In a surprising, but welcome, move the Advertising Standards Authority has reversed its ruling from August 2016 against an Iron Man themed advert for Ladbrokes casino. In the August 2016 ruling, the ASA noted that considering the character’s “comic book nature, and the availability of various related toys…it was likely to have particular appeal to children and young people”. At that time, the ASA concluded that, notwithstanding that the advert was only sent by email to customers known to be over 18, if the content of it had particular appeal to children or young persons then a breach of the CAP Code 16.3.12 occurred.
Understandably, this ruling (on the back of similar decisions in the past such as those against Mirror casino’s use of the character Optimus Prime in 2012 and 888’s use of Spiderman in 2008) caused concern amongst gambling operators and game developers alike. A large number of slot games use imagery which could be said to appeal to under 18s from well known comic book characters to cute animals and sweets. Whilst the Iron Man ruling was against an advert sent to customers by email, the ASA’s remit does extend to content on an operator’s own website, leaving the design of games themselves subject to criticism.
It is therefore very positive news that the Iron Man decision has been reversed. The ASA now accepts that, given that the email was sent only to registered customers and those who had been validated as being over 18, it was extremely unlikely that anybody under 18 would have seen the advert. This brings the Ladbrokes decision in line with the ASA’s 2012 decision not to uphold a complaint against Profitable Play for an advert which included furry cartoon characters, on the basis that the ad only appeared on the operator’s Facebook page which was age gated so that it could on be accessed by adults.
A question mark does remain over adverts appearing in media which could potentially be viewed by under 18s. For example, the banned Spiderman advert appeared on a banner ad on a website which, although the average age of viewers was 41, could have been accessed by under 18s. Similarly, the banned Optimus Prime advert appeared in the financial section of a newspaper which was unlikely to be read by children, but there was nothing to prevent them from doing so.
So, whilst this is a welcome decision by the ASA, it only gives certainty in respect of adverts which can only be viewed by adults. The take away is that adverts featuring cartoon characters that may be of appeal to children or young persons are allowed, but the advertiser must take steps to ensure that they cannot be viewed by anyone aged under 18.