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LeoVegas ordered to withdraw “irresponsible” BetUK radio advert

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The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered LeoVegas to withdraw a radio advert for its BetUK sportsbook ruling it was “irresponsible” and could appeal to children.

The advert in question aired in September 2023. It featured retired footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa speaking about how he was a brand ambassador for BetUK.

Akinfenwa referred to several safer gambling tools available to BetUK players. These include deposit limits, scheduling reality checks and setting time-outs. He also encouraged players to “always gamble responsibly with BetUK”.

However, a single complaint was filed with the ASA over the ad’s possible appeal to under-18s. It challenged whether the ad featured an individual likely of strong appeal to children and therefore breached the BCAP Code.

LeoVegas and BetUK reject complaint

Responding to the complaint, LeoVegas and BetUK said they did not believe the advert appealed to under-18s. They stated as Akinfenwa is 41 and now a retired footballer, he is unlikely to be popular with children.

The response also referenced how Akinfenwa spent his career in the lower leagues, outside the top-tier Premier League. As such, any potential for appeal to under-18s would be low.

Outside football, BetUK said Akinfenwa’s general media profile did not indicate he was likely to be of strong appeal to children. The operator also referenced his clothing range, which does not include any child-related products.

As for social media, Akinfenwa has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, TikTok and Snapchat. For Instagram, 8% of his total followers were under 18, while on Snapchat, this was 18%. Age demographics are not available for Facebook, Twitter/X and TikTok.

BetUK also said the ad did not feature any content of a childish tone. It also played during a radio show likely to have an adult audience. Radiocentre, the commercial body for UK radio stations, sided with BetUK in the case.

ASA upholds complaint 

However, despite this response, the ASA upheld the complaint, referencing the BCAP Code. This states marketing communications for gambling must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons. Adverts must also not include people of characters likely to appeal to under-18s.

The ASA acknowledged that Akinfenwa played outside the top flight and that BCAP guidance classifies such players as “low risk”. However, the authority added that players could be of “moderate risk” due to their social and other media profiles. On this basis, the ASA said Akinfenwa could appeal to children.

Going into further detail on its decision, the ASA referenced Akinfenwa’s wider profile. This includes his popularity due to his physical strength, which led to him being ranked as the strongest player in several editions of the FIFA video game, which is played by children. 

“We considered the manner in which he was portrayed in the media and by which he had marketed himself would have led some football fans to view him as a cult hero in the game,” the ASA said.

“We therefore considered that his media profile, alongside our view that he was unusually well known for a former lower league footballer, would have placed him in the ‘moderate risk’ category of the guidance.”

As for his social media presence, using the data provided by BetUK for followers under the age of 18 across Instagram and Snapchat, this suggests that at the time at least 157,000 of his followers were under 18.

BCAP guidance states a “generally high social media following that attracts a significant absolute number of under-18 followers, as determined through quantitative or qualitative analysis, is likely to be considered an indicator of ‘strong’ appeal”. The ASA said this applied to Akinfenwa.

“We considered that over 157,000 followers aged under 18 years, with the true total figure likely higher due to the absence of data for the other social media platforms, was a significant number in absolute terms,” the ASA said.

“Although his career as a lower league footballer and his media profile in isolation would have placed him in the ‘moderate risk’ category, we considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers who were under 18 years due to his career and profile, Akinfenwa would be placed in the ‘high risk’ category and was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.”

Ruling on the case, the ASA said the advert breached BCAP Code (Edition 12) rules 17.4 and 17.4.5 in reference to gambling.

As such, it said the ad must not appear again in its current form. The ASA also told LeoVegas Gaming and BetUK not to include a person or character with strong appeal to under-18s in any future adverts.

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