweet, Ladbrokes acknowledged, was commercial in nature and should not have included imagery of the managers.

The brand has since “taken steps to ensure that content of that nature would be reviewed more thoroughly to ensure future ads would comply with the advertising rules,” it said.

ASA response

The ASA upheld challenges against Ladbrokes on both counts.

“Managers of Premier League football teams were considered high risk” under UK advertising rules, it said, in terms of how likely they were to appeal to under-18s.

It argued its point due to the popularity of football among young people, given it is “an activity in which a very significant proportion of under-18s participated directly on a frequent basis, and had a general interest in through following professional teams and players across a variety of media.”

The managers featured in Ladbrokes’ ads were, at the time of publication, “all current Premier League managers and would be well known to those who followed football, and in particular fans of the clubs they managed, including children. 

“We considered based on those factors, that all five managers were likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s,” the ASA added.

Even considering Eddie Howe’s extremely limited online presence – whereas social media popularity has been cited as a high-risk factor in previous ASA rulings – the assessment could not be overridden, the authority said.

The ruling comes just one week after the ASA banned another Ladbrokes ad, featuring boxer and social media influencer Jake Paul.

Despite boxing being considered an adult-oriented sport, the authority ruled that Paul’s large following among under-18s meant he was “of inherent strong appeal” to children, and should not be used in gambling ads.

In another boxing-related ruling made recently, the ASA dismissed a complaint about a bet365 ad featuring Chris Eubank Jr., who was not considered to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

Additional ruling

The ASA also published an additional ruling today (12 July), against online bingo brand Lights Camera Bingo, which is owned and operated by Jumpman Gaming.

On the brand’s website, when customers left to open another tab in their browser, a message saying “Hey! Come Back!” appeared in the open tab, in the place of the website’s name and logo.

Lights Camera Bingo said “the intention and only purpose behind the message was to alert a customer that the website had not been closed.”

The ASA ruled, however, that the wording of the message could encourage harmful gambling behaviour or exploit the susceptibilities of vulnerable people.

“We considered that such messaging, in the context of an ad for an online bingo service, could have the effect of encouraging some people to continue gambling when they would otherwise have stopped,” the authority said.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has reminded Ladbrokes owner Entain that it must not include figures likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s in gambling advertising.

Ad background

The reminder comes as the ASA ruled that a previous ad sent out by Ladbrokes on Twitter must not appear again in its current form.

The promoted tweet was seen in February 2023 following a bout between social media influencer and boxer Jake Paul and sporting rival Tommy Fury.

Following the match, Ladbrokes asked its followers in a poll: “What’s next for Jake Paul?”, with options to vote on “Win the re-match”, “Head to the MMA”, “Return to YouTube”, and “Join the WWE”.

Ladbrokes response

When challenged, Ladbrokes defended its corner by saying that the ad was published after the fight had taken place and featured no calls to action, promotional offers or links back to its website.

It added that its Twitter feed and respective tweets were age-gated and could not be accessed by users unless Twitter had assessed their age to be over 18.

Further, it argued that boxing is an adult-oriented sport and is not listed as being of moderate or high risk in terms of its appeal to under-18s in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The operator said it also assessed Jake Paul’s follower demographic before publishing the ad to assess the level of risk, and considered that he “did not have a significant role in boxing or general profile within the sport and that his current partnerships were with an alcohol brand and cryptocurrency businesses.”

The operator did acknowledge, however, that Paul has a following among under-18s on some social media platforms (13% of his Instagram followers, 16% of YouTube subscribers and 18% of TikTok followers are aged between 13 and 17).

But, it argued, 0% of Paul’s followers on Twitter were registered as being under 18.

ASA ruling

In response, the ASA restated that the CAP Code says 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.”

Because the ages of Twitter users are not robustly verified by the platform, it argued that the ad would have needed to comply with the above rule to be deemed acceptable.

CAP guidance adds that “sportspeople involved in clearly adult-oriented sports who were ‘notable’ stars with significant social media and general profiles which made them well-known to under-18s was considered moderate risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s.”

Therefore, despite boxing being considered an adult-oriented sport, the use of Jake Paul was deemed inappropriate given he was “primarily known for making YouTube videos and that he had a large social media following.”

The ASA said that Paul had more than 3 million subscribers or followers aged under 18 on each of YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, while also noting his former role on children’s TV programme Bizaardvark between 2016 and 2018 on the Disney Channel. 

As a result, the authority deemed the influencer to be of inherent strong appeal to under-18s, and condemned the ad as “irresponsible” and in breach of the CAP Code.

Jake Paul vs. Chris Eubank Jr.

The ruling stands in contrast to another recent case judged by the ASA, in which a bet365 ad featuring boxer Chris Eubank Jr. was deemed to have no strong appeal to minors.

Commenting on the two cases on LinkedIn, White Hat Gaming legal counsel Joseph Masini suggested that “the very different outcomes serve to further shed light on the multifaceted nature of ‘inherent appeal’ and what marketers should consider when featuring sportspersons in their campaigns.”

Given the similarities of both cases – namely that they referred to the use of professional boxers, operator posts on Twitter, and considered the risk (or lack of) towards minors – Masini said the core differentiator was the so-called “inherent appeal” to under-18s of each sports star.

The social media following of each boxer was considered to be a key element in deciding whether or not they represented a high risk to minors.

In Eubank’s case, a lack of followers aged under 18 was used to argue that the boxer had no inherent appeal to minors, while Paul’s large following among children was considered a key determining factor in the ASA’s decision.

“Audience demographics, cultural relevance, overall fame and notoriety, and recent exposure are all key components in determining the ‘inherent risk’ of any public figure,” commented Masini. 

“There’s been much talk about the largely undefined nature of this concept, but it’s clear that the lack of prescriptiveness in the Code and guidance is purposeful to allow for case-by-case determinations in what is a very complex environment marked by multiple engagement platforms and potential sources of fame, relevance and following with young audiences,” he concluded.

Jake Paul and gambling

Within the gambling sector, Paul has recently become known for his involvement with microbetting-focused operator Betr in the US, of which he is a co-founder.

While advertising rules in the US are generally less strict than those in the UK, the ruling throws up questions for the future of Paul’s betting business.

Betr not only offers betting operations to its customers, but also runs a media company focused on incubating the next generation of online influencers.

Paul’s high profile on social media is one of the brand’s key strengths, but this ruling could bring into question the limitations of such a strategy. 

The operator’s use of social media for brand awareness is intended to provide it with “low-to-no customer acquisition costs,” according to Betr co-founder Joey Levy.

Last month, Betr secured an additional $35m in funding intended to help it launch two new product verticals in the coming months.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has not upheld a complaint against bet365 relating to a promoted tweet featuring professional boxer Chris Eubank Jr.

The tweet was seen in January 2023 ahead of a boxing match between Eubank and Liam Smith, with a caption encouraging Twitter users to “click for the latest odds.”

Boxing has no ‘strong appeal’ to children

In its assessment, the ASA determined that the use of Eubank in marketing materials was “unlikely to be of inherent strong appeal to under-18s.”

That was due to a combination of factors, including that boxing is considered an “adult-oriented sport,” while viewer data from the event itself confirmed that the majority of its viewers were adults.

Still, because the ad appeared on social media, where under-18s cannot be entirely excluded from the audience, the ASA said that it needed to comply with rules, stating ads “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.”

After consideration, the regulator determined that “there was nothing in the way he was presented in the ad that would have strongly attracted the attention of under-18s or was likely to render him of strong appeal.”

Eubank’s following

To reach its conclusion, the ASA also analysed the demographics of Eubank’s social media followings, and found that the vast majority of his fans were adults.

On Facebook, for example, just 0.1% of Eubank’s followers were registered as under 18. On Twitter and Instagram, 0.3% and 0.4% of followers respectively were registered as under 18.

Eubank’s TikTok account told a slightly different story, with 31.7% of his 21,300 followers on that platform registered as under 18.

Bet365 argued, however, that the operator does not have a profile or presence on TikTok, and that therefore none of Eubank’s followers on that platform could see bet365 content.

The majority of Eubank’s followers are also split among the first three platforms, and across all platforms together, the proportion of his followers under the age of 18 was around 0.6% in total.

Boxing vs. football

The ruling stands in contrast to other recent ASA judgements, particularly those considering the use of professional footballers in gambling ads.

In April, the authority ruled a BetVictor ad on Facebook as “irresponsible” for its use of Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

The ASA ruled the ad was likely to have a strong appeal to under-18s due to its use of active players in top-flight football.

Meanwhile, previous rulings on the use of retired footballers, including Peter Crouch and Harry Redknapp, saw the authority suggest that non-active footballers held a decidedly less strong appeal to under-18s.

Posting on LinkedIn, lawyer Melanie Ellis of Northridge Law LLP suggested the latest ruling was “very useful” in helping to understand where the ASA draws the line on the use of professional athletes in gambling advertising.

After the ASA ruled in favour of bet365 in this case, Ellis suggested: “An interesting question is whether the ruling would have been different if a current professional footballer was used, who had the same profile and social media following as Eubank. 

“The ASA’s guidance is not completely clear on the impact of a character being of ‘inherent strong appeal’, given that their profile and following must be assessed either way.”

Ellis added that the ASA had in this case undertaken “a risk-based assessment,” whereby “the higher the inherent appeal, the higher the standard of evidence needed to prove the contrary.”

The ASA’s approval of the ad “may be helpful when considering whether to feature athletes from other sports in the future,” she concluded.

A paid-for BetVictor Facebook ad must not appear again after the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it to be in breach of regulations.

Background context

The advert was seen in January 2023 and featured an image of Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for FC Barcelona.

Text above the image asked “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?” while the BetVictor logo was visible in the ad’s top corner.

The ASA ruled that the advert featured individuals “likely to have a strong appeal to under-18-year olds,” therefore breaching the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The ASA’s response has raised some eyebrows in the industry, given a previous ruling stating that retired footballers such as Peter Crouch and Harry Redknapp – despite their widespread popularity and media visibility – were not of particular appeal to under-18s.

BetVictor response

BetVictor set out a series of arguments detailing why it believed the players should not be considered of particular appeal to under-18s in the UK.

The operator argued that while FC Barcelona is a popular, top-flight team, the players in question are not especially well known in the UK, as opposed to football superstars like Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe.

BetVictor said for that reason that Alba and Busquets should be considered of “medium risk”, given their lower profiles at European or World clubs.

Neither footballer played in an attacking or goal-scoring position, and their names did not make headlines, the operator argued, while neither had ever scored against any UK team and had not played in a club match against any Premier League team since 2019.

Further, BetVictor pointed out that while both players had represented Spain at a national level, their latest appearances had not resulted in any games against England or Wales.

Although the Spanish team had won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2012, BetVictor said any children in the UK who had witnessed those events and formed a strong connection to the players would now be over 18.

Further, neither player had high-value, personal sponsorship deals with any major brands in the UK and did not have a strong social media profile with those aged under-18.

Neither player had a social media presence on platforms commonly used by under-18s, such as Snapchat, TikTok or Twitch. In addition, Sergio Busquets had not posted on Twitter since May 2019, and Jordi Alba’s Twitter and Instagram posts were written in either Spanish or Catalan.

Comparing the volume of Google searches for the players compared to others, BetVictor found that search volume for Lionel Messi was at least 50 times higher than for either of the players, for Cristiano Ronaldo at least 75 times higher, and for Mbappe at least 20 times higher.

Even when looking at retired players in the UK, search volume for Peter Crouch was more than five times higher than for either player, and for Micah Richards more than six times higher.

As a result, BetVictor had concluded that both players had relatively low profiles in the UK and were therefore acceptable for inclusion in the post.

In addition to that slew of arguments, BetVictor added that the Facebook ad had only been paid for in order to ensure it was appropriately targeted to users aged over 25. Indeed, it added that data from the social media site showed 100% of the post’s viewers were in that age category.

ASA response

In return, the ASA argued that football was the most prominent gambling-related subject of particular appeal to under-18s, and that those involved in the sport at the professional level enjoyed exceptionally high media profiles.

“Those who played at an elite level, especially those who were successful internationally, were therefore likely to appeal strongly to children,” it said.

Any ‘star’ footballers – even if they do not play for UK teams – are considered high-risk in terms of how likely they are to appeal to under-18s, the authority added, suggesting that Alba and Busquets’ positions at FC Barcelona and Spain’s national team saw them fall into that category.

Other arguments included that both players had played for Spain’s national team during the 2022 World Cup, shortly before the ad was published, and had played in the semi-final of the Euro 2020 championship at Wembley Stadium in London.

“Both of those international events had a large amount of media coverage in the UK and were prominent events that would have been of interest to under-18s,” the ASA said.

However, the authority did concede that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s could be entirely excluded from the audience.

That would apply in circumstances where those viewing the ad had been “robustly age-verified,” such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking.

Because Facebook users can self-verify their age when signing up, by posting the ad there the ASA declared that BetVictor had not sufficiently excluded under-18s from the ad’s potential audience.

The ASA therefore deemed the ad to be “irresponsible” and said it was in breach of the CAP Code. 

As a result, the ad may not appear again in its current form, and BetVictor has been told “not to include a person or character who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age” in its advertising.

Entain-owned betting and gaming brand Ladbrokes is the first UK operator to fall foul of new advertising restrictions introduced this year by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

In April, the ASA announced adjustments to existing guidance on gambling advertising, with new restrictions to be introduced around the use of public figures with a view to protecting minors from exposure to gambling ads.

Since 1 October, when the new rules came into force, operators have been forbidden from advertising products using, for example, footballers who are well known among under-18s.

Previous rules stated that ads must not be of “particular appeal” to children, whereas the new rules state that gambling and lottery ads must not “be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.”

While the distinction may appear small, under previous guidance adverts would be permitted as long as they were intended for an adult audience. 

The new definition of “strong appeal to children” gives a broader range of limitations than “particular appeal”, by prohibiting any content likely to appeal to children, regardless of how it is viewed by adults.

According to the ASA, Ladbrokes fell foul of the new rules in October, after sending out a promoted tweet containing images of Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Advertising Standards Authority: “We considered 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.”

The ASA has now ruled that the individuals included in the ad were likely to have a strong appeal to under-18s and therefore breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

When first challenged, Labrokes responded to the ASA saying that its marketing team had carefully implemented new CAP Code guidance on public figures with a particular appeal to under-18s.

Given the appeal of Premier League footballers to young people, it said, it had “made use of all available targeting and age-gating tools to remove under-18s from the ad’s audience.”

One way of doing so was to target the ad only at over-25s, and Ladbrokes provided data from Twitter showing a total of 50,666 impressions with 0% of its targeted audience under 20 years old.

Despite Ladbrokes’ protests, the ASA confirmed today (21 December) that it has upheld the ruling against the ads.

“We considered 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,” the advertising regulator said.

“That would apply in circumstances where those who saw the ad had been robustly age-verified as being 18 or older, such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking.”

Whereas using the ad under such circumstances would have been considered acceptable by the authority, it ruled that because Twitter users self-verify their age in order to access mature content, under-18s had not been excluded from Ladbrokes’ audience with sufficient accuracy.

The ad must not appear again in the same form.