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Self-reporting age is not enough to protect underage viewers from gambling ads: ASA bans Gala Spins ad

Published on 15 January 2021

When advertising an age-restricted product, what steps should advertisers take to ensure that they minimise exposure to underage viewers?

The key takeaway

It is not enough to rely on self-reported age as a means of targeting ads for age restricted products. Advertisers should make use of the wide range of tools available to them via online platforms to ensure that underage users are not able to view age restricted product ads. Beware also of the risks of shared devices and the consequences of liking, sharing and retweeting.

The ad

Gala Spins, an online slots website, produced a paid-for Facebook post shown in August 2020 for a game called “Fluffy Favourites” which included text that read “IT’S A ROLLERCOASTER OF CUTENESS!” and featured a video involving five stuffed-toy animals. 

The complaint and the response

The ASA received a complaint that the gambling post was designed to be of particular appeal to children and was therefore inappropriate. Gala Spins responded highlighting that the ad had been posted via their Facebook page which was age-gated to under-18s. They claimed that this would therefore prevent the post from being viewed by underage users. Gala Spins did concede that they had posted the video featuring stuffed animals “in error” and that the video was out of date. The video had been designed as part of a multi-channel campaign targeting females in the UK aged between 18 and 65 with an interest in gambling and online gaming. Gala Spins provided analytics of the campaign which they claimed showed that the posts’ viewers were over 18 and were all female. The ad was also taken down from all channels. 

The decision

The ASA upheld the ruling that the ad breached CAP Code rules 16.1 and 16.3.12 (Gambling). It considered the steps taken by Gala Spins with regards to age-gating the audience for the post by targeting it only at those between 18 and 65 years of age. Importantly, however, the ASA noted that the targeting of the ad was based on an audience which had self-reported their age as over 18, and there were no other measures in place to check the age appropriateness of the audience. Any under-18s who falsely recorded their age as being over 18 could be exposed to the ad, and the ASA therefore considered whether the ad complied with the Code’s requirement that  gambling ads must not be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. The ASA found that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code as a result of its use of cartoon-like imagery, the chosen name “Fluffy Favourites”, and the caption text used, strengthening its appeal to under-18s.

Why is this important?

The ASA has recently published its findings from the second of its online monitoring sweeps, designed to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s media. Following on from the first report in a year-long project, the ASA carried out another “CCTV-style watch” in order to identify and tackle inappropriately placed online ads in relation to “gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and tobacco, slimming and weight control products and food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products)”. Encouragingly, following this second sweep, the ASA found that the overall number of breaching ads has fallen since the last review; in relation to gambling ads, the ASA noted that while it identified seventy breaching ads as part of its first review, it found only five in the second.

Ads for gambling, alongside alcohol and e-cigarettes, carry an 18+ age restriction under the UK’s advertising codes. As a reminder, the ASA states that where ads for age-restricted products cannot be individually targeted, they must not be placed in mediums where more than 25% of the audience is under 18 or under 16, as appropriate. Branded and business accounts are more likely to be able to individually target their audience by making use of the full suite of tools and data available to them via platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s worth noting that the ASA is alive to the problem of households using shared devices. This means that the ASA may consider the age profile of online viewers to be a less relevant consideration as it will be linked to the ultimate Google account holder – in households with shared devices, under-18s can view content via a parent’s log in and the given age may therefore not be indicative of the audience age. Problems can also arise when the mechanics of an ad include liking, sharing and retweeting – an advertiser can effectively lose control of their targeting by encouraging their viewers to like and share. Even if an advertiser can rely on more than 90% of people visiting page being over 18, as soon as those followers start reposting, this then delivers that material to their following, some of whom may be under 18. 

Any practical tips?

The ASA Copy Advice Team strongly advise against the use of mechanics that involve ads being redistributed by members of the public. Advertisers should be conscious that the ASA will expect them to not simply rely on self-reported age data, which is heavily dependent on user honesty, but to make use of the wider platform tools available – for example, actively deselecting any users whose interest profile coincides with a particular age profile and actively select those whose profile aligns with adult interests.