On 4 October 2017, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled on a potential breach of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) by Gala Interactive (Gibraltar) Ltd (Gala Bingo). The ASA ruled against Gala Bingo, deciding that the ad did not make clear its commercial intent and was not socially responsible.

The Advert

The ad for Gala Bingo appeared on www.365dailynews.co.uk/casino and looked like an editorial news article reporting on an individual’s gambling success. It included text such as: “…William is also over £130,000 in debt after having to sell the house and continue to pay out of pocket for his wife’s cancer related medical bills … William took to Facebook one night in the hospital lobby to update his friends and family on his wife’s health.”. It went on to explain how “a little tired and… depressed”, William “stumbled upon” a Gala Bingo promotion. Buttons throughout and a banner at the bottom of the advertorial advertised a promotion by Gala Bingo.

A complaint challenged whether the ad made clear its commercial intent. The ASA also challenged whether the ad was socially responsible in suggesting that gambling could provide an escape from depression and a solution to financial concerns.

ASA’s ruling

Gala Bingo contended that the ad was created by an affiliate and had since been removed. Gala Bingo had terminated their agreement with the affiliate and the ad contravened their terms with the affiliate. They also warned their other affiliates of their stance on such ads and issued renewed affiliate guidance to remind affiliates of their obligations. Notwithstanding this, the ASA decided that Gala Bingo was the ad’s beneficiary and remained responsible for it and for responding to the ASA investigation (along with ClickDealer Ltd, the affiliate marketer).

The ASA ruling decided against Gala Bingo on both limbs. The ad breached CAP Code rules 2.1 and 2.3 as it did not make clear the ad’s commercial intent and was not obviously identifiable as an ad. The ASA considered that the ad gave the impression of a news article, particularly with the inclusion of the wording “our own Daily News reporter” and a reader comments section.

The ASA ruled that the ad breached CAP Code rules 16.1 and 16.3 as it suggested that gambling could provide an escape from depression and other personal problems and that it could be a solution to financial concerns. The ad, therefore, was not socially responsible. The ASA considered that the ad targeted vulnerable people by identifying personal difficulties that have to be overcome, such as selling property to pay medical bills and dealing with cancer. The ad also presented gambling as a solution to financial concerns with the statement “having won over 30 times his annual salary in a single spin, his debt and financial worries came to an abrupt end” and the inclusion of an image of an overdrawn bank statement.

The full ASA ruling can be accessed here.

This ruling and ad is similar to the ASA’s ruling last month against four gambling operators for affiliate marketing breaches, as discussed here.