On 19 June 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published rulings against WHG (International) Ltd t/a William Hill (“William Hill”), PPB Entertainment Ltd t/a Betfair (“Betfair”), Annexio Ltd t/a LottoGo (“LottoGo”) and MT SecureTrade Ltd – together with the affiliate marketing partner Tapjoy, Inc. - in relation to adverts placed for their gambling products on the “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem” app. The ASA found all four adverts to be in breach of the CAP Code on the basis that they were directed at under 18s.
All of the adverts advertised sign-up offers for the operators, and were placed by Tapjoy on the Looney Tunes app as part of its in-app rewarded advertising service. This service consisted of offering users of the app the opportunity to earn "gems" which they could use in the app, in exchange for viewing adverts. Users were presented with a series of adverts to choose from, which included the sign-up offers of the operators.
In its response to the ASA, Tapjoy stated that it did not work with apps aimed at users under the age of 16 in the EU and publishers who used Tapjoy with such apps were in breach of their terms and conditions. Tapjoy explained that adverts were only shown in apps with corresponding maturity settings, which are chosen by the app developer. In this case, the app developer was Scopely, Inc., and – according to Tapjoy – Scopely had incorrectly given the Looney Tunes app a “mature-gambling” setting.
Scopely meanwhile claimed that the adverts had been placed inadvertently by Tapjoy, who they told to take them down. In its response to the regulator, the company also stated that its apps were not targeted at children and users under the age of 16 in the EU were not permitted to play their games.
The ASA rulings
In each case, the ASA challenged whether the adverts were appropriately targeted by appearing on the Loony Tunes app, which is rated PEGI 7 in the Google Play store - meaning that it is classed as being suitable for players aged 7 and over - and 12+ on the Apple App Store.
The regulator found that the app was likely to appeal to many under 18s – given “the use of cartoon characters, cartoonish violence and the relatively simple nature of the game” – but acknowledged that these characters would also be well known to adults and that the app would have a general appeal.
The ASA did acknowledge that the adverts had been labelled as “mature-gambling” and should therefore have only appeared in apps that had opted in to receive such content, and that action had been taken to promptly rectify the issue once discovered. Despite this, because they understood that Tapjoy’s system allowed advertisers to target a defined set of users, the test was whether the adverts had been directed at people under 18, rather than the proportion of users who saw the advert had actually been under 18. The ASA pointed out that the Looney Tunes app required users to self-declare that they were 16 or older, which users could simply misreport in any case. The ASA stated:
We considered that although the content of the app also had broader appeal, it was likely to appeal to under-18s and its audience was likely to include under-18s. Therefore, even taking into account the option app publishers had to exclude ads labelled “mature-gambling” from their apps, which had not been used in this case due to error, we expected [the operators] to have used some additional interest based factors to reduce the likelihood of under-18s seeing the ad. We noted that the Tapjoy platform allowed advertisers to target their campaigns by using interest-based data inferred from the gaming preferences and self-reported demographic details. However, [the operators] had not chosen to engage those options.
As a result, the regulator found all four adverts to be in breach of rules 16.1 and 16.3.13 of the CAP Code which require that marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible and must not be targeted at individuals below 18 years of age, respectively.