From Jake Paul to Premier League Managers: the Twitter ads that appeal to young people

United Kingdom

The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) was relatively active in the gambling industry in July, with two new rulings published in respect of the gambling advertising rules that came into force last year.

On 1 October 2022, a new gambling advertising rule was introduced (a summary of which can be read here) which strengthened the obligations on gambling operators to ensure the content of their ads is not appealing to under 18s, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. At the time, questions were raised as to what a “strong appeal” really means, but the emergence of rulings since then has provided useful insight into what the ASA is likely to consider falling within scope. The ASA has upheld rulings against adverts that featured “star” footballers (see our article here), but didn’t consider other sports stars, including Peter Crouch, Micah Richards (see here) or Chris Eubank Jr. (see here), to appeal strongly to young people.

On 5 July, the ASA upheld a complaint concerning a promoted tweet for LC International (trading as Ladbrokes) (“Ladbrokes”). It further upheld a second complaint against Ladbrokes on the 12 July for promoting images of Premier League managers in another paid-for advert on Twitter (or ‘X’ – but we’ll stick to ‘Twitter’ for this article!) In each case, individuals that appeared in the ads were considered to have a strong appeal to under-18s, in breach of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising (“CAP Code”).

The Adverts

1. Jake Paul

In the first ruling, the tweet in question was promoted by Ladbrokes in February 2023, and featured an image of Jake Paul along with a caption discussing his recent fight with Tommy Fury. It invited users to vote on what they thought would be Jake Paul's next move, with the options being 1. Win the re-match; 2. Head to the MMA; 3. Return to YouTube; and 4. Join the WWE.

2. Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil

In the second ruling, two separate paid-for Twitter ads were seen in January and February 2023 and featured images of Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil, with a list of odds next to their names. One of the headlines stated, “Ladbrokes NEXT MANAGER TO LEAVE ODDS”.

The Ruling

1. Jake Paul

  • Ladbrokes claimed that Jake Paul's profile within boxing was not significant and that he primarily had a presence on YouTube, with brand partnerships in alcohol and cryptocurrency.
  • Whilst the ASA acknowledged boxing to be an adult-orientated sport, and therefore deemed to have low appeal to under-18s, the ASA turned to Jake Paul's substantial social media following on various platforms. Although Ladbrokes argued that the tweet was targeted at users aged 25 and older and that their Twitter feed was age-gated, the ASA considered the potential exposure to under-18s. Ladbrokes recognised that roughly 16% of his subscribers on YouTube were registered as being between 13 and 17 years old, and 18% on TikTok, but claimed that none of his Twitter followers were “registered as being under 18”.
  • The ASA recognised that Jake Paul had gained popularity through his YouTube career and had subsequently ventured into boxing. With over 65 million followers across various platforms, the ASA concluded that Jake Paul had a high profile in both sport and social media. They also considered his previous appearance on the children's TV programme, Bizaardvark, which further indicated a strong appeal to under-18s. Whilst the programme had ended in 2019 in the US, the ASA considered that he was still well known for having appeared on that programme and that it was still available on UK streaming services.
  • The ASA therefore stated that it considered Jake Paul to be of “inherent strong appeal to under-18s” and consequently ruled that the ad breached the CAP Code.

2. Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil

First Tweet – January 2023

  • Ladbrokes explained that the first tweet was intended to be editorial content that celebrated Eddie Howe’s recent success as manager of Newcastle United.
  • Ladbrokes argued that the post contained no promotional offers or links that directed customers to the Ladbrokes’ website.
  • Ladbrokes argued that their adverts did not appear on Twitter users’ feeds unless they were over 18. However, it was raised that Twitter users self-verify their age and there are limited tools available to assess whether the user is in fact over 18.
  • Ladbrokes considered that it targeted the ad to only reach over-25s. The data provided by Ladbrokes showed that the ad had reached 22,182 users, none of whom were under 25 years.
  • Ladbrokes argued that Eddie Howe had a modest online presence and due to his career being mostly outside of the Premier League, he would not appeal strongly to under-18s.

Second Tweet – February 2023

  • 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.
  • Ladbrokes accepted that the tweet inadvertently included imagery of the managers, which was contrary to their guidance and standard procedure for commercially oriented content.
  • Ladbrokes added that they would make more active efforts to review commercial content more thoroughly to ensure that future advertisements would comply with the advertising rules.

The ASA concluded that the adverts were irresponsible and had breached the CAP Code. The ASA noted that football managers, especially from top-flight clubs, are considered high risk within CAP guidance due to their strong influence on under 18s. The ASA acknowledged that the ads were targeted at over 25s, however due to Twitter not having a robust age-verification system in place, concluded that Ladbrokes had not excluded under 18s from the audience.

Next Steps

The following key takeaways stood out to us:

  1. The ASAs’ rulings emphasise that there’s no hierarchy of evidence when considering if a personality has a strong appeal to young people. Whilst Ladbrokes argued that the tweet featuring Jake Paul was targeted at an older audience on Twitter, this wasn’t enough to outweigh the influence the ASA considered Jake Paul to have among younger demographics. Similarly, despite Ladbrokes producing evidence that the Premier League managers had a low social media following of users under-25, and that the ad had allegedly not reached users of this age group, the ASA considered the influence of football managers at top-flight clubs to nonetheless outweigh this.
  2. Advertisers need to be diligent in their assessment of individuals or characters featured in gambling ads, taking into account their overall profile and appeal beyond the specific context of the ad. In these rulings, other associations with younger generations and previous engagements, beyond sport, were taken to contribute to their appeal to under-18s.
  3. The rulings have provided further insight into the ASA’s perception of age verification mechanisms.  In the second ruling, the ASA noted 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”. In comparison, the ASA considered the self-certification process on Twitter to be insufficient to exclude under-18s - even if the data produced showed that no under-25s viewed the advert, the ASA didn’t accept this as a reliable reflection of the actual audience in practice.

Gambling advertisers need to be vigilant in complying with advertising standards and should  carefully assess the potential appeal of their promotions to young audiences, before launching an ad.