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Ladbrokes first to fall foul of ban on Premier League players in gambling ads

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Entain brand Ladbrokes has become the first operator to fall victim to the UK Advertising Standards Authority’s new rules about ads with “strong appeal” to children, as the body banned an ad featuring a number of Premier League footballers.
Entain Q1

In October, Ladbrokes posted a promoted tweet including the text, “Can these big summer signings make the question marks over their performances go away?” and a video reel of Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly.

However, the ASA challenged whether the ad broke its recently introduced rules about gambling marketing messages with “strong appeal” to children. 

Gambling ads with “strong appeal” to children

Previously, the standard for gambling advertisements was whether they had “particular appeal” to children. Under this standard, what mattered was whether an ad’s appeal to children was disproportionate compared to its appeal to adults.

However, earlier this year, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the ASA brought in a new code, in which gambling ads may not have “strong appeal” to children.

Under this standard, ads that would appeal to a large number of children would be banned, regardless of their appeal to adults.

Because of other existing rules around gambling ads, the new rules mostly affected how celebrities may appear in marketing messages. Guidance for the new standard notes that Premier League footballers were generally not permitted to feature in gambling ads, though there are exceptions if the audience could be limited to those over 18.

Ladbrokes response

Ladbrokes said it had “carefully incorporated” the new guidance. As top-flight footballers were “considered to carry a high risk of having strong appeal to children”, it “made use of all available targeting and age-gating tools” to ensure the ad could only be viewed by those aged 18 or older.

In particular, it noted that the Ladbrokes Twitter feed was only accessible to users who had entered their age as 18 or older.

In addition, it said that – because there was no independent age verification on Twitter – it also only targeted the ad to users aged 25 or older.

Data from Twitter showed that the ad received 50,666 impressions, with 0% of their targeted audience being recorded as under 20 years old.

ASA decision

However, the ASA upheld the complaint.

It noted that Premier League footballers may be permitted on an ad that was more effectively age-gated, but it said that Twitter’s age verification process was not strong enough for the Ladbroke ad to be allowed.

“We considered that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience,” the ASA said. “That would apply in circumstances where those who saw the ad 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. 

“We did not consider that marketing data inferred from user behaviour met that threshold.”

It said that it did not believe Twitter met the thresholds for reliable age-verification, as users verify their own ages.

“Because Twitter was a media environment where users self-verified on customer sign-up, and did not use robust age-verification, we considered that Ladbrokes had not excluded under-18s from the audience with the highest level of accuracy required for ads the content of which was likely to appeal strongly to under-18s,” it said.

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