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ASA slams Sky Bet for tweet featuring Gary Neville

| By Marese O'Hagan
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has slammed an ad from Sky Bet that featured former footballer Gary Neville, concluding that the ad would appeal to those under the age of 18.
ASA Gary Neville

Ads that are ruled to be of direct appeal to under-18s breach the ASA’s CAP Code guidance, specifically rules 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.12. This code provides guidelines for marketing and advertising in the UK.

This is the latest rap by the ASA against ads that appeal to under-18s. These include ads from the likes of Bet365, Ladbrokes and BetVictor.

The tweet was promoted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on 9 February. It featured an embedded video clip from The Overlap football podcast, which showed Neville talking about what team may win the Premier League. The Sky Bet logo appeared occasionally throughout the video.

Text at the end of the ad read “Brought to you by Sky Bet”, followed by the GambleAware logo.

The text in the tweet read: “Is Gary changing his title prediction? Thanks to Man City, It seems @GNev2 is having a change of heart. Part three of The Overlap Fan Debate is out now.” The tweet also featured multiple emojis.

Sky Bet defends tweet

In its response to the ASA, Sky Bet said it believed Neville did not hold a strong appeal to under-18s.

Sky Bet explained that The Overlap podcast features figures from sports, politics and business discussing football and does not feature any content that may appeal to children. It also said 1.2% of The Overlap’s audience is aged between 13 and 17. For the episode featuring Neville it said this figure fell to 0.5%.

Sky Bet also argued that Neville meets CAP guidance’s definition of long-retired, therefore making him unlikely to appeal to under-18s. It said he is now more widely known as a football pundit, a political commentator and a businessman and has a media profile that is consistent with his “mature age”.

The operator noted that Neville had been a brand ambassador for Sky Bet since 2018 and is recognised in connection to their products. In addition, X said it had not received any complaints in relation to the ad.

ASA upholds challenge

However, the ASA chose to uphold its challenge of the tweet. It said that it acknowledged the ad was targeted at over-25s, but since it was published on a platform that has users self-verify their age, under-18s cannot be entirely excluded.

The ASA referred to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code), which states that retired footballers who move into punditry are of “moderate risk” of strong appeal to under-18s.

Upon assessing his social media profiles, the ASA found that Neville has 80,000 followers under the age of 18 on Instagram and 55,000 under-18 followers on X. This comes to 135,000 followers in total. Figures for followers under the age of 18 on TikTok and Facebook were not available.

“Although they made up a small proportion of his total Instagram and Twitter/X followers, we considered that over 135,000 followers aged under 18 was a significant number in absolute terms,” concluded the ASA. “We therefore considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers that were under 18, he was of inherent strong appeal to under-18s.”

For that reason, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code.”

Role of social media in the investigation

Felix Faulkner, solicitor at Poppleston Allen said the ASA’s conclusion was unexpected – but acknowledged that Neville’s social media presence had played a significant role.

“The ruling that Neville’s use in a Sky Bet tweet was irresponsible and not in line with the relevant CAP code is perhaps a little surprising as the ASA has taken a more lenient stance on the use of other long-retired footballers in gambling advertising,” he said. “However, it appears to have been his social media presence that tipped the scales in this investigation.”

Faulkner added that how the investigation came about was also significant. The ASA said the ad was identified by its Active Ad Monitoring system, which utilises AI to look for ads that may break rules.

“As was the case with three other gambling-related rulings from the ASA in August – concerning Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes – the regulator said the ad in question was ‘identified for investigation following intelligence gathered by our Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules’,” he continued.

“This suggests there will be no letup in the ASA’s tough approach to ensuring gambling operators are compliant with the rules that came into place restricting the use of celebrities in gambling advertising late last year.”

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