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In-app ads for Tombola Arcade

Published on 08 April 2019

Were ads in the “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” app (the app) for a tombola arcade inappropriately targeted at under-18s?

The background

The CAP Code states at Rule 16.1 that “marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited”.  Rule 16.3.13 states that marketing communications must not "be directed at those aged below 18 years … through the selection of media or context in which they appear”.  Gambling ads must therefore not deliberately appeal to under-18s more than over-18s.

The complaints

The app displayed ads, including an ad for Tombola (International) plc t/a tombola arcade (Tombola).  One ad was headed “PLAY OUR SLOT GAMES”, another said “Play our scratch card games” and a third ad alerted users to "A CHANCE TO WIN A SHARE OF £250,000 FOR FREE CLICK HERE”.  The ads included the following: “tombola arcade proudly sponsors I’m A Celebrity” and “begambleaware.org Terms apply. 18+”.  By clicking on the ad, the user was taken to the Tombola's website.

The issue was whether the ads were targeted appropriately.  Notably, the challenge to the ad came from the ASA themselves (as opposed to a concerned individual or group).

The response

Tombola said that they had reviewed the viewer demographic of the TV show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” before they were confirmed as a sponsor.  They had found that the 2017 audience comprised over 90% adults who were 18 and over.  Tombola pointed out that they had included “18+” and “begambleaware.org” and used an adult tone in their text; all indicating that Tombola was for adults.  The ads also brought the user to a website which again indicated that it was for over-18 users and prevented under-18s from registering to play.

ITV Broadcasting Ltd (ITV), publishers of the app, supported this argument, pointing out that the TV show itself was not targeted at under-18s.  ITV argued that the purpose of the app was to allow viewers of the programme to interact and engage with the TV show, as the app allowed users to vote, watch trailers and read articles about the show.

The decision

The complaint was upheld.

The ASA made it clear that the CAP Code required marketers to take reasonable steps to minimise exposure of their ads to under-18s.  The app itself hosted a range of content relating to the TV show.  The ASA considered that the app would only be of interest to those already engaged with the TV show, established to be largely adults.  While there was no age profile of the users who downloaded the app, there was no evidence to show that it was predominantly children using it.  However, some under-18s would have downloaded the app.  Given that fact, the app needed a mechanism to restrict under-18s from viewing the ad, which it did not have. Tombola had therefore not taken sufficient care to select an appropriate media for their ads in order to minimise children's exposure.  The ads were therefore in breach of the CAP Code.

Why is this important?

This significant ASA ruling suggests that apps may only host gambling ads if either the app can only be downloaded by over-18s or targeting mechanisms are in place to prevent under-18s from viewing the ad.  This ruling was upheld despite the ASA accepting that the app and the associated TV show were not directed at or appealing to children.

Any practical tips?

In Tom Watson's (Labour's deputy leader) words: “Gambling ads should not be on apps that will clearly be used by kids: It’s simple”.  His comment reflects the growing concern over the apparent rise in the number of children who are problem gamblers.  The message seems clear.  If an app is likely to be used by under-18s, unless it’s got mechanisms built-in to target ads towards over-18s (or direct them away from under-18s), it is now highly risky to use these types of apps for gambling advertising.