ASA gambling ad update reiterates the ‘proceed with caution’ approach

The Wiggin Front Runner is (naturally) ahead of the curve. We have already reported here on how operators should be cautious when advertising gambling during the pandemic and, in particular, how online operators should be protecting children and the vulnerable (here).

Before the Bank Holiday, the ASA released its ‘​​​​​​Gambling advertising and ‘lockdown’ news update, which confirmed that the conduct of the online gambling industry, including the nature and frequency of its advertising, is under particular scrutiny during this period of national emergency and which warned operators to pay ‘even more attention to their responsibilities under the Codes’ during these uncertain times.

The key take-aways from the update are that operators:

  1. must ensure that marketing for gambling products is not irresponsible in its use of content or themes that might exploit vulnerabilities;
  2. should continue to ensure that gambling advertising is not targeted (though content or placement) at the under-18s by making sure that gambling ads do not:
    • appear in media for under-18s;
    • appear in other media where under-18s are likely to comprise more than 25% of the audience; or
    • appear in media where the audience is known to be or is likely to be under-18 (using available data to work this out); and
  1. should be particularly mindful that the context of the present crisis and the effect this will have on people viewing gambling ads, in particular how ads might:
    • trivialize gambling (e.g. encourage repetitive or frequent participation);
    • refer even indirectly to indicators of problem gambling behaviour (e.g. solitary play, playing late at night, pre-occupation with gambling or isolating oneself from others;
    • refer to personal problems (e.g. that gambling can provide an escape); and
    • seek to exploit financial concerns.

The ASA makes clear that it will be taking firm action against gambling advertising that does not meet these standards, taking into account the context of the crisis and how it might affect consumers’ expectations and behaviour. To help with this they have launched a reporting tool for people to quickly notify the ASA of COVID-19 related claims in ads, with consumers being encouraged to report gambling ads that:

  • refer to the COVID-19 crisis or related matters, such as the government’s lockdown policy; and/or
  • include claims or themes that are of particular concern in the current climate (e.g. ads that refer to relieving boredom, repeated play or personal problems like family difficulties).

So, in case you missed our own tales of caution or our summary of Neil McArthur’s update, there you have the ASA’s thinking on gambling advertising during the pandemic. The ASA does not say anything which is new but the update does highlight their zero-tolerance approach to gambling advertising which doesn’t follow the rules or that which, in particular, isn’t prepared with consideration of those rules during the current crisis.

Campaigns which might have been cleared for publication a month or two ago, may now seem in poor taste or worse, may appear to breach the Code rules when reviewed against the backdrop of the current situation. Express reference to COVID-19 or related matters is clearly a breach of the ASA’s guidance but equally any campaigns which are looking to imply references to any such matters are likely to be problematic and should be reviewed VERY carefully. It’s a tough time for everyone and marketing teams, in particular, are faced with difficult challenges – but no operator wants to be one of those which features on the ASA’s Wednesday morning list of upheld complaints to add to their woes.