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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has reminded Ladbrokes owner Entain that it must not include figures likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s in gambling advertising.

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The reminder comes as the ASA ruled that a previous ad sent out by Ladbrokes on Twitter must not appear again in its current form.

The promoted tweet was seen in February 2023 following a bout between social media influencer and boxer Jake Paul and sporting rival Tommy Fury.

Following the match, Ladbrokes asked its followers in a poll: “What’s next for Jake Paul?”, with options to vote on “Win the re-match”, “Head to the MMA”, “Return to YouTube”, and “Join the WWE”.

Ladbrokes response

When challenged, Ladbrokes defended its corner by saying that the ad was published after the fight had taken place and featured no calls to action, promotional offers or links back to its website.

It added that its Twitter feed and respective tweets were age-gated and could not be accessed by users unless Twitter had assessed their age to be over 18.

Further, it argued that boxing is an adult-oriented sport and is not listed as being of moderate or high risk in terms of its appeal to under-18s in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The operator said it also assessed Jake Paul’s follower demographic before publishing the ad to assess the level of risk, and considered that he “did not have a significant role in boxing or general profile within the sport and that his current partnerships were with an alcohol brand and cryptocurrency businesses.”

The operator did acknowledge, however, that Paul has a following among under-18s on some social media platforms (13% of his Instagram followers, 16% of YouTube subscribers and 18% of TikTok followers are aged between 13 and 17).

But, it argued, 0% of Paul’s followers on Twitter were registered as being under 18.

ASA ruling

In response, the ASA restated that the CAP Code says marketing communications for gambling products “must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.”

Because the ages of Twitter users are not robustly verified by the platform, it argued that the ad would have needed to comply with the above rule to be deemed acceptable.

CAP guidance adds that “sportspeople involved in clearly adult-oriented sports who were ‘notable’ stars with significant social media and general profiles which made them well-known to under-18s was considered moderate risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s.”

Therefore, despite boxing being considered an adult-oriented sport, the use of Jake Paul was deemed inappropriate given he was “primarily known for making YouTube videos and that he had a large social media following.”

The ASA said that Paul had more than 3 million subscribers or followers aged under 18 on each of YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, while also noting his former role on children’s TV programme Bizaardvark between 2016 and 2018 on the Disney Channel. 

As a result, the authority deemed the influencer to be of inherent strong appeal to under-18s, and condemned the ad as “irresponsible” and in breach of the CAP Code.

Jake Paul vs. Chris Eubank Jr.

The ruling stands in contrast to another recent case judged by the ASA, in which a bet365 ad featuring boxer Chris Eubank Jr. was deemed to have no strong appeal to minors.

Commenting on the two cases on LinkedIn, White Hat Gaming legal counsel Joseph Masini suggested that “the very different outcomes serve to further shed light on the multifaceted nature of ‘inherent appeal’ and what marketers should consider when featuring sportspersons in their campaigns.”

Given the similarities of both cases – namely that they referred to the use of professional boxers, operator posts on Twitter, and considered the risk (or lack of) towards minors – Masini said the core differentiator was the so-called “inherent appeal” to under-18s of each sports star.

The social media following of each boxer was considered to be a key element in deciding whether or not they represented a high risk to minors.

In Eubank’s case, a lack of followers aged under 18 was used to argue that the boxer had no inherent appeal to minors, while Paul’s large following among children was considered a key determining factor in the ASA’s decision.

“Audience demographics, cultural relevance, overall fame and notoriety, and recent exposure are all key components in determining the ‘inherent risk’ of any public figure,” commented Masini. 

“There’s been much talk about the largely undefined nature of this concept, but it’s clear that the lack of prescriptiveness in the Code and guidance is purposeful to allow for case-by-case determinations in what is a very complex environment marked by multiple engagement platforms and potential sources of fame, relevance and following with young audiences,” he concluded.

Jake Paul and gambling

Within the gambling sector, Paul has recently become known for his involvement with microbetting-focused operator Betr in the US, of which he is a co-founder.

While advertising rules in the US are generally less strict than those in the UK, the ruling throws up questions for the future of Paul’s betting business.

Betr not only offers betting operations to its customers, but also runs a media company focused on incubating the next generation of online influencers.

Paul’s high profile on social media is one of the brand’s key strengths, but this ruling could bring into question the limitations of such a strategy. 

The operator’s use of social media for brand awareness is intended to provide it with “low-to-no customer acquisition costs,” according to Betr co-founder Joey Levy.

Last month, Betr secured an additional $35m in funding intended to help it launch two new product verticals in the coming months.