A Google sponsored search result for Casumo, a gambling app, seen May 2019 following a search for “how to unsubscribe from all gambling”. It was headed "Welcome Bonus to New Players Casumo 100% and 20 Free Spins" and stated "Create an Account & Play now!".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was irresponsibly targeted.
Casumo Services Ltd said that, prior to receiving the complaint, ads on Google were targeted at individuals who searched for “gambling” or a similar term, including “gambling sites”. Casumo also had a list of excluded terms or combinations to stop their ads from appearing when certain terms or search combinations were typed in the search bar. However, the combination of terms used by the complainant had not been anticipated when creating the list of excluded search terms. Casumo considered that “unsubscribe” was associated with being removed from a mailing list, no longer receiving post or emails, cancelling a subscription or opting out of marketing. They added that those particular Google searches therefore related to marketing and advertising rather than the self-exclusion of gambling and did not consider that the term “unsubscribe” was the standard term used when players wished to self-exclude. They said there were a multitude of phrases that a person could search for which might have a similar meaning, and which would return search results relating to various content, including when ‘unsubscribe’ was used as a statement rather than a question.
Due to the dynamic nature of Google searches and the way in which individuals searched the internet, they considered it was not possible to cover every variation and combination that might arise. Nonetheless, on notification of the complaint, Casumo Services had made the search term inactive and also reviewed their wider list of excluded search terms, to ensure it was more robust and would, to the best of their knowledge, exclude ads being served to vulnerable consumers. They provided a list of those terms to the ASA and confirmed the block applied to all their campaigns. They stated that their exclusion list was continuously reviewed and changed based on trends and advice from their Compliance team and their Responsible Gambling Strategist. They therefore considered they had ongoing steps and processes in place to protect vulnerable individuals and high risk players, and which would ensure their Google targeting was socially responsible.
However, given their view of the standard meaning of ‘unsubscribe’, namely being removed from a mailing list, they did not consider they had targeted the ad in an irresponsible manner.
The ASA understood that consumers receiving unwanted marketing communications offering gambling products could take steps to opt out from receiving them. Consumers could also restrict their own access to gambling websites by making use, where available, of a multi-operator self-exclusion facility or obtaining blocking software to block access to gambling websites. We considered that by searching for “how to unsubscribe from all gambling” a consumer was likely to be seeking further information about the tools needed to opt out from receiving gambling ads, or about the tools needed to self-exclude from and/or block gambling websites, with a view to potentially making use of those tools. We considered such consumers would be likely to include vulnerable persons looking to restrict their exposure to gambling outlets and ads for gambling. We noted that the Code required that marketing communications for gambling should have particular regard to the need to protect vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited.
We acknowledged that, on receipt of the complaint, Casumo had immediately taken action to address where their ads were served. However, because we considered there was a strong possibility that vulnerable consumers seeking to prevent exposure to gambling ads and access to gambling websites might have been served a gambling ad following a search for “how to unsubscribe from all gambling”, we concluded that the ad had not been responsibly targeted.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 16.1 (Gambling).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Casumo Services Ltd to ensure that their ads served following Google searches were responsibly targeted.