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ASA ruling on Casumo

Published on 21 January 2020

Can a gambling ad be seen to be targeting vulnerable consumers if it appears in a Google search result for those trying to “unsubscribe” from gambling ads?

The key takeaway

For advertisers and gambling operators, you must ensure that the term “unsubscribe” and any other similar terms and combinations in respect of gambling should be on your exclusion list for targeted advertising. This will prevent ads from appearing when certain terms or search combinations are typed into a search bar and will aid in the protection of any vulnerable persons. 

The ad

In May 2019, following a search for “how to unsubscribe from all gambling”, a Google sponsored search result for Casumo Services Limited (Casumo) was shown which read “Welcome Bonus to New Players Casumo 100% and 20 Free Spins” and stated “Create an Account & Play now!”.

The complaint

The complainant challenged whether the ad was irresponsibly targeted.

The response

Casumo stated that its ads were served to people who searched for “gambling” or similar terms. However, Casumo had created a list of excluded terms or combinations to prevent their ads from appearing when certain terms or search combinations were typed in the search bar. 

In this case, the particular combination had not been foreseen because Casumo claimed it did not consider the word “unsubscribe” would be used by customers looking to self-exclude. Instead, Casumo said that the word “unsubscribe” would be more likely to relate to a customer looking to stop receiving marketing emails or to cancel a subscription, rather than to self-exclude.

Upon being notified of the complaint, Casumo made the search term inactive and also reviewed their wider list of excluded search terms, to ensure it would exclude ads being served to vulnerable consumers. Casumo also provided a list of those terms to the ASA and confirmed the block applied to all their campaigns. They stated that their exclusion list was continuously reviewed and changed based on trends and advice from their Compliance team and their Responsible Gambling Strategist. 

Based on this, Casumo believed they had ongoing steps and processes in place to protect vulnerable individuals and high risk players, which would ensure their Google ad targeting was socially responsible. However, given their view of the standard meaning of “unsubscribe” (namely being removal from a mailing list) they did not consider they had targeted the ad in an irresponsible manner.

The decision

The ASA held that consumers who searched “how to unsubscribe from all gambling” were likely to be seeking further information about the tools needed to opt out from receiving gambling ads, or about the tools needed to self-exclude from and/or block gambling websites, with a view to potentially making use of those tools. Such consumers would be likely to include vulnerable persons looking to restrict their exposure to gambling outlets and ads for gambling.

The ASA noted that rule 16.1 of the CAP Code requires that marketing communications for gambling should have particular regard to the need to protect vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited. Although Casumo had immediately taken action to address where their ads were served, the ASA considered that there was a strong possibility that vulnerable customers who might have been trying to block their exposure to gambling sites might have been served the ad. 

The ASA therefore ruled that the ad breached CAP Code Rule 16.1 and had not been targeted responsibly.  

Why is this important?

The ruling is an important reminder for advertisers on how search and excluded terms and combinations must be carefully used in targeted advertising – especially when a regulated product is being promoted (for example, alcohol) and when the targeted audience may be vulnerable (for example, children).

Any practical tips?

For gambling operators, ensure that the term “unsubscribe” and any other similar terms and combinations in respect of gambling is on your exclusion list for targeted advertising. Additionally, for all advertisers, like Casumo, you should continue to monitor and review your terms in line with social trends.