ASA Ruling on LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes Upheld
UNITED KINGDOM, London (August 9, 2023) — The Advertising Standards Authority Ltd. (ASA).
This Ruling forms part of a wider piece of work banning gambling ads which, under strengthened rules, are prohibited from being likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s. The ads were identified for investigation following intelligence gathered by our Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules.
Four promoted tweets for Ladbrokes, seen in January and February 2023:
a. The first tweet stated, “Which four players will qualify for the Australian Open 2023 Men’s Singles semi-finals? [thinking emoji]. Name the players you expect to make the cut. [tennis ball emoji] #AusOpen #AO2023”. The tweet was accompanied by an image of four tennis players and a list of four matches. The name and a picture of Novak Djokovic was included in that image. Text on the image stated “AUS OPEN 2023 – MEN’S QUARTERS”.
b. The second tweet stated, “Who will win the first Men’s Grand Slam of 2023 [trophy emoji]. Vote now [pointing down emoji]. #AusOpen #AO2023”. The tweet was accompanied by images of four players, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, and featured a poll where Twitter users could vote for the player they thought would win the tournament.
c. The third tweet stated, “[star emoji] History Maker [star emoji]. Novak Djokovic’s 27th consecutive win at the #AusOpen is the longest men’s singles winning streak in the Open Era. The legendary Serb has not lost a game in Melbourne since 2018. Are you backing him for a fourth-straight #AO2023 title? [trophy emoji]”. The tweet was accompanied by an image of Novak Djokovic, with text stating, “UNBEATEN AT MELBOURNE PARK SINCE 2018. 27 CONSECUTIVE AUSTRALIAN OPEN WINS”.
d. The fourth tweet stated, “Novak Djokovic is the @AustralianOpen 2023 men’s champion! The legendary Serb downed Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6, 7-6, in an incredible Melbourne final. This is Novak’s – frankly outrageous – 10th Aussie Open title! [praising emoji]”. The tweet was accompanied by an image of Novak Djokovic, with text stating “DJOKOVIC’S 10TH AUSTRALIAN OPEN TITLE. AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023 MEN’S CHAMPION!”.
The ASA challenged whether the ads included an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18 years of age, and therefore breached the Code.
LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes said that the four tweets were intended to be editorial content designed to engage with their audience. Two of the tweets celebrated Novak Djokovic’s impressive run of form while the other two tweets were polls which asked users to vote on tennis-related questions during the Australian Open. Ladbrokes acknowledged that the tweets referenced and included imagery of prominent players, but stated that they reviewed each player’s media profile, follower demographic, and sponsorship partnerships to assess whether the players would be likely to strongly appeal to under 18s.
They provided data on the number of followers each player had on Facebook and Instagram broken down by age groups, which showed that hardly any of their followers, especially on Twitter, were below the age of 21. They believed that the data indicated that all four players appealed to an older audience rather than under 18s. They also stated that each player had partnerships with brands which they believed appealed to adults. For example, they said Djokovic had partnerships with brands including Peugeot, Hublot and ANZ Banking.
They said they understood that Twitter users self-verified their age, and because that was not always accurate, they had added an additional level of assurance by targeting the ads on social media to only reach over-25s. The data showed that the impressions for all four ads varied between 24,653 and 35,050, with only one impression in the 18-24 age bracket. They believed that was an anomaly and requested clarification from Twitter in relation to it.
From 1 October 2022, the CAP Code stated that marketing communications for gambling products must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They must not include a person or character whose example was likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who had strong appeal to those aged under 18.
The ASA noted that prominent sportspeople including tennis players at the highest level and who had a significant national profile were considered high risk within the CAP guidance “Gambling and lotteries: Protecting under 18s” in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
The ads featured Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas who were tennis players who had all appeared in a Grand Slam final in the previous year. Djokovic and Nadal had each recently been ranked as the world’s number one player and had the joint record for the most Grand Slam titles won. They were both considered two of the best and most successful players in the world for well over a decade. Kyrgios had reached the final of Wimbledon in 2022 and Tsitsipas reached the final of the Australian Open in 2023. Both of those recent tournaments had a large amount of media coverage in the UK and were high-profile events which we considered would have been of interest to those under 18.
For those reasons, we considered that all four were ‘star’ players who had a high profile in tennis and would be considered high risk according to the CAP guidance, and therefore were likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18.
We acknowledged that the data provided by Ladbrokes showed that the vast majority of the followers each player had on social media were over 18 and that their commercial partnerships were with adult focused brands. However, that did not override our assessment that the players featured in the ads were likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s based on the factors above. We considered that it would have been acceptable for the ads to appear in a medium where those under 18, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience. That would apply in circumstances where those who saw the ads had been robustly age-verified as being 18 or older, such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking. We did not consider that marketing data inferred from user behaviour met that threshold. We acknowledged that the ads were targeted at the over 25s, but because Twitter was a media environment where users self-verified on customer sign-up, and did not use robust age-verification, we considered that Ladbrokes had not excluded the under 18s from the audience with the highest level of accuracy required for ads, the content of which was likely to appeal strongly to this age group.
For those reasons, we concluded the ads were irresponsible and breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.12 (Gambling).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes not to include people or characters who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their advertising.
SOURCE: The Advertising Standards Authority Ltd. (ASA).Tags: Ladbrokes, ASA, LC International Ltd, gambling ads