Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
a. An advertorial for 888 Casino seen on www.casinohack.co, on 21 March 2017 had the appearance of an editorial article. At the top of the page was the text “Advertorial” and below was further text which stated “… William is also over £130,000 in debt after having to sell the house and continue to pay out of pocket for his wife’s cancer related medical bills their insurance WOULDN’T cover … William took to Facebook one night in the hospital lobby to update his friends and family on his wife’s health. A little tired and admittedly a bit depressed, William stumbled upon an ad for 888 Casino. With little to no money to spend he admits he laughed and almost scrolled past it until he saw they were offering a promotion that would reward him with “£888 Free Bonus” at the Leprechaun’s luck game which at over £700,000.00 was too hard to pass up”. At the bottom of the page there were “Comments” on the news article in which ‘readers’ discussed their winning stories. A banner for 888 Casino at the bottom of the page stated “GET £888 FREE BONUS TO WIN £1,060,011.80” with a button labelled “Claim Now” that was present throughout the article.
b. The same ad was seen on www.24hournews.co on 6 July 2017.
The ASA received five complaints:
1. All the complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible for suggesting that gambling could provide an escape from depression and was a solution to financial concerns.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ads were obviously identifiable as such and made clear their commercial intent.
1. & 2. 888 UK Ltd t/a 888 said that the ad was created by an affiliate and had been removed. They stated that they had terminated their agreement with the affiliate in question and that the ad contravened the terms of the agreement they had with the affiliate. Further they said that they had warned all of their affiliated partners of their conduct in respect of these types of ads.
The ASA noted that 888 was the company whose products were being advertised and that it was their website that consumers were directed to. Although we acknowledged that they maintained the ad had been produced by an affiliate, we nonetheless considered that, as the beneficiaries of the marketing material, they were responsible for the ad and for responding to the ASA investigation.
The CAP Code stated that ads must not suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal problems such as depression or that it can be a solution to financial concerns.
The ASA considered that the content of the ads targeted vulnerable people as it identified a number of personal difficulties William had to overcome, including having to sell his property to pay his wife’s medical bills, dealing with his wife’s cancer and how he did this through taking up the offer by 888. The ads specifically stated how William was depressed when he saw the ad and made the decision to gamble. Further, it stated “Having won over 30 times his annual salary in a single spin, his debt and financial worries came to an abrupt end”. It explained that through gambling he won enough money to pay off his wife’s medical bills, re-purchase the house that had been sold to alleviate his debt and to pay for his expensive honeymoon. The image of the bank statement shown in the ad indicated that William was over drawn when he made the decision to place a £10 bet with 888. The ad further stated that “Down on his luck their ‘200 Free Jackpot Chances’ turned his life around”.
Because we considered that the ads suggested gambling could provide an escape from personal problems such as depression and that it could be a solution financial concerns, we considered it to be socially irresponsible and was therefore in breach of the Code.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.1 16.1 Marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited. 16.3 16.3 Marketing communications must not: 16.3 16.3 Marketing communications must not: 3 and 16.3.4 16.3.4 suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial concerns, an alternative to employment or a way to achieve financial security (Gambling).
The CAP Code required advertisers to ensure that their marketing communications were obviously identifiable as such, and that they made clear their commercial intent. We noted that the ad had a banner at the top of the page which stated “Advertorial.” We understood that an advertorial was editorial content that promoted a product and where the advertiser had paid for the promotion and was therefore advertising. We considered that this article was not an “advertorial”, rather it was content which had been prepared by the affiliate advertiser and did not appear in the context of other genuinely editorial content. For that reason we did not consider that the label “advertorial” was sufficient to label this ad and therefore did not consider it relevant in this case to assess whether the label ‘advertorial’ would be sufficient in cases of genuine advertorial content. We also noted that the text was in small writing and although it was at the top of the page we considered it was likely to be overlooked by consumers regardless of its wording.
The ad gave the impression that it was a news article reporting on William’s story which was supported by the inclusion of the phrase “our own Daily News reporter” and the editorial style of the narrative. This was supported by the inclusion of ‘reader’ comments at the bottom of the article which included “Zoey P Get me that money! Depositing tonight… Jenni C. @Zoey Jus [sic] to let you know I signed up an [sic] won a few thousand the first week :)”. We noted that throughout the article a banner ad which contained the 888 logo and stated “GET 200 FREE CHANCES TO WIN £1,060,011.45 CLAIM NOW”. However, we considered that genuine news articles also often contained similar banner ads and therefore its inclusion did not make clear the ad’s commercial intent.
We therefore concluded that the article was not obviously identifiable as an ad and the commercial intent was not immediately clear.
On this point the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1 2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. and 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told 888 that their future ads, including those prepared by affiliates, must be clearly identifiable as marketing communications and to take care to ensure their ads were prepared in a socially responsible way.