On the 27 September 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued a ruling against XLMedia plc (trading as freebetsdotcom) for an advertisement which featured professional footballer Mason Mount in breach of the CAP Code rules on social responsibility. The ASA also found XLMedia plc in breach for failing to respond promptly to the ASA’s investigation.
An Instagram post for freebetsdotcom, a company which collates betting offers from bookmakers, was displayed on 11 and 12 July 2023 and featured an image of Mason Mount, playing football.
Two complainants challenged whether the ad breached the CAP Code, because Mason Mount was 24 years old at the time the ad was published.
Even though freebetsdotcom’s service was not itself gambling, the ASA acknowledged that using it would place consumers in a position where they would be interacting with gambling services. Whilst rule 16 would therefore not strictly apply, the ASA interpreted the substance of this restriction in line with the social responsibility rules under the CAP Code. The ASA highlighted that under CAP Code rule 16.3.14, no one who appears to be under 25 years old should be featured playing a significant role in marketing communications for gambling services.
Noting that marketing communications must also be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society under CAP Code rule 1.3, the ASA concluded that it was irresponsible to feature someone who was aged under 25 playing a significant role in their marketing. The ASA emphasised that the image of Mason Mount, who was understood to be 24 years old at the time of publication, played a significant role as the central focus of the ad. XLMedia plc did not respond to the ASA’s original enquiries. On this basis, the ASA also ruled that XLMedia plc had breached CAP Code rule 1.7 for not responding promptly.
The ASA informed XLMedia plc that the ad must not appear again in the form complained of and warned that ads must not feature individuals who were under 25 years of age playing a significant role in marketing communications for services that would lead consumers to interact with gambling services.
The ASA took the opportunity to warn that ads must not feature individuals who are under 25 playing a significant role in marketing communications for services that would lead consumers to interact with gambling services. Whilst section 16 of the CAP Code applies to ads for gambling, which freebetsdotcom is not, this ruling serves as a reminder of one of the core principles of the CAP Code: “all marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society and should reflect the spirit, not merely the letter, of the Code”.
Elsewhere, the Government is set to introduce new rules and tougher sanctions to combat illegal online ads, which includes ensuring that publishers and social media sites do more to prevent children from seeing ads for age-restricted products (see our Law Now article here). It’s clear that there’s an increased drive to ensure youth protection across the advertising industry. The ASA is actively monitoring the gambling industry for marketers that fall foul of the rules on age-restricted ads. Gambling advertisers should be vigilant in complying with advertising standards to carefully assess the potential appeal and exposure of promotions to young audiences, before launching an ad related to the gambling sector.
Co-authored by James Leek, trainee solicitor at CMS