ASA ruling on Tombola in-app ads

United Kingdom

On 6 February 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published their ruling in relation to ads displayed in the 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here' app for Tombola (International) plc t/a tombola arcade ("Tombola") which was run in November 2018. The ASA concluded that the ads breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing ("CAP Code").

The ad

Ads for Tombola were occasionally displayed in the ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ app in a section where users could watch video clips of the celebrities. One of the ads was headed “PLAY OUR SLOT GAMES” and featured images of masks, an animal skull, vase, compass, map and glass. The other was headed with the text “Play our scratch card games”.

Both of the ads included the text “tombola arcade proudly sponsors I’m A Celebrity” and “begambleaware.org Terms apply. 18+”.

Another ad which always appeared in the “Vote” section of the app stated in large text “A CHANCE TO WIN A SHARE OF £250,000 FOR FREE CLICK HERE”, with small text underneath which stated “18+ begambleaware.org T&Cs apply” and “tombola arcade proudly sponsors I’m A Celebrity”.

Notably, the ASA, as opposed to a member of the public or anti-gambling group, challenged whether the ads were appropriately targeted.

Tombola said that before they were confirmed as the sponsor of the 'I'm A Celebrity' programme they had reviewed the age profile of the programme’s viewers and determined that the 2018 TV series of I’m A Celebrity (up to the point in the series when they responded to the ASA) showed that 91% of all viewers were aged 18 and over.

They highlighted that they had chosen to include “18+” and “begambleaware.org” to be clear that Tombola was a brand for adults. They also claimed to have purposely not given the games names, and instead to have used an adult-tone to avoid being appealing to under-18s.

Further, Tombola explained that if app users clicked on the ads they were taken to a website where there were stringent checks in place which prevented under-18s from registering.

ITV Broadcasting Ltd ("ITV"), the publishers of the app, provided similar explanations, and pointed out that the programme itself was broadcast after the 9pm watershed. ITV further explained that when scrolling through the feeds in those sections of the app, editorial formed the vast bulk of the content and the ads were pushed down the feed as newer content was added.

The ASA's ruling

The ASA made clear that the CAP Code required that ads for gambling products must not be directed at children through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared.

There were no mechanisms built into the app to target ads towards or away from certain groups of users.

There was no data available relating to the age profile of those who had downloaded the app. However, the ASA considered that younger viewers of the programme might be more inclined to download and engage with the app than older viewers.

Despite this, there was no evidence to suggest that the age profile of those who downloaded the app was likely to be skewed more towards children than the programme audience.

As such, the ASA considered that the app was likely to be used by under-18s and therefore Tombola should not have used the app to deliver gambling ads to consumers without a mechanism for targeting the ads to the appropriate audience.

It was concluded that the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.13, as they did not protect children from being harmed or exploited due to being directed at those aged below 18 years  through the selection of the 'I'm A Celebrity' app.

Tombola were ordered not to use the ads again in the form complained of without specific targeting to minimise the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to them. The ASA also warned Tombola that they must ensure the ads were appropriately targeted in future.

The full ruling can be found here.

Key takeaways

This is potentially quite a significant ruling by the ASA. The ruling seems to suggest that gambling ads on apps are not permitted unless:

  1. the app can’t be downloaded by under 18s, meaning robust age verification is in place; or
  2. if it is possible that under 18s could download the app, operators ensure targeting tools are used which sufficiently exclude under 18s from the audience seeing the gambling ads.

It’s interesting that the ASA upheld the ruling even though the ASA accepted the content, design and features of the app were not directed at children and data showed that the programme itself did not have particular appeal to children. 

Operators should ensure that where their ads are to appear on apps they take this ruling into account. Essentially, under 18s should not be capable of seeing the ads when using the app. It is not necessarily enough to show that the app is not of interest to children.

Co-authored by Laura Bilinski.