Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An email sent to subscribers to the Sun's Dream Team fantasy football competition stated "You're signed up to Dream Team and for that we promise to love, adore and cherish you ... You can take your Dream Team experience to the next level by becoming a Chairman and creating a Mini League. Not only do you get to hammer your mates every week, but if you recruit 10 players or more to your league you will get: Entered into a prize draw for a date with a Page 3 girl - we might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now ... Don't listen to your girlfriend when she says size doesn't matter. The bigger your Mini League is, the more prizes you can get your mitts on".
The ASA received 1036 complaints, many of which were submitted as part of a campaign led by SumOfUs.org.
1. The complainants, who believed that to offer a date with a ‘page-three girl’ as a prize was sexist and objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive and socially irresponsible.
2. Many of the complainants also challenged whether the ad was socially irresponsible for offering a date with a ‘page-three girl’ as an incentive to gamble.
1. News UK & Ireland Ltd trading as the Sun explained that page-three celebrities had featured as mini-league Chairmen and participated in the Dream Team game since the 2013/2014 season. They said there were both male and female celebrity mini-league Chairmen and their inclusion was not sexist, nor did it objectify women. Outside of the mini-leagues, page three celebrities had been connected with Dream Team promotional activity for around six years. They said they did not use seductive, glamorous or inappropriate images in their promotional emails or on their website.
They also highlighted that page three was an associated brand of the Sun and its use in the promotion was not random or unconnected. They believed their audience would understand the link between the two brands. Page-three celebrities were people who their readers would know and would like the opportunity to meet, and they ran promotions involving the chance to meet both men and women. For example, they said they had recently run a competition which involved the chance to meet "KSI", a male celebrity.
The Sun believed that the promotion was appropriate for their target audience. They said approximately 93% of the recipients of the email were male and comprised of either previous or current Dream Team players. They did not believe that the email would cause offence to those recipients.
Finally, they highlighted that a date with a page-three girl was not the only prize on offer for the promotion, and customers could also win a paintballing session or £50. Therefore, they felt the promotion as a whole was designed to be balanced and had something to interest everyone.
2. The Sun re-emphasised that a number of their page-three celebrities were Dream Team mini-league Chairmen, and so it was appropriate to use them to promote Dream Team and encourage the creation of mini-leagues. However, they were careful to do so in a responsible manner, which was not connected to seduction or sexual success. While page-three celebrities might be considered famous and attractive people, their attractiveness was not portrayed as a result of, or connected to, the act of gambling. They again highlighted that the promotional material did not feature any images of the page-three celebrities.
They also stated that the promotion was not intended to encourage their audience to persuade people to sign up to the Dream Team, but to encourage players who had friends who had already created a Dream Team to join a mini-league as that enhanced the customer experience by allowing players to have a friendly competition with each other. It was not intended to incentivise new people to gamble, but instead make the user experience better for existing customers. That was also reflected by the fact that the email was sent to either previous or existing Dream Team customers only.
Finally, even if the email was perceived as encouraging people to also get their friends (who were not existing Dream Team customers) to join, there was a minimal chance of any harm being caused because the game could be played for the whole season without the need to spend money or put down a stake. When customers joined Dream Team for the 2014−15 season, they were required to provide their card details and take part in a free two month trial subscription to Sun+. At the end of the trial they were notified by email that the trial had expired and they would become paying customers from the following month. However, if they then cancelled their Sun+ subscription, they were still able to play Dream Team, free of charge, for the remainder of the season. They said that was clearly explained throughout the sign up journey.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA understood that pay-to-play fantasy football games were regulated by the Gambling Commission as they were pool betting competitions and effectively involved a bet on the outcome of a series of uncertain sporting events. While we acknowledged that individuals were able to sign up to, and play, Dream Team for free, because pay-to-play options were available we understood it was still a gambling product. Therefore, we considered that the ad indirectly promoted a gambling product.
We understood that the Sun's male and female celebrities, including page-three girls, were involved in the Dream Team game as Chairpersons and had featured in previous promotional activities. We noted, however, that the celebrities were not simply featured in the promotional material, but that a date with a "page three girl" was offered as a prize. In the context of the ad, we considered that to offer a date with a woman as a reward for success in the game was demeaning to women and objectified those offered as prizes. We also considered that the wording "we might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now ...", further enhanced the impression that the women were simply objects to be selected at the whim and enjoyment of the winner, and had no choice in the matter themselves.
We considered that the primary motivation of a number players, both male and female, when signing up to the Dream Team game would be their interest in sport and fantasy football. We considered they would not necessarily expect a date with a page-three girl to be offered as a prize and that the notion of offering a date with a woman as a prize was likely to be offensive to a number of recipients.
Because we considered that the email presented the women as objects to be won, we concluded that it was sexist, offensive and socially irresponsible.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence), 8.7 8.7 No promotion or promotional item should cause serious or widespread offence to consumers. (Sales promotions), and 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. (Gambling).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the Sun to ensure that their future advertising contained nothing that was socially irresponsible or likely to cause serious or widespread offence.