Following updates to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) back in October 2022, new tougher advertising rules were introduced prohibiting content with “strong appeal” to under-18s from featuring in gambling advertisements.

Since the new rules came into force, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has embarked on a crusade against offending gambling advertisements perceived to breach the “strong appeal test” – with gambling operators who utilise prominent football personalities and celebrities in their campaigns falling squarely within the regulator’s crosshairs.

Back in August 2023, we reported on a stream of rulings against Ladbrokes advertisements featuring the likes of Tommy Fury, Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers, Gary O’Neil and Novak Djokovic – all of which were deemed by the ASA to have “strong appeal” to under-18s and to have therefore breached the CAP Code. You can read more about those rulings here

In continuation of the ASA’s crackdown on offending gambling ads, the ASA this week took the sword to a radio ad by LeoVegas Gaming (trading as “BetUK”) featuring cult-hero footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa (famously nicknamed “The Beast”).

The radio ad

The ad in question appeared on the radio on 27 September 2023, promoting the betting services of BetUK and featuring retired former footballer, Adebayo Akinfenwa. Akinfenwa stated that he was a brand ambassador of BetUK, before promoting a range of tools available on the BetUK website. 

For those in the know, Akinfenwa picked up the nickname “The Beast” during his playing career owing to his muscular physical appearance and his reputation as being the player with the highest ‘strength’ rating in the popular FIFA video game series. 

An investigation was launched by the ASA following a complaint from an individual as to whether the ad was in breach of the BCAP Code by being of “strong appeal” to under-18s. 

BetUK's response

BetUK raised a shield to the accusations by asserting that the BCAP guidance on gambling advertising and protecting under-18s (the Guidance) had been fully considered in the creation of the ad.

They argued Akinfenwa was unlikely to be popular with under-18s and/or young people on the basis he was now 41 years old; he retired from professional football in May 2022; and he could not be considered a “star” player (of inherent “high risk”) under the Guidance because he never played in the Premier League. 

With regards to The Beast’s general media profile, which includes 1.3m and 312,000 followers on Instagram and Snapchat respectively, BetUK asserted that this did not indicate a strong likelihood of Akinfenwa’s appeal to children. This is because social media suggested only 8% and 13% of his total followers on these platforms were under-18. 

BetUK’s response also raised the point that that whilst Akinfenwa’s clothing brand, “BeastModeOn”, had broad appeal and was marketed at the 16-66 age group, they did not advertise any specific child-related products. 

With regards to the ad itself, BetUK said that it did not feature childish tones, and was played during a radio show with a likely adult audience. Radiocentre (the industry body responsible for pre-clearing radio advertisements) agreed with BetUK’s response. 

Too Big to Play

Despite BetUK’s stubborn defence, the ASA deemed the ad to be in breach of BCAP Code rules 17.4 and 17.4.5 (Gambling). 

Although the Guidance lists footballers from outside the top-flight as either “low risk” or “moderate risk”, the ASA considered Akinfenwa to be an outlier with “high risk” of appeal to under-18s on the basis of his social media profile and persona outside of football. In reaching its decision, the ASA highlighted the following factors:

  • despite Akinfenwa playing in the lower leagues of English football, he became well-known amongst football fans due to his impressive physical strength – leading to him being ranked as the strongest player on FIFA and adopting the nickname “The Beast”;
  • in 2022, his career was documented in an Amazon Prime documentary, titled “Beast Mode On”, which explored how he gained a following and a reputation for being an extremely strong football player;
  • the manner in which he was portrayed in the media and by which he had marketed himself would have led many football fans to view him as a cult hero in the game; and
  • through his YouTube channel, he often engaged with and published videos featuring other well-known football related personalities.

Crucially, the ASA highlighted that 8% and 13% of Akinfenwa's total Instagram and Snapchat followers amounted to approximately 157,000 under-18s in total. In interpreting the Guidance, the ASA considered 157,000 followers “significant,” and a “high risk” indicator of having “strong” appeal to under 18s and youth culture.

Take Home

This decision comes on the heels of the ASA’s ruling in October 2023 where it found that Gary Neville – who was 48 at the time and who retired long before Akinfenwa – was of “strong appeal” to under-18s and should not have been used in a promoted tweet for Sky Bet. 

Aside from acting as a reminder for gambling advertisers about the ASA’s laser focus on this issue, the detailed assessment of this ruling provides useful guidance about the regulator’s expectations and substantiation requirements surrounding the “strong appeal” test. 

The ASA expects advertisers to provide supporting evidence to demonstrate what an influencer / celebrity is generally known for outside the context of the ad alone. To provide this, ASA expects use of “appropriate sources of data”, as well as an assessment of that person's social media following. Even if a sports star may have retired from the game, if they still have a “significant” under-18 following on social media, they are likely to be considered “high-risk” in the eyes of the regulator and should not be used in a gambling advertisement. 


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