Gambling with your brand? ASA issues judgment on gambling ads on social media

Published 20 May 2013 By: Laura Scaife

Betting Boards

On the 8 May the Advertising Standards Agency, published their adjudication on Cassava Enterprises (Gibraltar) Ltd. The case is interesting as it relates to the use of advertisements via social media platforms and what this may mean for gaming companies with wider implications for sports professionals and their brand management which we will explore below. 

Background

Cassava posted an ad for the website www.luckyacepoker.com on a social networking site. Text included "Join Now & Get £10 Free to play with!". The complainant challenged whether the claim was misleading, because he joined via the ad and did not receive the advertised bonus.

 

Response

LuckyAcePoker.com (LuckyAcePoker) said, as with all such promotions, the offer was subject to clear, published terms and conditions. The terms and conditions, which could be viewed on the LuckyAcePoker website, stated "entry to the promotion is available only to persons over the age of 18 who do not have any previous account with the promoter". They said the promoter was Cassava Enterprises (Gibraltar) Ltd (Cassava) and that particular section of the conditions covered all brands operated by Cassava, including LuckyAcePoker. They provided details of the terms and conditions.

They said the complainant and his girlfriend, who had also signed up but had not received the bonus, had both previously registered accounts with their other brands. When they registered with LuckyAcePoker, they would have been required to provide personal information including e-mail addresses and the system would then check those details against those already held in relation to existing accounts. The complainant and his girlfriend were not eligible for the bonus, because their e-mail addresses were already held in relation to existing accounts and the the system was designed to recognize existing members to ensure bonuses were not issued repeatedly.

 

Complaint upheld

The ASA noted the £10 bonus was available only to consumers who did not hold an account with any Cassava-owned sites. It was also noted that the terms and conditions also stated "The Promotion shall be organized by Cassava Enterprises (Gibraltar) Limited (the 'Promoter') who is the owner and operator, inter alia, of the brand LuckyAcePoker.com".

However the ad made no reference to the existence of terms and conditions or where to locate them. ASA therefore considered if consumers were likely to understand the claim to mean that the bonus was available to all new customers of LuckyAcePoker. ASA also stated that it considered the availability of the bonus only to consumers who had not previously registered with any sites operated by Cassava was a significant condition that should have been made clear in the ad itself. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.


Ruling

The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), 8.2 (Sales promotions) and 8.17.1 (Significant conditions for promotions). ASA have stated that the ad must not appear again in its current form. And that LuckyAcePoker to ensure they make clear the significant conditions of future promotions.


Authors comment

Sports betting is a lucrative market for sports personalities and sports teams seeking to obtain sponsorship to represent the gambling or gaming companies providing those services. The reason for this is that it is important to understand that one of the marketing challenges that the majority of gambling brands, especially internet brands, face is one of awareness. There are of course notable exceptions such as Virgin Games and Sky, who have strong brands in their own right, and the betting organizations, such as Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and so on, who were well-established businesses long before internet gaming became a reality, most gaming brands were created specifically for the internet. As such brands such as Party Gaming, signed Phil Tufnell, the ex-cricketer turned reality television star and TV presenter, to feature in a press, television and outdoor campaign to promote Party Casino. It was Tufnell’s supposed cross-gender appeal that attracted Party Gaming, however his international recognition as a sports professional was of great importance not least because of the strong links between sports books and internet casino games.  It was for this reason also that JETBULL.com  signed David Coulthard as an ambassador, offering tips and advice to those who wish to bet on various sports including the Formula 1 Grand Prix such as  “a cool head, steady nerves, a willingness to take a calculated risk with the chance of high rewards at the end of it; these are the qualities that apply to both Formula 1 racing drivers and gamblers…” 

They all have one thing in common however, the gaming or gambling companies want to bask in the reflected glory of the sporting prowess of these former sportsmen and to forge an association between betting and a love of sport.

This is all very well, but you may ask what this has to do in relation to social media and why does a case which does not involve a brand ambassador tweeting have such significance? Well, the Cassava case arguably takes the issues presented when looking to enter into such brand ambassador roles one step further in the UK when sporting stars, especially ones who are engaging with social media, use their accounts in order to promote the brand paying them to. While the application of this may not be immediately obvious, from a first glance at the adjudication, one of the key issues surrounding the conclusions reached by ASA was the issue of disclosure. As we saw in my article on the new FTC guidance, disclosure is a key issue in terms of consumer awareness and how this enables them to make informed choices. It is argued in the UK and USA by the regulators that the instantaneous nature of social media and its informality means that consumers are less likely to digest terms and conditions when accessing social media via smart phones or tablets. Therefore advertisers must take great care to ensure that their T&C’s or links to them are adequately disclosed, even when confined to 140 characters e.g. by using bit.ly. The key message for sports professionals to take from Cassava is to be careful what they tweet if paid to do so and consider engaging specialists to assist with aspects of legal compliance when exploiting their image. In poker it may be best to play your cards close to your chest but when it comes to trading standards, sports professionals should show their hand to a professional.


Closing thoughts

As a result of the judgement and as suggested in my FTC article it is likely that the UK law will follow where the USA has led with more stringent rules coming into place in relation to the disclosure of paid for adverting and its interaction with consumers ability to make informed choice.

However, the issue is not limited to compliance with trading standards law. The real opportunity Twitter presents sports personalities is an opportunity to be on Twitter as themselves and tweet messages which honestly represent something they think or are doing (you can read more about this on LawInSport here). If fans feel that they are being “used” this can cause irreparable damage to the relationship of trust as well as reputational damage to their brand and future money earning potential especially if you ally yourself to a campaign which is deemed unfair on consumers who may also be your fans... the stakes in relation to the effects on your future earning potential may be higher than you think...

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Author

Laura Scaife

Laura Scaife

Laura is an innovative thinker in the field of Social Media and has been extensively published on matters concerning compliance with e-commerce issues arising out of the Office of Fair Trading and Advertising Standard Agency guidelines as well as online revenue generation, defamation, electronic communications based offences, effective dispute settlement, business crisis management and reputational management.

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