Ladbrokes has been censured by the ad watchdog for the third time in as many weeks for running ads likely to appeal to under-18s, following intelligence gathered by the regulator’s Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to search for online ads that might break the rules.
The Advertising Standards Authority, which set up its in-house data science unit in 2020, launched an investigation after unearthing four promoted tweets for Ladbrokes, seen in January and February 2023, which flagged up bets on the Australian Open.
All four tweets featured images of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, while images of Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios were also included in at least two ads.
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.
In response Ladbrokes claimed that the four tweets were intended to be editorial content designed to engage with its 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 (including Djokovic’s deal with Peugeot pictured) to assess whether the players would be likely to strongly appeal to under 18s.
The firm 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. It believed that the data indicated that all four players appealed to an older audience rather than under 18s.
It said they understood that Twitter users self-verified their age, and because that was not always accurate, it 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. However, Ladbrokes believed that was an anomaly and requested clarification from Twitter in relation to it.
However, the ASA was having none of it, pointing out that prominent sportspeople – including tennis players at the highest level – who had a significant national profile were considered high risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
All four sportsmen featured in the ads were ‘star’ players who had competed in high-profile events which the regulator considered would have been of interest to this cohort.
The watchdog also dismissed Ladbrokes social media evidence that the vast majority of the followers each player had on were over 18 and that their commercial partnerships were with adult focused brands.
The ASA stated: “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.”
For those reasons, the ASA concluded the ads were irresponsible and breached the Code and warned Ladbrokes yet again not to include people or characters who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their advertising.
However, this is now the third time since last month that the betting giant has been caught with its trousers down over breaches of the rules on targeting underage gamblers.
In early July it was hauled up for a promotional tweet using an image of popular YouTuber Jake Paul; a week later tweets featuring football managers were also banned.
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