Last year, we published an update to clarify, in general terms, the ASA’s remit on marketing communications appearing on cross-border websites, apps and platforms (e.g. social media and retail platforms). It was well received, but it is recognized that the global and rapidly changing nature of the Internet raises detailed questions about attributions that the update cannot fully answer.
For example, research has raised questions about the extent to which the ASA’s mandate covers communications from gambling providers in social media content marketing: a type of marketing that involves creating and sharing online material (such as videos, blogs and media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.
The ASA and the Gambling Commission agree that any social media content posted by licensed gambling operators must adhere to the standards and protections set out in the UK Code of Non-Distributed Advertising and Direct Marketing and promotion (the CAP Code). These ensure that under-18s and other vulnerable groups are protected from potential harm associated with gambling marketing.
Marketing and editorial on social networks
Social media includes a diverse range of content as marketers attempt to inform, entertain and ultimately promote their products and broader brand identity. Sports betting operators are arguably at the forefront with popular social media accounts on platforms like Twitter trying to generate meaningful engagement with their followers.
The ASA regulates commercial communications in merchants’ own online spaces that may have the effect of “selling something”; content that could reasonably be considered “advertising”. For obvious reasons, it cannot regulate everything in the online space. One of the main exclusions – inspired in large part by the need to protect freedom of expression – concerns editorial content.
Gambling social media accounts sometimes include editorial-style content, such as commentary or opinions on recent events, or more abstract humor, such as “memes” and other take. irreverent on current sports news. This has been described by researchers as “content marketing” where there are no direct product references, calls to action or links to operator websites.
Regulating gambling marketing
Advertising in social media spaces controlled by marketers has long been subject to the CAP Code; in particular, the dedicated rules that protect those under 18.
The vast majority of “content marketing” is effectively considered by the ASA to be “selling something” and is therefore regulated by the CAP code.
CAP gambling section key protections:
Gambling advertising raises particular consumer protection issues because of the risk that the products will be used in reckless or risky ways and that some people will suffer gambling-related harms.
While it is legitimate for operators to promote their services across a range of media channels and to predominantly or exclusively adult audiences, marketing communications must adhere to a strict set of rules set out in the UK Advertising Codes which aim to protect under-18s and other vulnerable groups.
Ensuring consistent protections
It is, however, possible that some social media content may fall outside the ASA’s enforcement mandate on the grounds that it is deemed not to be directly related to the supply of the gaming product. This is likely the case. where there are no significant direct or indirect references to gambling products.
To ensure that nothing falls between the gaps, the ASA and the Gaming Commission agree that:
- The ASA will continue to review complaints about social media ads brought to its attention on a case-by-case basis, consistent with its current approach to referral decisions.
- In limited scenarios where complaints about operators’ social media are considered outside its jurisdiction, the ASA will refer them to the Gambling Commission.
- The Commission will review the provisions of its License Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP), which set out the rules for operators authorized to transact with consumers in Britain, and consider taking action in accordance with its reporting policy licensing, compliance and enforcement. .
LCCP Social Responsibility Codes 5.1.6(2) (for all non-lottery licenses) and 5.1.7(2) (for all lottery licenses) state that for media not explicitly covered by the publicity codes UK licensed gaming operators must have regard to the principles included in these codes as if they were explicitly covered therein. The ASA and the Gaming Commission have agreed that the scenario contemplated in this statement is an appropriate circumstance to use this provision.
Ultimately, the message for operators is simple: all consumer-facing social media activity must comply with the standards set out in the gambling section of the CAP Code.
For consumers, this demonstrates the continued commitment of the ASA and the Gaming Commission to work together to provide joint and effective protections.
keep up to date
Subscribe to our decisions, newsletters and access under emargo for the press. Subscribe now.