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Gambling acts of "particular appeal" to children

Published on 24 September 2018

How easy is it for gambling websites to stray into creating content which is of "particular appeal" to children and therefore banned under the CAP Code?

The background

The CAP Code states at Rule 16.1 that "marketing communications must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children…".  Additionally, Rule 16.3.12 states that marketing communications for gambling must not "be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture."  Gambling ads therefore must not appeal more strongly to under-18s than they do to over 18's.

The complaints

ProgressPlay Ltd t/a m88.com is a gambling website which in January 2018 promoted three different games: Fairytale Legends Red Riding Hood (which showed an animated image of a wolf and a pixie); Fairytale Legends Hansel and Gretel (which showed an animated image of a forest); and Fairies Forest (which showed an animated image of a fairy in a forest).

In a separate complaint, two online gambling websites run by TGP Europe (www.fun88.co.uk and www.letou.co.uk) were seen in January 2018 promoting eight games that featured animated content that included animated images of "fairy-tale" type characters as well as various animated images of Santa clause and other Christmas/winter characters.  Five of the ads featured on www.fun88.co.uk and three of the ads featured on www.letou.co.uk.

The complainants challenged whether or not the use of the animated characters meant that these ads were likely to be of particular appeal to children, and therefore in breach of the CAP Code.

The response

m88.com explained that their games, and their graphics, were thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that there was nothing within them that was likely to be of particular appeal to children.  Any images that were considered problematic were altered or removed altogether.  If m88.com could not remove graphics in certain games, they would not launch the game on their website. 

In respect of the ads, m88.com was of the view that, of the three ads, none contained any content that was likely to be of particular appeal to children and therefore the removal of the images was not necessary.

In their complaint, TGP Europe stated that they had removed the advertised games before details of the complaint were received.  However, TGP Europe went on to state that assessing whether or not a gambling ad had particular appeal to children was highly subjective, and disagreed that anything to do with Santa Claus was automatically of greater appeal to children than to adults.  Additionally, TGP argued that the themes of castles and dragons were currently very popular due to a famous TV program aimed at adults.

The decision

Throughout their assessment the ASA judged each advert using the test of whether or not each advert is likely to appeal more strongly to under 18's than over 18's.

In their assessments across both complaints, the ASA placed a lot of emphasis on (i) the subject matter (eg Little Red Riding Hood) being highly popular amongst children and (ii) the design and graphics of the characters shown.  It was noted prominently throughout both assessments that the animated characters were highly stylised, with exaggerated facial features and large eyes, some of which resembled similar characters from films/TV programmes aimed at under 18s, particularly children.  The ASA concluded that such ads were indeed likely to be of particular appeal to children. 

The ASA did find that two of the ads of TGP Europe did not feature animated images that were likely to be of appeal to under-18's and therefore concluded that these did not breach the CAP code.  One of these adverts for 'Secret Santa Online Slot' featured a generic Christmas environment that did not associate Santa Claus with today's youth culture.  Additionally, the ASA considered that the concept of a secret Santa was much more associated with adults than to under 18's.  Furthermore, the second advert for 'Santa's Wild Ride' featured a standard image using a mild colour scheme that did not feature any graphics that would be of particular interest in today's youth culture.  Due to this, the ASA considered that this ad was unlikely to appeal more strongly to under 18's than to over 18's.

Why is this important?

The rulings reinforce how the ASA will assess ads that could potentially be of interest to children and the elements it will focus on when making its decisions.  This approach builds on precedents set in rulings such as Bear Group Ltd, 27 May 2015 and Ever Adventure IOM Ltd, 30 September 2015, which featured colourful and exaggerated cartoon-style graphics.

Additionally these rulings show advertisers that more care needs to be taken when it comes to the content of advertising materials.  As well as the content, the names of the games that are being advertised can also be a source of contention with the ASA.

Any practical tips?

Don't appeal to kids when creating gambling content!  Whether it's the design of cartoon graphics which appeal to children, or the use of stories and themes (eg fairies), it's critical to approach these with care.  Anything which strays into the popular-with-children category is likely to eventually land you with an upheld ASA adjudication – and potentially wasted game development costs if the infringing elements are embedded in the game itself.  

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