On 9 January 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published their ruling in relation to a national press ad for Coral Interactive (Gibraltar) Ltd ("Coral") which was run in June 2018. The ASA ruled in Coral's favour, finding that the ads did not breach the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing ("CAP Code").

The ad

The ad was seen in the Racing Post. It stated that there was a 'price boost' and offered odds of 5/1 for Lionel Messi to score two or more goals in an upcoming football match.

The ad included the following wording: "PRICE BOOST Argentina v Iceland MESSI TO SCORE 2+ GOALS 5/1". Text stating "WAS 3/1" was struck through, and beneath that further text stated, "Max bet £10 ...". Text in the small print stated: "PRICE BOOST: Offer available online and mobile from 8am 16/06/18 for a limited time only. Max Bet £10 ... The 'was' price advertised is a guide price only, prices are subject to fluctuation ..."

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling challenged whether the earlier price of 3/1 and the claim of a 'price boost' were misleading.

Coral pointed out that the nature of press ads meant that content has to be finalised further in advance of publication than ads in other media. Coral said that 3/1 was the standard price when the promotion was introduced but that of course the price would fluctuate based on market factors such as betting patterns, team news and news articles about the game or players.

To ensure consumers were aware of this, Coral pointed to the small print which made clear that the price was a guide price and was therefore subject to fluctuation.

Coral also provided details of the number of bets placed by customers at the 3/1 price and the number placed at the promotional price of 5/1. On two occasions before the match, the market price briefly shortened meaning that the advertised outcome was more likely to happen. However, the first shortened price lasted for less than a minute before returning to 3/1, and in the other instance the shortened price happened just before the match took place, which was not unusual.

Coral explained that the standard priced market moved in a way that made the offer price of 5/1 more advantageous to consumers.

The ASA's ruling

The ASA investigated this challenge under CAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), and found it not to be in breach.

The ASA stated that consumers would generally understand that odds could fluctuate prior to a sporting event.

The ad suggested that the price of 5/1 was a promotional offer from Coral and would therefore present a genuine benefit to them versus the standard fluctuating market price.

Coral had provided information which demonstrated that many more bets were placed at the promotional price of 5/1, as opposed to the odds of 3/1. The fact that the market price briefly fluctuated during the offer period did not prevent the price of 3/1 being regarded as the standard rate.

It was therefore concluded that the claim of a 'price boost' and the struck-out price of 3/1 were unlikely to mislead a consumer.

The full ruling can be found here.

Key takeaways

This is a useful reminder that marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers are required to ensure that they hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective. Without this evidence, the ASA might deem such claims to be misleading.

Operators should ensure for promotions of this kind that the reference odds represent a genuine established standard market price. The ASA will take into account the impression created by marketing communications as well as specific claims. It will adjudicate on the basis of the likely effect on consumers, not the marketer’s intentions.