ASA: The volume of gambling ads is driving distrust of advertising

The ad regulator says there are concerns among the British public about the advertising of some products and services, including gambling, to vulnerable people and says the industry needs to do more to ensure that is not the case.

gamblingThe Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has raised concerns that gambling operators could be using technology to target their advertising at vulnerable people and has called on the sector to instead take the lead on targeting more responsibly.

Speaking at the ISBA annual conference today (27 February), ASA CEO Guy Parker said: “One of the concerns we have is that gambling operators are using technology to target gambling ads and marketing at people that might be at risk of developing problem gambling behaviours.

“We and others, through the Gambling Commission, are focusing on flipping that so gambling operators are held to account to use technology to target ads away from people that might be vulnerable, away from children.”

As part of its strategy to use technology to take a more proactive approach to regulating gambling ads, the ASA recently investigated the targeting of gambling ads to children. It created avatars to simulate children’s online browsing behaviour and found that gambling ads were served to children 151 times, with five operators breaking the rules prohibiting gambling ads being targeted at under-18s.

Parker said it is behaviour like this from a small number of operators that increases mistrust in advertising generally. While ad bombardment across the industry is an issue, it is the level of bombardment – coupled with the concern around the sectors that are advertising – that is causing a problem for the ad industry.

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“Concerns around things like gambling advertising are influenced by this sense we have that we are being bombarded by gambling ads,” he added. “And not just ads in commercial spots on TV, it’s shirt sponsorship, sponsorship arrangements, championships being sponsored by gambling companies.

“That is a tough one for us to deal with because we don’t regulate volume. But it is undoubtedly one of the things driving the distrust some people have in advertising; that feeling of bombardment might be the number one driver [of distrust] but in second place is the concern around the advertising of some products and services to vulnerable people – gambling being one.”

There have been calls for the government to step in to regulate areas such as gambling advertising, although the ASA would rather see it support the work it does, along with the dedicated regulators such as the Gambling Commission. Furthermore, the ASA has no desire to be given more statutory powers.

One of the concerns we have is that gambling operators are using technology to target gambling ads at people that might be at risk of developing problem gambling behaviours.

Guy Parker, ASA

ASA chairman Lord Currie said: “Statutory regulation is all very well, but I know very well from my experience at Ofcom and the CMA [Competition and Markets Authority, where he was also chairman] it is a good deal slower. And if you actually want to use your statutory powers to enforce, you have to be absolutely meticulous in the way you go through the processes. We can rely on the self-regulatory system and effective action of industry to act quicker.”

Parker also warned about the unintended consequences of moving away from self-regulation. “Instinctively I worry about opening a Pandora’s box and messing with the key ingredients that make this system work.

“The more you directly throw statutory apparatus into the ASA system, the more I worry there might be unintended consequences, you lose that contract we have with the industry and the buy-in we get, and the funding we rely on from the industry.”

Funding is an area where the ASA is pushing for change. It believes it needs more money to invest in new tech, while the old model of a levy needs addressing.

Currently, the ASA is funded through a levy on paid-for advertising. But less than half its regulation is of advertising that is not in the paid-for space.

“Straightaway we have a mismatch,” Parker concluded. “We have got to update the funding model.”