An ad for William Hill Vegas, seen on 17 February 2018, appeared within the app New MarioKart 8 Trick. The ad included text which stated “William Hill Vegas ... All Online Vegas Games 200% Up To £200 Bonus William Hill Vegas” accompanied by an “INSTALL” button.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was appropriately targeted as it was seen while using an app “New MarioKart 8 Trick” which they believed was aimed at children.
WHG (International) Ltd t/a William Hill Vegas said they would never knowingly target children or people under the age of 18 and that their intention was always to advertise and market to consumers who were 18+. They explained that they had selected to use the Universal App Campaign product from Google and that this campaign type was served across Search, Google Display Network, YouTube and the Google Play Store. They explained that there was little that they could specify other than location and that after they had provided key information, Google then automatically served the ad across its portfolio of inventory. They further said that because gambling was a restricted product, the Google ads were limited to serve only those who specified their age to Google and were over 18. They said that after analysis they considered that the digital footprint identified that the device on which the ad was seen had been used for either betting related or adult themed content which suggested that the user or owner of the device was over 18. They also said the ad could have been delivered as a result of cross device advertising, where a user who had a desktop William Hill account, logged in via their mobile or tablet device.
Further, they said that where devices were shared between adults and young people or children, there was no way they could exclude placements of ads on these accounts and that occasionally children may see gambling ads. They explained that in this instance the ad had appeared as a consequence of retargeting a campaign which was based on previous browsing habits and cookies. They explained that the retargeting technique allowed advertisers to target consumers who had a genuine and higher chance of opting in and was a technique used widely across both the gambling industry and online world.
They said that they were working with children’s publishers to reduce further the risk of children or young people seeing the ad. Also, they hoped that where any child related content had been accessed, no William Hill content would be made available to that device.
They further said that the game in which the ad was seen was based on Mario Kart and that Nintendo had reported that in 2017, 86% of Nintendo Switch players were over 18 and that Mario Kart was one of the main games available on the platform. They said that although the figures were subjective, they considered that it was a good indication that Mario Kart was used by the older generation.
Honocoroko, the app developer, did not respond to the ASA’s enquiries.
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 complaint 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. Google also noted that the advertiser had referred to the use of digital footprints and retargeting campaigns based on previous browsing habits and cookies in their response to the ASA. Google stated that these types of activities are not permitted for gambling advertisers (in line with Google’s advertising policies) and that such retargeting is not an option available to gambling advertisers through the UAC feature of Google Ads.
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 “New MarioKart 8 Trick” which had a PEGI rating 3 meaning it was suitable for all audiences. While the ASA 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 it would be to an adult audience. We understood that the ad was seen on a shared device used by both under and over 18s, 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. Also, advertisers should support this 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 downloading 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.
Although we did not consider “New MarioKart 8 Trick” to be children’s media, we considered its audience would likely have included under-18s, and we therefore expected William Hill Vegas 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 users 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 William Hill Vegas 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 therefore concluded that the ad had been inappropriately targeted and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.1 and 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 (Gambling).
The ad must not be used again without further, specific targeting to minimise the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to it. We told William Hill Vegas to ensure that their ads were appropriately targeted in future.