Ladbrokes First to Break ASA Marketing Rules

You may or may not know, but since October 1st 2022 it has been against Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) rules for gambling marketing to include high profile individuals who may appeal to minors.

There is no set list of who is and isn’t included in this rule, but understandably professional footballers are among them – especially those in the Premier League and those who play for their country.

Well Ladbrokes are officially the first operator to fall foul of these rules, as just before Christmas, they were instructed to remove a set of tweets on their Twitter account featuring some big name football stars.

The tweets did not contain adverts or promotional offers though, so was it a case where the Ladbrokes team thought they were operating within the rules, or was it a deliberate testing of the boundaries?

What was Wrong with Ladbrokes Tweets?

Ladbrokes twitter

In what the popular bookie explained was simply brand engagement, and not a call to action of any sort, they tweeted a video featuring clips of Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly.

The caption read:

“Can these big summer signings make the question marks over their performances go away?”

The tweet was promoted however, which means Ladbrokes paid for it to be seen by more people.

Importantly though, when promoting a tweet, accounts can set the parameters of who it is promoted to.

They can choose demographics such as age, sex, interests etc.

Ladbrokes adhered to the rules here, saying they “carefully incorporated” the new guidance and even went beyond what was necessary by targeting only those accounts run by users listed as 25 or over.

When challenged by the ASA Laddies explained the above, as well as the fact that their own account is age-gated and can only be viewed by users who are 18 or over – they even provided data from Twitter themselves which showed 0% of the 50,666 impressions (views) the tweets had were from anyone under 20 years old.

Regardless, the ASA upheld their decision and Ladbrokes were reprimanded and forced to remove the tweets. There is no mention of any sort of financial penalty though.

My Opinion

Question Mark Problem Solving ThinkingThe ASA no doubt want to make a strong first impression with these new rules, so maybe there is an element of ‘setting the example’ in this case, but it does seem as though Ladbrokes thought they were within the guidelines here.

It wasn’t an ad, there was no promotion or call to action attached, and the tweet was shielded from anyone under 18 on their feed, and anyone under 25 when it was promoted. They were hardly flaunting the rules.

The grey area could potentially be what counts as marketing vs brand engagement, but if this is the case then the ASA would be better off issuing a very clear blanket ban on any association between gambling brands and sports professionals. This one leg in one leg out approach is very difficult for gambling operators to abide by because they can never be 100% sure where the line is.

One of the arguments against Ladbrokes is that many Twitter users lie about their age when signing up since their is no verification process to use the platform, with the ASA saying:

“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 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,”

This may be the case, but that’s not Ladbroke’s fault, it’s Twitters’ – and Ladbrokes even upped their age parameters to 25 on the promoted tweet to allow for it. And it wasn’t an ad…

Personally, I believe this is extremely heavy handed from the ASA. Nevertheless, I also think that, whatever the rules are, they need to be followed by gambling companies, but those rules have to be clear in the first place or these situations will continue to arise.