Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for Save The Student, www.savethestudent.co.uk, seen on 18 October 2022, featured a web page titled “Make money from Matched Betting (full guide)”. Under that, text stated “Now, I’m not a gambler by any means. But I have made enough money from bookmakers in just six months to pay for an £860 flight (return) to Australia using matched betting”.
An image of a Guardian article titled “Free bets mean you can clean up as bookies meet their match” was featured alongside a screengrab of a Facebook comment that stated “Thanks to this guide, I actually earned 600 quid in less than 2 months”. Text underneath the Facebook comment stated “One of many comments on this page by other readers”.
The next headline stated “What is matched betting?” and described the process of a matched bet.
A further headline stated “How much profit can I make?”. Text underneath that headline stated “For each matched bet, you will be left with up to 95% of the free bet amount as profit … Replicate the same steps across hundreds of free bet offers each year, and you can quickly be looking at £1,000s”.
Text then described the “7 steps to matched betting profit”. The seven steps listed were: “1. Open a Betfair exchange account”; “2. Open a William Hill account”; “3. Use decimal odds”; “4. Find and place your qualifying bet”; “5. Claim your free bet”; “6. Find and place a new bet”; and “7. Withdraw the profit”. In the last section text stated “My total profit from both matched bets, accounting for the 23p loss on my £10 qualifying bet totals £17.73. I spent just under 20 minutes on the whole process, as I move onto the countless other free bets out there (best listed below). Beats stacking shelves …”.
Final text at the bottom of the page stated “All offers are 18+” in bold font. Underneath that was a sign-up box for a private matched betting Facebook group and mailing list.
1. The complainant challenged whether the ad was inappropriately placed because it was likely to be seen by under-18s.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad misleadingly exaggerated the amount of money that an individual could likely expect to make when matched betting.
1. Grip Media Ltd t/a Save the Student asserted that matched betting was not gambling and that it was not possible for those under 18 years of age to create accounts with bookmakers. Regarding the placement of the ad, they said that they had not directed the content to those under 18 years of age. They further detailed that 83% of views of the ad derived from organic searches on Google and that the majority of those searches included “matched betting”. Because of that, they considered that demonstrated many of those who viewed the ad were already aware of the concept of matched betting and, accordingly, were looking for further guidance.
Save the Student provided a table based on Google Analytics data which showed the percentage of those who had viewed the ad in 2022 across different age ranges. The table did not include data for ages under 18 years. Based on the data shared in the table, they highlighted that 28% of those who viewed the ad were aged between 18 and 24 years old, and that the ad’s largest demographic was those who were aged between 25 and 34 years old. They re-iterated that whilst being a student-facing website, the guide served a majority non-student audience. They said that was further supported because none of the individuals in the private Facebook group for matched betting, which was featured in the ad, were under 18. Because the Facebook group was only promoted through the ad, they considered that further demonstrated very few individuals under the age of 18 had seen the ad.
Save the Student also provided their Facebook page’s demographic breakdown and stated that the majority of their followers were aged between 25 and 34 years. They also said that practically 0% of those who followed the page were under 18 years. They confirmed that they had not directly promoted the guide to their core student audience on social media or via their email database.
Furthermore, Save the Student supplied a table based on Google Analytics data which showed the total views for web pages which could be categorised of interest to sixth form, college and first year university students. The table contained the total number of page views for ten different web pages across 2022. Save the Student said that the total traffic of such content accounted for only 2.3% of total website over 2022. They said that demonstrated the percentage of their overall audience under 18 was very low. They also stated that the ad was not referenced in any of the web pages which would be of interest to under-18s. They also shared further data for the web page with the largest number of views in the table. They detailed that readers of that web page had not navigated from that page to the ad in the last three months.
Save the Student said that after they had been made aware of the complaint, they had amended the ad so that it was clearer that anyone partaking in matched betting must be over the age of 18. However, they concluded that they were satisfied that Save the Student was a suitable platform to advertise matched betting because they were confident that their readership was over 18 years of age.
2. Save the Student highlighted that many students needed to make additional money due to the cost-of-living crisis, and that the guide was borne out of a need for clear advice regarding matched betting. Because matched betting was complicated to understand, they considered that the best way to explain the concept was with examples.
They said that the examples highlighted in the ad were based on personal experience from both the writer of the guide and feedback from readers, and as such they considered that the likely earnings did align with the claims made in the ad. They supplied two emails from readers of the ad which they considered demonstrated those who were new to matched betting could make substantial sums of money in a reasonable amount of time. Regarding the text “Replicate the same steps across hundreds of free bet offers each year, and you can quickly be looking at £1,000s”, they said that reflected the experience of the author. However, they acknowledged that a substantial time commitment was required on the part of the user to achieve that level. As such, they revised the copy to “Replicate the same steps across dozens of free bet offers each year, and you can quickly be looking at £100s (depending on how much time and effort you put in)”. In relation to the text “For each matched bet, you will be left with up to 95% of the free bet amount as profit”, they confirmed that in most instances this amount was likely to be between 50% and 80%. However, because the text included the phrase “up to”, they considered that was a fair statement. Nevertheless, they amended the copy to “For each matched bet, you can typically expect to extract 50-80% of the free bet amount as profit”. They also removed the statement that matched betting “beats stacking shelves” and made it clearer that matched betting was not a substitute for employment.
Save the Student also disagreed that the statements “I have made enough money from bookmakers in just six months to pay for an £860 flight (return) to Australia using matched betting” and “I actually earned 600 quid in less than 2 months” implied that matched betting was a simple process. They also did not consider two or six months to be a short period of time. Notwithstanding that, they amended the first statement to “But I have made a good amount of money from bookmarkers, without gambling, using a technique called matched betting” and removed the second statement.
Save the Student also considered that, compared to making money outside of employment, a significant amount of money could be made relatively easily and with relatively little effort. They asserted that a large number of free bets were available and that it was simple for consumers to find them. They also considered that it was subjective to determine what a considerable amount of money was and that it depended on the individual; for example, they said that for many of their readers, being able to make an extra £10 to £20+ on a matched bet in an hour was significant.
Finally, Save the Student said that they encouraged readers of the ad to take their time when matched betting and that the ad reminded them of the risks involved in matched betting. They re-iterated that many of the examples were based on the author’s experience and emphasised that in relation to the text “I spent just under 20 minutes on the whole process”.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. The ASA understood that matched betting was a technique whereby individuals bet on all outcomes of a certain event using free bets and incentives offered by bookmakers. We noted that the ad provided consumers with instructions on matched betting, as well as directing them to a bookmaker and betting exchange. Whilst we acknowledged that matched betting was not itself gambling, we considered that the purpose of the ad was to facilitate individuals placing bets and using gambling services, and so we assessed the ads with that in mind. We therefore considered any ads promoting matched betting should be appropriately placed and should not be directed at those aged below 18 years old through the selection of media or context in which they appeared.
The ad appeared on the Save the Student website. We understood the website was aimed at university students and offered money-saving and financial tips, alongside wider lifestyle advice. Because of that, we acknowledged that the medium the ad appeared in would not have been specifically intended for those who were under 18 years of age. However, we noted that the website would have been of interest to some under-18s; for example, a section of the website was dedicated to those who were considering applying to university and featured articles and advice such as “How to write a personal statement for university”, “Which universities are easiest to get into?”, and “A-Level Results Day 2023”. We also understood that students in Scotland usually started university at the age of 17, and as such, the nature of the website would appeal to them. We therefore expected Save the Student to be able to demonstrate that less than 25% of their total website audience was under 18.
We assessed the demographic data provided by Save the Student. Firstly, we evaluated the data in the table which shared a breakdown of those who had viewed the ad by age. We noted Save the Student’s assertion that, based on that data, the majority of those who viewed the ad were aged between 18 and 35. However, we understood that the table was based on data from Google Analytics and that Google did not measure those under 18 for the purposes of its demographic reporting. The data in the table supplied to us by Save the Student, therefore, did not capture the number of under-18s who viewed the ad. Because the proportion of under-18s who viewed the ad was not taken into account, we could not take that data into consideration. In any case, we were only supplied with information regarding the viewers of the ad itself, rather than the audience data for the Save the Student website as a whole.
We were also provided with data for Save the Student’s own Facebook page and the Facebook group for matched betting which was featured in the ad. We acknowledged that only a small proportion of their Facebook page’s followers were under 18, and that it appeared that the private matched betting Facebook group did not include anyone under 18. We noted that the ad was not seen on Facebook, nor had it been promoted via the Save the Student Facebook page. We therefore considered the data related to Save the Student’s Facebook page was not relevant to the medium or context in which the ad was seen. We acknowledged Save the Student’s assertion that the number of individuals under 18 in their matched betting Facebook group would correlate with the number of those under 18 who had viewed the ad. However, we considered that the demographics of the Facebook group were not representative because viewers did not necessarily join the Facebook group after viewing the ad. Nevertheless, we understood that data was based on unverified self-declared ages only and that online age was often misreported. As such, we could not be certain of the number of under-18s who had joined the Facebook group. We did not consider the Facebook group data a sufficient replacement for supplying data which detailed the number of under 18s who had viewed the ad or the total audience data for the Save the Student website.
In the absence of data for the proportion of under-18s who viewed the ad, we also considered the table that detailed the number of views for web pages Save the Student regarded were of interest to under 18s. We understood that the total number of views across articles of interest to sixth form, college and first-year university students equated to 2.3% of the total website views in 2022. We acknowledged Save the Student’s argument that the data demonstrated their overall under-18 audience was low. However, the table supplied only referred to ten web pages, all of which were categorised as “Freshers”. It did not contain any web pages which were categorised as “Sixth Form & College” on the website, such as “How to choose a university and the right degree” or “7 gap year ideas”. We could therefore not be sure that all web pages which were targeted at under-18s had been captured within the 2.3% figure shared by Save the Student. In any case, we did not consider the total number of views on certain web pages was sufficient to demonstrate that the number of under-18s who made up their total website audience.
Because Save the Student were unable to provide sufficient data to demonstrate that less than 25% of their total website audience was under 18, we concluded that the ad was inappropriately targeted and breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3.
We noted that the ad was a guide to matched betting and was aimed at those who were unfamiliar with matched betting. The ad made several references to using matched betting as a means of earning money. For example, the ad stated “I have made enough money from bookmakers in just six months to pay for an £860 flight (return) to Australia using matched betting” and “I actually earned 600 quid in less than 2 months”. Because of that, we considered consumers would understand that matched betting was a simple process which could be used to make a large amount of money over a short period of time. That impression was strengthened by the claim “you will be left with up to 95% of the free bet amount as profit”; we considered consumers would interpret that to mean that nearly all of their winnings from matched betting would represent a profit. The ad also included the claim that undertaking matched betting was better than “stacking shelves”. We considered that suggested matched betting could be used as an alternative to employment and that the ad framed matched betting as a stable and consistent way to make money, akin to a job or employment.
We also noted that the ad emphasised the ease with which free bets could be found with the claims “I spent just under 20 minutes on the whole process, as I move onto the countless other free bets out there” and “replicate the same steps across hundreds of free bet offers each year, and you can quickly be looking at £1,000s”. We considered consumers would understand from those claims that a significant amount of money could be made easily with relatively little effort on the part of the individual. We also considered that text indicated that there was a large number of free bets available for and that it was a simple process for consumers to find them.
We understood that executing a successful matched bet could be particularly complicated and that it required co-ordinated action; both backing and laying a bet. We also understood that, in most cases, only a small amount was made from each matched bet, especially taking into consideration that an individual was likely, according to the advertiser’s own figures, only to receive between 50% and 80% of their free bet. We therefore considered that the amount an individual could earn by matched betting was dependent on time and commitment, and that in order to earn large sums of money, a considerable amount of time would have to be dedicated to matched betting. As such, it was unlikely a novice would be able to make a substantial sum of money quickly and easily. Consequently, we considered that the reality of an individual’s likely earnings from matched betting did not align with consumers’ interpretation of the ad. Furthermore, we understood that, by its nature, the amount an individual earnt from each matched bet they made would differ and their ability to matched bet would be determined by the frequency of being offered a free bet. Therefore, any earnings from matched betting would not represent a consistent revenue stream equivalent to that offered by formal employment as suggested by the ad.
We considered that, in order to match bet at scale, it would be necessary for individuals to hold multiple accounts with bookmakers to take advantage of free bets. We noted Save the Student’s assertion that free bets were readily available and that it was simple for consumers to find them. However, we also understood that it was common practice for bookmakers to block accounts of individuals whom they suspected to have practised matched betting. Whilst we noted that individuals were permitted to receive the profits accrued by any bets made up until that point, we understood that in order to continue to match bet, consumers would need to create another account with a different bookmaker. We considered that would be a time-consuming process for individuals and that practice was not discussed in the ad; instead, it suggested that accessing free bets was straightforward and required relatively little effort on the part of the individual.
Because the ad overstated the likely amount an individual would make from each matched bet and the simplicity of finding free bets, as well as understating the amount of time it would take an individual to earn substantial sums of money, we concluded that the ad misleadingly exaggerated the amount of money that an individual could likely expect to make when matched betting.
Whilst we welcomed Save the Student’s action to amend the ad, because at the time it was seen it included claims which misleadingly exaggerated the amount of money that an individual could likely expect to make when matched betting, we concluded that it breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Grip Media t/a Save the Student to ensure that ads were appropriately placed in future, and that they did not misleadingly exaggerate the amount of money that an individual could likely expect to make when matched betting.