The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has found five companies in breach of a recent advertisement ban.
Since April 1 this year, gambling ads that target underage audience aren’t allowed in the UK. These five companies must have missed this brief (published in February) because they were found doing just that.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) added several new stipulations to casino advertising practices. They are:
- No gambling adds are allowed in websites or games where children are likely to browse or play
- Gambling ads can’t have specific references to youth culture or include characters that appeal to children
- Gambling ads can’t feature celebrities or people that look younger than 25 years’ old
You can find out more about these changes in an official CAP update.
For those of you who missed the latest news, the five companies deemed guilty are:
- NetEnt (for their Vikings slot ads)
- SkillOnNet (for their PlayOJO brand ads)
So far, the companies have been warned about the ads that target kids and teenagers online. However, no real action has been taken against the offenders.
Perhaps no action could be taken because the testing (or at least most of it) was conducted in March. Meanwhile, the changes only took effect in April.
Nevertheless, the watchdog has sent a clear message to the gambling businesses. They must put a stop to their promotions that target teens or suffer consequences.
ASA Simulated Children Avatars
How did ASA find out which companies ignored this social issue?
The method that the agency used to discover this was so-called children avatars. Essentially, they created online user avatars simulating a kid’s or teenager’s behaviour.
Then, using this automatic system, they scanned various UK websites with free-access (where no logins are required). They specifically targeted sites where children are likely to browse and analysed all the ads presented by the websites.
In total, the avatars received over 10,000 ads. Among them, 11 sites and 23 different ads breached the new regulations 151 times.
🕵️ To further investigate what really happened here, let’s take a look at the ads these culprits have. Are they actually appealing to children?
Case Study: The Ads
From here, you can jump to any of the five examples that attracted ASA’s attention.
⚠️ Note that the officials didn’t publish particular details of the ads they have found in their research. However, we’ll still explore their marketing campaigns to see if they’ve any appeal to children in particular.
1. NetEnt and Vikings Slot
The 2018-released Vikings slot by NetEnt is based on the TV show of the same name. As such, it also includes ads that emphasise this and includes popular characters from the show.
This is exactly what the CAP rules we stated above forbid to do now. The only question is this: is Vikings a show that children would find interesting?
According to Common Sense Media, it most certainly is.
Besides, 80% (122 in 151) of ad appearances during the testing was of the Vikings slot alone. (Including 10 different ads, nonetheless.) Thus, it’s the one brand that deserves the most attention. The rest are just minor transgressors in comparison.
2. Unibet Brand
Unibet could have caught ASA’s attention for numerous reasons. While it’s most popular as a sports betting platform, their online sportsbook isn’t particularly kid-oriented. However, by depicting popular sportsmen and women, they could’ve overestimated their luck.
Furthermore, their casino and slot marketing could be the reason why we’re talking about them today too. Many of the slot software include animated characters and cartoonish styles.
Like many casinos, Unibet is no stranger to including such characters in their communications.
3. PlayOJO Brand
We weren’t surprised to find PlayOJO on the list. It has a unique style that pervades their whole brand presence and looks. They have a purple website, use commercials with ridiculous meme-like elements including talking alpacas, rap music and more.
How could an internet-savvy teenager below 18 not like that?
4. Multilotto Brand
Multilotto has no clear signs of advertising to the youth. Their commercials do include young people but they’re certainly old enough to gamble legally. It could be argued whether they’re ‘looking younger than 25’, though.
Aside from this, colourful banners are not unusual for this brand. If an ad like this appeared on a website dedicated to kids, it could easily become an offence.
5. RedBet Brand
The case of RedBet is similar to that of Unibet. It’s both a casino and a bookie and is susceptible to the same kind of marketing mistakes.
The only difference is that it has a darker and more ‘serious’ style. Of course, this doesn’t mean that users under 18 can’t be attracted by it.
Which brings us to our main concern…
Conclusion: What’s Childish and What’s Not?
From YouTube personas to celebrities and other icons of pop culture, children enjoy content that adults would too. This is especially true when teens of 16 or older come to mind.
So, how can ASA and CAP determine what really appeals to children and what doesn’t? The terms that these documents use aren’t thoroughly explained. Thus, they’re leaving it all open to interpretation.
For this precise reason, the officials, businesses and society have difficulty in finding common ground.
This applies to both the content of a marketing campaign and the sites which that campaign targets. A teenager can have many hobbies which aren’t usually thought of as ‘childish’.
Is ASA Doing the Right Thing?
So, we’re inclined to think that the job here isn’t done. True, the amount of real money gambling ads children receive today is lower than a few years ago.
Yet, there are still problems with the system that will have to be addressed in the future. Or else, we may see further limits on this type of advertising in all the segments of society.
According to Duncan Patman, Fable Media Brand Manager and Compliance Expert:
Certain ads can have an enormous appeal to under-18s, so ASA’s actions are most welcome. But, simultaneously, they aren’t always black-and-white issues, so gambling companies are willing to take risks.
Luckily, the rates of youngster gamblers in the UK are dwindling. Yet to ensure that this downward trajectory continues, further steps will be required.
Thus, stay tuned to our blog for future updates regarding vulnerable gambling behaviour and regulations.