The UK Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) has continued its work to tackle gambling adverts that fall foul of the new advertising rules which came into force in the UK last year.
The rules, which were introduced on 1 October 2022, (a summary of which can be read here), sought to ban content appearing in ads that appealed to under-18s. In recent months, the ASA has been active in enforcing the new rules by responding to complaints, but also by proactively monitoring the industry using AI to search for online ads that might break the rules. The increasing emergence of rulings has provided useful insight into what the ASA will consider falling within scope. Most recently, the ASA rebuked Ladbrokes and bet365 for including top men’s tennis players and well-known footballers in promoted tweets (see here). This follows a string of rulings upheld for featuring “star” footballers (see here) and images of personalities considered popular with young people (see here).
The ASA has not always upheld complaints. It did not consider Peter Crouch, Micah Richards (see here) or Chris Eubank Jr. (see here), to appeal strongly to young people. In its latest decision, on 23 August, the ASA found that WHG (International) Ltd (trading as William Hill) (“William Hill”) had not breached the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising (“CAP Code”) for posting a promoted tweet which included the former professional footballer, Robbie Savage. The ASA challenged whether the appearance of Robbie Savage was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.
A promoted tweet for William Hill was published in February 2023, and featured a talking head emoji that said “No matter who the manager is Leeds are going down” and “@RobbieSavage thinks it’ll be too little, too late at Elland Road…”. The tweet contained an embedded video clip that featured Robbie Savage discussing Leeds United’s relegation prospects. The video also featured William Hill’s logo intermittently and the BeGambleAware logo, as well as text at the end that stated, “It’s who you play with. William Hill.”
William Hill noted that, prior to the introduction of the new rules, it had carried out a thorough analysis of personalities who featured in its advertising. William Hill added that this review was repeated periodically and for new personalities in light of CAP guidance.
William Hill argued that the tweet was targeted at 25- to 29-year-olds who followed the Leeds United and Sky Sports accounts. Further, William Hill cited previous ASA rulings in which the ASA had accepted that a former professional footballer whose career had ended years previously, did not have a strong appeal to children. William Hill raised the following points:
- Robbie Savage was a 48-year-old man, who had last played for a top-flight club 15 years previously, in 2008.
- His last appearance for a national team was in 2004, and he finished his career at Derby County, a third-tier club, in 2011.
- Robbie Savage was a long-retired footballer, now known for his punditry and therefore falling within the “low risk” category of strong appeal to children, according to CAP guidance.
- In terms of his wider media career, Robbie Savage had been working as a presenter since 2010, most notably as a football pundit. He was a presenter on BT Sports Score and BBC Five Live Radio, both of which had less than 10% under-18s in viewing demographics. Robbie Savage had appeared on the TV show, Strictly Come Dancing, in 2011 and a one-off appearance in the 2017 Christmas special, but William Hill considered this was not recent enough to be relevant in assessing his present-day appeal to under-18s.
- Data showed that 2% of Robbie Savage’s Instagram followers, 5% of his Facebook followers and 0.1% of his Twitter followers were under 18.
- Twitter believed that the ad did not breach any of their current policies and said they had not received any complaints in relation to it.
The ASA Ruling
The ASA acknowledged that William Hill had targeted the ad to over-25s, but because it appeared in a medium where under-18s could not be entirely excluded from the audience due to users self-certifying their age on sign-up, it needed to comply with the strong appeal rules.
Nevertheless, the ASA did not uphold the investigation for the following reasons:
- Whilst Robbie Savage had played football for several Premier League teams and at an international level for Wales, this had not been for 15 years. The ASA considered that the Robbie Savage’s appeal would more likely be on the basis of his more recent associations with football punditry and other media-related activities.
- The ASA noted that Robbie Savage was a regular pundit on BT Sports Score and co-hosted the 606 show, a football phone-in show on weekend evenings on BBC Radio 5. The ASA highlighted that these programmes, as well as his other TV appearances as a former footballer, focused on tactics and team performance, and were therefore primarily aimed at adult audiences, which was reflected in the low proportion of younger viewers and listeners.
- Robbie Savage’s appearance on Strictly Come Dancing was popular with families, but sufficient time had elapsed for it not to be considered relevant to the current generation of under-18s.
- In assessing his social media presence, the ASA noted that Robbie Savage posted regularly on Instagram and Twitter. Of his 133,000 Instagram followers, 2% were registered as under 18, and 5% of his 99,000 Facebook followers were registered as under 18. The ASA considered that a total of 8,810 social media followers aged under 18 did not suggest a strong appeal to that age group and therefore considered that his social media profile was unlikely to make him of strong appeal to under-18s.
- The ASA felt that there was otherwise nothing in the way Robbie Savage was presented in the ad that would have strongly attracted the attention of under-18s, or was likely to render him of strong appeal to them.
The following key takeaways stood out for us:
- The vast majority of the recent strong appeal rulings have dealt with ads appearing on Twitter. The ASA has made clear that Twitter’s self-certification process is insufficiently robust to exclude under-18s. Even if an ad is targeted at over-18s, the ASA will expect advertisers to comply with the rules where it considers young people cannot be excluded with certainty.
- Former sports personalities may be assessed on the basis of their more recent associations where their primary career ended a sufficiently long time ago. In this case, Robbie Savage’s appeal was assessed in the context of his recent football punditry, rather than his Premier League football career, which ended fifteen years ago, or his main appearance on Strictly Come Dancing, which was twelve years ago.
- Where an individual has appeared in TV programmes, the ASA will consider whether the themes explored are relevant to the current generation of under-18s. The ASA thought in this case that the topics of tactics, team performance, financial and strategic issues were more adult in tone, and did not appeal to young people.
Whilst not upheld, this case serves as a further reminder that the ASA is actively monitoring the gambling industry for ads that fall foul of the strong appeal rules. Gambling advertisers should be vigilant in complying with advertising standards and carefully assess the potential appeal of their promotions to young audiences, before launching an ad.