ASA webinar on gambling ads: Treading the fine line between right and wrong

By Peter Lynch

Experts from the Advertising Standards Authority give insight into how operators can stay on the right side of the rules when it comes to gambling ads.

In its latest training webinar, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has outlined how operators within the gambling industry can remain compliant with advertising rules.

Topics discussed by experts from the UK’s independent advertising regulator included targeting and scheduling, financial issues, the scope of the rules, and protecting children, among other topics.

When it comes to key principles for gambling ads, “the main thing is to ensure that gambling ads are socially responsible,” an ASA expert said. “That's the key principle of the gambling rules. Because gambling is a legally age-restricted product, it is going to be inherently higher risk than most other consumer goods, so there is going to be a higher bar for responsible marketing for that purpose, with the main issue being about children, young persons and/or vulnerable persons, to stop them from being harmed or exploited.

“So the individual rules will all contribute to that main principle of ensuring that the ads are socially responsible.”

Importantly, the rules apply to ads for gambling products that are licensed by the Gambling Commission, while there is a separate code section for Lotteries. The Lotteries section is similar, explains the ASA expert, but there are some minor differences to some of the rules.

The expert notes another important issue concerning the rules, saying: “What we look at - and what the code covers - is just the ads; the licensing and the mechanics of any products are regulated by the Gambling Commission.”

Delving further into the rules and there are several different issues regarding content, all of which are significant in their own right. These content rules look at various issues, such as responsible play, solutions to financial problems, cultural beliefs around luck, and the appeal to children and those under the age of 25.

“The majority of the rules that are in the codes in the gambling section deal with the content of an ad; they will prohibit marketers from using certain imagery which is likely to condone harmful interactions or relationships with gambling,” the expert continued.

“Many of these prohibitions are likely to link gambling to things like changing human behaviour, such as self-esteem, sexual success, or juvenile behaviour, and also covers gambling in unsuitable places, such as the workplace.”

As you can imagine, anything to do with children when it comes to advertising around gambling is quite a tightly regulated part of what we look at. Gambling is of course an age-restricted activity with an especially high risk to the young

Unsurprisingly, there are very strict rules on the content of ads that may concern children and ads that may appeal to children, and that includes banning images of under 25s in gambling ads, but also banning anyone who may appear to be under 25.

“As you can imagine, anything to do with children when it comes to advertising around gambling is quite a tightly regulated part of what we look at,” said another ASA expert. “Gambling is of course an age-restricted activity with an especially high risk to the young.

“There are strict rules governing gambling appeal to under 18s; ads must not be likely to appeal particularly to children under the age of 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They shouldn't feature or portray real or fictitious characters who are likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 in a way that might encourage the young to gamble.

“What a particular appeal means here is content that will appeal to under 18s more than it would to adults, rather than something that appeals to both groups equally. So some content, like comic book imagery for example, might tread a fine line. Marvel characters are a specific example here, because they might have quite a lot of appeal to people under the age of 18, but they are also going to have quite a broad appeal too.”

Following consultation in response to findings in recent GambleAware research on the impact of marketing and advertising, revised guidance will come into effect in November 2021, including newly strengthened guidance on the protection of adult audiences, and technical updates to the introductory parts of the UK Advertising Codes’ gambling sections. The ASA could not provide any further details on which changes will come into effect.

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