An in-app ad for "Bell Fruit Casino", a gambling app, seen in the "Dude Perfect 2" app on 21 February 2018, featured text stating "Bell Fruit Casino App FREE. Play Slots for Real Cash. Welcome Bonus up to £200". Buttons on screen stated "GET" and "PLAY NOW!".
The complainant challenged whether the ad had been appropriately targeted, because it was seen by their seven-year-old son.
Greentube Alderney Ltd said that the ad was published via the Google network. They said they had received assurance from Google that the ad would only appear if the user was known to be over 18, and Real Money Gaming (RMG) ad content was enabled within the app. They said that they had used the Universal App campaign option, which meant they were only able to target ads according to the operating system (iOS or Android) and they had not employed any behavioural targeting measures tailored to users’ devices or accounts. Greentube Alderney stated that the ability to opt-in to RMG ads was controlled by the app developer. They had received assurance from Google that Greentube Alderney’s account was correctly categorised as RMG, and that the ad had been labelled as for an RMG product. They understood that the developer had not opted in to RMG ads appearing in “Dude Perfect 2” at the time the complaint was received. Greentube Alderney stated that they had subsequently tested the app themselves and had not been served any RMG ads from any operator. Following their own internal investigation, they believed that they had taken all steps to ensure that their ads were strictly served to users over the age of 18. They provided an email sent to them by Google which stated that Google could not find any evidence of the ad being served in the “Dude Perfect 2” app via AdWords. Greentube could not understand, therefore, how the ad could have been served to a seven-year-old child. They had suspended all app advertising, across all apps on the Google network, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Miniclip SA, the publishers of “Dude Perfect 2”, stated that they prohibited ads for gambling content being shown in their application. At the time the ad was seen, they had selected the option to disable gambling content for the ad networks operating in the app. Following receipt of the complaint, they had requested Google to block ads from Greentube Alderney from appearing in their apps.
Miniclip stated that “Dude Perfect 2” was not primarily targeted at children. The game was intended to fundamentally appeal to the audience of the American sports entertainment group “Dude Perfect”, including their YouTube channel, which Miniclip considered did not specifically target their content towards children. They said that the most popular age demographics for the game were 35- to 54-year-olds on iOS and 25- to 34-year-olds on Android. They provided age demographics for the users who had downloaded the app.
Google said that gambling ads served via AdMob (Google's own ad network for mobile apps) were served to signed-in users who were declared over 18. They said it had been difficult for them to investigate the complaints fully without additional information such as specific identifiers for the ad and a link to the app in which the ad appeared. They understood that the advertiser had stated that they utilised a feature of AdWords (now known as Google Ads) called the Universal App Campaign (UAC), though Google could not verify this based on the information available. Google said that the Google Ads/UAC User Interface gave advertisers tools to exclude placements where they did not want their ads to be shown, including exclusions of certain categories of mobile apps; exclusions of content suitable for different types of audiences (e.g. content suitable for families or for mature audiences); exclusions of sensitive content; specific ad placements (e.g. specific websites, domains or mobile apps); and keyword exclusions.
CAP Code rule 16.3.13 16.3.13 be directed at those aged below 18 years (or 16 years for football pools, equal-chance gaming [under a prize gaming permit or at a licensed family entertainment centre], prize gaming [at a non-licensed family entertainment centre or at a travelling fair] or Category D gaming machines) through the selection of media or context in which they appear required that marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at those aged younger than 18 years through the selection of media or context in which they appeared. The ASA therefore considered that marketers should be able to demonstrate that they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that gambling ads were directed at an audience aged 18 and over so as to minimise under-18s’ exposure to them.
The ad appeared in the app “Dude Perfect 2”, which had a rating of PEGI 3, which meant it was suitable for all ages. The game revolved around performing basketball “trick shots”. The characters were based on the “Dude Perfect” YouTube channel, which mainly featured sports based content. Although the graphic style was cartoon-like, the game did not feature child characters. While we acknowledged that the app would be of appeal to some under-18s, we did not consider that it would be of greater appeal to them than to an adult audience.
We understood that Miniclip had selected the option to disable RMG ads from appearing in “Dude Perfect 2” at the time the ad was seen. We also understood that Greentube Alderney’s ads had been labelled as RMG. However, the ad had nonetheless appeared in the app and had been seen by a seven-year-old child. We understood that the ad was seen on a shared device used by both adults and children, while logged into an adult’s Google account.
We considered that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not be targeted solely based on age data, because of younger users misreporting their age on social media or different people sharing the same device. We considered that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not be targeted solely based on age data, because of younger users misreporting their age on social media or different people sharing the same device, and that advertisers should support that method of targeting by using interest based factors to help remove those aged under 18 years of age from the target audience of gambling product ads.
Because we understood the Google AdWords network allowed advertisers to target a defined set of users, the relevant test under the Code was whether the ad had been directed at people under 18, rather than the proportion of users who saw the ad who were under 18. However, we considered that the likelihood of under-18s to download the app or apps in which the ad appeared would be relevant in determining the extent to which interest-based or other behavioural targeting would be needed in order to ensure that the ad was not directed at under-18s. For instance, in apps popular with under-18s, it could be necessary for marketers to both select interest-based factors popular with adult audiences and de-select interest-based factors popular with under-18s. On the other hand, if an ad appeared in an app or apps used by hardly any under-18s, it might not be necessary to take measures to the same degree.
We noted that 2.5% of users who downloaded the app using their own account were aged 13 to 17. As it was common for children to access apps on shared devices, as was the case in this instance, we considered the actual under-18 audience was likely to be greater than that. As stated above, we considered that the content of the app was likely to appeal to under-18s, though not to a greater extent than it would appeal to an adult audience. Although we did not consider “Dude Perfect 2” to be children’s media, its audience included under-18s, and we therefore expected Greentube Alderney to have used some additional interest based factors to reduce the likelihood of under-18s seeing the ad. They had chosen to use the Universal App campaign option, which was automatically targeted by Google. Whilst it did not include the capability for the advertiser to target based on interest or other behavioural factors, it did allow advertisers to apply account exclusions which would prevent their ads from appearing in particular types of apps or websites, including content suitable for different types of audiences. However, we understood that Greentube Alderney had not used these tools. Furthermore, we noted that there were other campaign options on Google AdWords that allowed advertisers to target their campaigns to users based on interest and other behavioural factors.
We concluded that the ad had been inappropriately targeted and 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 16.3.1(Gambling).
The ad must not be used again without further, specific targeting to minimize the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to it. We told Greentube Alderney Ltd to ensure that their ads were appropriately targeted in future.