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ASA warns that its rules apply to “vast majority” of content marketing

By Daniel O'Boyle

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned gambling operators that the “vast majority” of “content marketing” communications are classed as marketing and must abide by its rules, though it acknowledged that there are exceptions.

The ASA said that “there have been questions raised by research” over whether ASA rules apply to social media “content marketing” from gambling operators. This content, the ASA said, “does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services”.

This, the regulator noted, posed a challenge as the ASA does regulate advertising but does not have power over editorial content.

“Gambling social media accounts sometimes include editorial-style content, like commentary or opinions on recent events, or more abstract humour, such as ‘memes’ and other irreverent takes on current sporting news,” the ASA said. “This has been described by researchers as ‘content marketing’ where there are no direct product references, calls to action or links to operator websites.”

The ASA, though, noted that “the vast majority” of content marketing is intended to sell a product or service, and so is under its remit.

However, it added that “there is a potential[...] for some social media content to fall outside the ASA’s enforcement remit on the basis that it is considered not to be directly connected with the supply of the gambling product”.

“This is likely to be where there are no direct, or significant indirect references, to gambling products,” it added.

For messages that are under its remit, the ASA noted that the rules for gambling ads still apply to these communications. These include that gambling ads should not be directed at under-18s, nor should they feature people who are under-25 in significant roles, cannot promote irresponsible play and must not be of “particular appeal” to children or young people. The last of those rules is set to change, to a higher standard of “strong appeal”, which would prohibit the use of figures popular to children even if they are more popular among adults.

The ASA said it will ultimately continue to “consider complaints about social media ads brought to its attention on a case-by-case basis”.

“In the limited scenarios where complaints about operators’ social media are deemed not to be within remit, the ASA will refer them to the Gambling Commission,” the ASA added.

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