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ASA Admonishes Ladbrokes Over Iron Man Ad

The Advertising Standards Authority hasn’t been putting its feet up during the summer holidays: instead, it spent August flexing its muscles over various advertising campaigns launched by gambling operators, the most significant ruling being against Ladbrokes for targeting, as the ASA sees it, the underage, in contravention of the Committee of Advertising Practice’s Codes of Practice.

The offending advertisement was sent to registered customers only, so only to individuals who had already been verified as being of age – which is something that makes the ASA’s ruling somewhat puzzling.

Added to this, the ASA’s investigation was triggered by a solitary complainant.

The advertisement in question offered 10 free spins plus 90 spins extra. It was emailed to registered customers featuring an image of Iron Man, an iconic character from the Marvel Comic, with the text: “IRON MAN 3 … Enjoy this exclusive Ladbrokes welcome offer with Iron Man 3”.

The complainant alleged that the advertisement breached the CAP because it was likely to be of particular appeal to children, in breach of rule 16.3 covering gambling, and specifically of rule 16.3.12, which states:

16.3 Marketing communications must not:

16.3.2 exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of children, young persons or other vulnerable persons.

Ladbrokes sought to argue that the advertisement was adult-themed and was reflective of popular culture, evidence about which established that the fans of Marvel were predominantly adults. In support of this argument, they relied upon data on attendance at Comic Con events and from Facebook, the latter showing that only 6.39% of the Marvel fan-base is aged under 18, with the vast majority being aged between 18 and 37.

The ASA was having none of it. It found fault with the Facebook data on the basis that those under 13 cannot open an account, thereby skewing those results. Whilst accepting that Iron Man is a popular character that appeals to many adults, it concluded that the advertisement was likely to be of particular appeal to children, by virtue of its comic book nature and also because of the widespread availability of toys associated with the character.

It didn’t matter that the advertisement had only been sent to individuals who had already successfully completed the registration process: the ASA concluded that the advertisement breached the relevant provisions of the CAP.

Although the ASA merely ruled that the advertisement must not appear again in its current form, and instructed Ladbrokes not to use images that might be of particular appeal to children or young people in future, without taking any further action, the decision is instructive and points to the high level of vigilance on the ASA’s part.

The Authority is clearly taking a strict line on any advertisements that might be appealing to the underage, regardless of the extremely small likelihood of such advertisements reaching that audience: after all, in this case, the advertisement would have had to be shared by an adult with a child or young person in order for them to become exposed to it, given that it was sent out only to customers who had already registered, and therefore been checked to ensure that they were aged over 18.

Operators should therefore take note.

I have recently been asked, by a major UK charity, to advise on their latest promotional campaign and, in particular, on their use of a cartoon character. Some of you may be aware of the different rules surrounding lotteries, particularly of the fact that the minimum age for participation is 16, rather than 18. Nevertheless, the CAP also has rules governing these. Rule 17 deals with these products, stipulating that marketing communications should not be directed at under 16s, whether through the selection of media or context in which they appear. That said, the rules surrounding lotteries are somewhat more relaxed than those that apply to “harder” gambling products – underage people may be featured to portray the “good cause” beneficiary, as long as they are not associated with gambling or invited to purchase a lottery ticket.

In many cases, not just in the lotteries sector, but across the industry, it is difficult to know where to draw the line – and the ASA has just shown that it will expose operators who get it wrong. If you have any doubts about your latest marketing campaign, please get in touch with me at, or with your usual contact.