Two promoted tweets for Ladbrokes, seen in January and February 2023:
a. The first tweet featured two images of Premier League manager Eddie Howe, with a large “V” in-between them. Text below stated, “19TH IN 2022 V 3RD IN 2023. EDDIE HOWE’S ONE-YEAR MASTERCLASS”.
b. The second tweet featured a headline which stated, “Ladbrokes NEXT MANAGER TO LEAVE ODDS”. Below the text were names and images of four Premier League managers – David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil. Each manager had odds listed next to their name.
The ASA challenged whether the ads included individuals who were likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18 years of age, and therefore breached the Code.
LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes explained that the first tweet was intended to be editorial content to celebrate Eddie Howe’s recent period of success as the manager of Newcastle United. They said the post contained no calls to action, no promotional offers and no links directing consumers to the Ladbrokes website where they could place bets. The Ladbrokes’ Twitter feed and respective tweets could not be accessed by users unless Twitter had accepted their age as being over-18. They understood that Twitter users self-verified their age, and because that was not always accurate, they had added an additional level of assurance by targeting the ad on social media to only reach over-25s. The data showed a total of 22,182 impressions, and that 0% of their targeted audience was under 25 years of age.
Ladbrokes said the image used in the first tweet was designed in-house, and that Eddie Howe’s online presence and career record had been considered during that process. They provided links to what they believed were his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, with all three accounts having less than 1,000 followers. They said most of his managerial career had been spent in the lower leagues of English football. They believed that because Eddie Howe had a modest online presence and much of his managerial career had been spent outside of the Premier League, it was unlikely that he would appeal strongly to under-18s.
Ladbrokes acknowledged that the second tweet was commercial in nature as it contained market prices for the next Premier League manager to lose his job. They said it inadvertently included imagery of the managers, which was contrary to their guidance and standard procedure for commercially oriented content. They said they had taken steps to ensure that content of that nature would be reviewed more thoroughly to ensure future ads would comply with the advertising rules.
The ASA considered that because both ads appeared in paid-for space online, they were marketing communications within the remit of the CAP Code.
From 1 October 2022, the CAP Code stated that marketing communications for gambling products must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They must not include a person or character whose example was likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who had strong appeal to those aged under 18.
We noted that managers of Premier League football teams were considered high risk within the CAP guidance “Gambling and lotteries: Protecting under-18s” in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s. Football was an activity in which a very significant proportion of under-18s participated directly on a frequent basis, and had a general interest in through following professional teams and players across a variety of media. There was also a highly developed infrastructure around organised participation and the sport had an exceptionally high media profile including popular, dedicated media for under-18s. Managers of top clubs were likely to appeal strongly to children.
We noted the ads included Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil, who at the time of publication, were all current Premier League managers and would be well known to those who followed football, and in particular fans of the clubs they managed, including children. We considered based on those factors, that all five managers were likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.
Although we considered that the social media accounts provided to us by Ladbrokes were unlikely to be run by Eddie Howe or his team, and that, based on their content, were more likely fan accounts, we accepted that he had little or no presence on social media. However, that did not override our assessment that, for the reasons given above, he was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.
We considered that it would have been acceptable for the ads to appear in a medium where under-18s, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience. That would apply in circumstances where those who saw the ads had been robustly age-verified as being 18 or older, such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking. We did not consider that marketing data, inferred from user behaviour, met that threshold. We acknowledged that the ads were targeted at over-25s, but because Twitter was a media environment where users self-verified on customer sign-up, and did not use robust age-verification, we considered that Ladbrokes had not excluded under-18s from the audience with the highest level of accuracy required for ads the content of which was likely to appeal strongly to under-18s.
For those reasons, we concluded the ads were irresponsible and breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.12 (Gambling).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes not to include people or characters who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their advertising.