A website for a gambling service, www.bootypirates.com, seen on 20 August 2015, stated "GOLDBEARD'S BOOTY PIRATES JOIN DA CREW & FIND YE FORTUNE". The page featured cartoon graphics of a pirate with sunglasses and a large gem-studded beard, and of a goat with gold teeth and a chain around its neck. Below this were descriptions of game features, such as "Be a Gangsta' Pirate Create and customise your own unique character. You need dat style to grab dat booty". The page also featured an image of gameplay, consisting of cartoon characters on a grid.
The complainant, who considered that the content of the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to those under 18 years of age, challenged whether the ad breached the Code.
Geo24 UK Ltd stated that they did not believe the ad to be of particular appeal to children. With regard to the cartoon elements of the ad, they stated that there was no objective test as to how to judge whether anything was of particular appeal to children, but that their view was that a cartoon or fantastical character was not in itself particularly appealing to children. They said that, by their nature, many games may be 'cartoonlike' because they were computer generated and it was therefore important to consider the characteristics of the images and the context in which they were used. They said that their images had been deliberately crafted in an adult-like (rather than a childlike) way, to avoid particular appeal to minors, and that the use of pirate and goat characters themselves did not make their ad particularly appealing to children.
Geo24 said that images of particular appeal to children would usually depict popular children's characters or images with strong childlike connotations, or that were reminiscent of children's characters within a context that made the whole promotion appealing in such a way. They believed that the images in the ad did not fall into these areas. Geo 24 stated that, as the images were on a static web page and there was therefore no additional context to them, the consideration must be whether a cartoon pirate (in combination with the language used) was of particular appeal to children. They understood that previous similar complaints had been Upheld on the grounds that superheroes or children's toys were used, and said they believed that the use of a pirate was not in the same category.
Geo24 said that, while pirates appeared in some forms of children's entertainment, it was also well known that pirates and treasure had been associated with gambling for years. As such, they had created the theme specifically to appeal to their target audience of gamblers aged over 30. They stated that many well-established casinos, slot halls and slot games featured references to treasure. They said that the pirate was intentionally not reminiscent of children's pirates, such as Captain Pugwash, who were usually brightly coloured, jaunty and friendly, and wore parrots on their shoulders. In contrast, they noted that their image featured muted colours, that the pirate wore work boots, jeans and sunglasses, and that he had an adult tattoo. They believed that the briefcase of money featured in the ad was very different to the classic children's image of a bejewelled treasure chest and that the small goat would not be easily associated with pirates. They said that the background imagery was simple and stark, and that the scene would not have strong associations for children.
With regard to the language on the site, Geo24 stated that it was designed to appeal to their target audience of over-30s. The phrase "Booty Pirates" and accompanying phrases were intended to be a play on words and clearly an adult joke. They believe that children would not understand the connotations of the jokes and, taken contextually, there was no association with youth culture. Geo24 viewed it as unlikely that visitors would come across their site without having searched for it. They noted that the ad contained an 18+ logo and explained that they had an age gate mechanism to ensure the visitor could not access the game or any further content until passing through security verification.
The CAP Code stated that gambling ads must not be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, which were considered to be under 16 years of age and 16- to 17-year-olds respectively, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. Gambling ads could not therefore appeal more strongly to under-18s than they did to over-18s, regardless of the context in which they appeared. We considered that the use of cartoons or cartoon-like imagery had the potential to appeal to under-18s, and it was therefore important that they were used carefully in ads for gambling products.
We acknowledged Geo24's view that the pirate image was not intended to be reminiscent of children's characters. While we noted their comments about the appearance of the pirate character not being typical, we did not consider that the presence of jeans, boots and sunglasses would in themselves significantly lessen the image's appeal to children, and neither would the presence of a briefcase of money rather than a treasure chest. We considered that the presentation of the pirate, the goat and the gameplay were colourful and exaggerated in style and were not so differently presented as to be distinct from the style of children's characters. Some of the phrases in the ad were spelled out in a traditionally piratical way (such as "find ye fortune") and, although we noted the innuendo present in the statement "You need dat style to grab dat booty", we considered that the style of phrasing would further identify the character as a pirate to children and increase the appeal, and that the innuendo would not diminish this. We considered that the characters were not adult in nature and, as animated animals and pirate characters were relatively common within children's programming and popular culture, the characters were likely to appeal particularly to under-18s. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
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. and 16.3.12 16.3.12 be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture (Gambling).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Geo24 UK Ltd to ensure that future ads for gambling products were not likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons.