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ASA upholds ban on BetVictor ad featuring football stars with “strong appeal” to under 18s

Published on 07 July 2023

What are the rules on including sports stars with strong appeal to under 18-year-olds in gaming and lottery ads?

The question

What are the rules on including sports stars with strong appeal to under 18-year-olds in gaming and lottery ads?

The key takeaway

Businesses must ensure that all gambling or lottery ads do not have a “strong appeal” to those under 18 years old before they are published. The ASA can be seen to be taking both a wide and strict approach to the interpretation of the words ‘strong appeal’, so great care must be taken whenever the marketing team seeks to include sports stars in advertising.

The background

In a paid-for Facebook ad, BetVictor, next to an image of its logo, featured an image of two FC Barcelona players, Jodie Alba and Sergio Busquets, with the caption “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?” As both are active players for a prominent team, the ASA challenged whether the ad included individuals who were likely to have a strong appeal to under-18s and therefore breached the UK Code of Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the CAP Code).

In response, BetVictor challenged the decision, claiming that even though the players played for FC Barcelona, they were not that popular or well known in the UK. Their objection included comparisons against other well-known stars such as Ronaldo, Messi and Mbappe whose UK searches far exceeded those of Alba and Busquets. Additionally, BetVictor confirmed that neither Alba, nor Busquets held goal-scoring or attacking positions, or have recently hit news headlines.

The arguments were rejected by the ASA and both players were considered to be “stars” and therefore were likely to be of “strong appeal” to under 18s. The ASA further commented that “because Facebook is a media environment where users self-verified on customer sign-up and did not use robust age-verification, [it] considered that Bet Victor had not excluded under-18s from the audience with the highest level of accuracy required for ads the content of which was likely to appeal strongly to under-18s”

The development

In October 2022, CAP and BCAP accepted recommendations to amend the rules in respect of the content of gambling and lottery advertisements. These rules state that any marketing communications related to gambling or lottery products must not be likely to appeal to children or young adults. An update was published by CAP entitled “Don’t gamble on what appeals to kids”, which drew attention to this issue. 

Examples of how content can have a “strong” appeal to minors include the following: 

  • activities that are very popular or common amongst younger people
  • characters or real people who are under 25 or dress/behave in a young manner (to avoid 18s identifying with them), and
  • the use of music, graphics or animation which is closely connected to youth culture.

There is an exception to the rules where the underlying activity itself has a strong appeal to minors, such as football or video games. In this case, gambling products can still be advertised but only if “appropriate steps” have been taken to limit the ad’s strong appeal to under 18s. For lotteries advertising, no person or character with a strong appeal to under 18s can be used unless that person is directly associated with the lottery for a good cause (eg an athlete who has received lottery funding). A number of other conditions must also be met.

While the term ‘strong appeal’ is subjective, this case demonstrates the ASA’s strict approach to its interpretation. This case was the first time that the ASA has had to rule on players who play for teams outside of the UK, demonstrating a wider and stricter scope of interpretation. 

Why is this important?

Advertisers involved in producing these types of ads must be highly tuned in to these rules. This involves reviewing available data and investigating the target audience of those they have sponsorship deals with, in order to ensure that their ads are responsibly targeted.

Any practical tips?

Gaming and betting businesses need to pay particular attention to this decision. Using football and other sports stars in ads is a common and obvious marketing tactic. Of course, the rules don’t just apply to sports stars. Using anyone (including famous influencers) who may have a strong appeal to under-18s will be caught. It’s well worth reviewing previous ASA rulings and, if you proceed, collating sufficient evidence to help demonstrate to the ASA that an ad does not have a “strong appeal” to minors. If you are unable to reach a firm conclusion on this point, it is best to play it safe and not publish – at least not without first seeking legal advice.

Summer 2023