Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
The Gambling Act 2005 came fully into effect on 1 September 2007. All gambling ads must comply with the Code and the law. Under Section 16 of the CAP Code, marketers should not exploit the young or vulnerable nor imply gambling can solve financial or personal problems or is indispensable, a rite of passage or linked with sexual success. The Gambling Act does not apply outside Great Britain and specialist legal advice should be sought when considering advertising any gambling products in Northern Ireland or the Channel Islands.
The Gambling (Licensing and advertising) Act 2014 took effect on the 1st November 2014. It contains provisions relating to the licensing of gambling operators advertising or offering remote gambling facilities to consumers in the UK. We urge marketers to seek legal advice regarding the requirements of the act if unsure.
The CAP Code requires ads for gambling products to be socially responsible, and particular consideration is given to protecting children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited. For the purposes of this section, “children” are defined as people under the age of 16, and “young persons” are people of 16 or 17.
One way in which the Code seeks to protect children and young people is through stating that betting and gaming ads should not have strong appeal to them, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.
From 1 October 2022, CAP Code rule 16.3.12 states that ads must not be of strong appeal to children or young persons. This change in the rule aims to further help safeguard children and young persons by being stricter than the previous rule. Therefore, any rulings (including any referenced below) that found ads to be an issue under ‘particular appeal to children’, are likely to still be considered an issue under ‘strong appeal’. For further advice, see our Advertising Guidance here.
Topflight footballers and footballers with a considerable following among under-18 on social media are likely to be high risk of having strong appeal to under-18s. The ASA has previously investigated ads that featured current Premier League footballers. Ads included Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly who are players that would all be well known to followers of the Premier League, especially to fans of clubs they played for, including children. Therefore, the ASA ruled the ads were irresponsible and breached the Code (LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes, 21 December 2022).
The ASA also investigated if ads that featured an image of Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for FC Barcelona was of strong appeal to children. While both of these players had not played in the UK, FC Barcelona are considered to be one of the most widely supported and successful clubs in the world. Both of these players have represented Spain, including at the most recent European Championships and World Cup and both have also captained their country. As both of these players have had such successful careers, the ASA considered they were likely to be admired by under-18s and so were likely to be of strong appeal to them, and so the ad breached the Code (BV Gaming Ltd t/a betvictor, 19 April 2023).
Various formal rulings have established that ads that are deemed to appeal to children will be found in breach of the Code, even if they appear in contexts where children are unlikely to see them.
In 2012, the ASA upheld complaints about a newspaper ad, despite it appearing in a financial section of the newspaper that was unlikely to be read by children. The ASA considered that the inclusion of a popular comic book character (Optimus Prime) was likely to have particular appeal to children and young people and therefore breached the Code, regardless of the fact that it was unlikely to be viewed by many children (Trinity Mirror Plc t/a MirrorCasino.com, 7 November 2012).
A complaint about a Twitter ad that featured images of children’s toys was also upheld in 2015, on the grounds that such images were likely to appeal particularly to children, regardless of the fact few children were likely to see it (WHG (International) Ltd, 17 June 2015). A complaint about material on a gambling website was upheld on the same grounds, even though the social media channels linking to this content were age-gated and it was very unlikely that children would encounter the website (Ever Adventure IOM Ltd, 30 September 2015).
Among the considerations the ASA is likely to consider, will be the audience of those who will see the ad. Also, the audience or following of those featured in an ad will also be taken into account.
When considering if former players, who are now pundits and media celebrities, were of strong appeal, the ASA considered their social media following and the type of programmes in which they appear. The ASA considered complaints about ads that featured Peter Crouch and if he was considered to be of strong appeal. Peter Crouch had appeared as a judge on the TV show, The Masked Dancer, and so the audience BARB data was considered. The ASA considered that while it was relevant that Peter Crouch appeared as one of four panellists, the programme was of broad demographic appeal. There was no evidence that his role in the programme had led to him being viewed in an aspirational or influential way by under-18s. Considering this information, along with his own social media profile and following, the ASA considered he was unlikely to be of strong appeal to under-18s. These ads also featured a Christmas theme and made clear references to Christmas. As there was nothing in relation to Christmas that would have been of strong appeal to children, such as depicting Santa Claus, the ad was not upheld and was considered as not appealing to under-18s (PPB Counterparty Services Ltd t/a Paddy Power, 8 February 2023).
The ASA also considered complaints about if the former footballer and now pundit, Micah Richards, was of strong appeal to under 18s. The ASA considered Micah Richards’ overall TV profile and the audience for programmes such as Match of the Day and A League of their Own. His social media accounts and followers was also taken into consideration. It was found that he did not have public accounts on YouTube, TikTok or Twitch, and had a small following of under-18s on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The ASA concluded that due to both his TV profile and social media accounts not having a large following among under-18s, the ad was not of strong appeal to children or young persons (Bonne Terre Ltd t/a Sky Bet, 8 February 2023).
Where an ad features content that may strongly appeal to children but appears in a context that effectively excludes children from seeing them, such content may be considered acceptable.
A complaint about a marketing e-mail that featured the Iron Man character and branding was not upheld, since the ASA found that the advertisers had taken sufficient measures to send it only to over-18s (Ladbrokes Betting & Gaming Ltd, 17 May 2017). Although the Iron Man theme in itself was considered likely to have particular appeal to children, the ad was only sent to the registered e-mail addresses of established customers who had been validated as being over 18, and so was considered acceptable because it was extremely unlikely to be seen by under-18s.
This exception to the rule that gambling ads must not include content that is of appeal to under 18s, is unlikely to apply to media where the targeting information depends on unverified audience self-reporting, or where a sufficiently robust prohibition of under-18s is not in place. In such circumstance, the content appealing strongly to under-18s is still likely to breach the Code.
Formal rulings have established a number of different elements that are likely to appeal to children in ads. Marketers should be mindful that the use of cartoons, licensed characters such as superheroes and celebrities popular with children must be used with a due sense of responsibility.
In cases where a character appears in a film that also appeals to adults, the wide availability of related branded merchandise in children’s toy stores can mean that the ads are still seen as appealing to children (Metro Play Ltd, 8 January 2014; Cassava Enterprises (Gibraltar) Ltd, 10 July 2013).
The ASA will expect advertisers to provide evidence that they have identified what persons or characters are generally known for outside the context of an ad, and used appropriate sources of data and information to assess their likely level of appeal to under-18s. At a simple level, a sportsperson is most obviously related to the sport they participate in. Similarly, actors or licensed cartoon characters are
known for their roles.
In determining whether a person or character featured in a gambling ad is likely to appeal strongly to under-18s, the ASA will consider factors such as:
- whether they have obvious and direct links to activities for, or highly popular with, under-18s;
- the general audience for, and popularity of, what the person or character is known for; and
- the likelihood that their inclusion in an ad will strongly attract the attention or interest of under-18s.
Gambling advertisers should avoid featuring persons or characters with obvious and direct links to under-18s, for example:
- a current or recent children’s TV personality;
- an adolescent-oriented pop star associated with youth culture;
- a licensed character from a board game popular with families; or
- an influencer whose content focuses on youth-related themes.
For further advice on this topic, including examples and discussion around sportspeople, see our Advertising Guidance here.
Certain types of graphics can be seen as appealing to children, whether or not they depict characters and brands that are already well known to children.
A complaint about a gambling website that featured thumbnails and cartoon animals was upheld, after the ASA noted that animated animals generally are very common in children’s programming (Bear Group Ltd, 27 May 2015). A ruling on a different website, but which featured a number of the same games, stated that they were particularly likely to appeal to children due to their colourful and exaggerated, cartoon-style graphics (Ever Adventure IOM Ltd, 30 September 2015).
The ASA investigated an ad that featured cartoon images of a pirate and a goat with golden teeth and a golden chain (Geo24 UK Ltd, 9 December 2015). The colourful and exaggerated style was considered likely to appeal to children because they were not adequately distinct from the style of children’s characters.
A complaint about ads for games called “Fairytale Legends Red Riding Hood”, “Fairytale Legends Hansel and Gretel” and “Fairies Forest” with cartoon images of a wolf, a pixie and forests was upheld because the fairy tale theme was considered likely to have particular appeal to children (ProgressPlay Ltd t/a m88.com, 30 May 2018). Another investigation saw advertising for games such as “Faeries Fortune”, “Santa Paws” and “Dragon’s Myth” along with cartoon imagery deemed likely to have particular appeal to under-18s (TGP Europe Ltd, 30 May 2018).
On the other hand, a complaint that an anime-style cartoon image of a woman wearing a low-cut top was likely to be of particular appeal to children was not upheld on the basis that the art-style was likely to resonate more with adults than with children (Skill on Net Ltd t/a PlayOjo, 28 February 2018). This ruling highlights that some ‘cartoon’-style graphics might be considered acceptable if they are adult in their execution. However, it is still important to be aware of the risk that this style of image could be considered appealing to under-18s, especially if they are similar to cartoons popular with children. Therefore, this style should be used cautiously with a due sense of responsibility.
In several rulings, the ASA also noted that the names of the games contained elements that would be familiar to children and young people, and these names contributed to the ads’ particular appeal to children (Bear Group Ltd, 27 May 2015; Ever Adventure IOM Ltd, 30 September 2015; ProgressPlay Ltd t/a m88.com, 30 May 2018). Names of games such as “Piggy Payout”, “Fluffy Favourites”, “Pirate Princess”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Transformers”, “Fairytale Legends Red Riding Hood”, and “Fairytale Legends Hansel and Gretel” were identified as featuring such elements. These names contain a mixture of specific characters familiar to children, as well as more general tropes from stories or other media directed at children, and advertisers should avoid the use of such names.
For further guidance on this topic, see our Advertising Guidance here.