ASA Bans William Hill For Targeting Children’s Apps

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced a ban on an advert published by operator William Hill that was broadcast on a game explicitly aimed at children.

The advert was served to under-18s by Google’s ad placement program. It appeared in a game called New Mario Kart 8 Trick, which promoted the company’s Vegas Games. The ad then prompted users to hit an install icon to download an app in order to play. The app itself was listed as having a PEGI 3 rating, indicating that it would be suitable for users of all ages.

William Hill defends advert

In its defense for the placement of the advert, William Hill said it was seen on a Mario Kart platform but that research carried out by developer Nintendo has shown an over-18 usership of 86%.

The company argued that although the figures were subjective and that they were collated in relation to the game on Nintendo’s Switch console as opposed to on mobile devices, it gave a clear indication that the game is mostly used by the “older generation”.

The ASA disagreed, however, saying that if audiences include under-18s William Hill should ensure that proper targeting filters are set in place.

In its verdict, the ASA said: “The ad must not be used again without further specific targeting to minimize the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to it.”

The advert’s inappropriate placement was reported to the ASA by a user who was concerned about the presence of such content on a product that was rated as being appropriate for all ages.

Filters in question

As well as using the above defense, William Hill questioned that the adverts should not have appeared for users who had not used gambling services or other adult content previously.

Instead, the company argued that the advert could also have appeared as a result of cross-platform advertising, a practice whereby adverts appear on multiple devices belonging to the same user. The company went on to say that it could not control whether or not devices were used by multiple users of different ages.

William Hill said it is now working with children’s content publishers to find a workable solution to ensure that such problems do not arise again in the future.

However, the Universal App Campaign feature does provide advertisers with the option of not allowing their adverts to be displayed on applications that are rated as being suitable for all ages, so it might be argued that there is already an option out there should advertisers wish to use it.

ASA upholds complaint

Following its investigation, the ASA upheld the complaint and said that marketers should seek to take reasonable steps to ensure that adverts only appear on content that is age-appropriate.

It did acknowledge that it can be difficult to establish the age of users on a platform because devices can be shared and also, notably, because young people often enter a false age when online in order to access restricted content.

Despite this, the ASA pointed William Hill towards Google AdWords’ filter settings that allow advertisers to narrow users down very specifically, which should enable them to avoid this happening again in the future.

The ASA concluded that the advert breached the Cap Code and warned William Hill to use more in-depth targeting for future campaigns. The ASA’s statement read: “2.5% of users who downloaded the app using their own account were aged 13 to 17.

“As it was common for children to access apps on shared devices, as was the case in this instance, we considered the actual under-18 audience was likely to be greater than that.

“We noted that there were other campaign options on Google AdWords that allowed advertisers to target their campaigns to users based on interest and other behavioral factors. The ad must not be used again without further, specific targeting to minimize the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to it.”

This isn’t the first time that the ASA has taken William Hill to task – it was investigated as recently as the 2018 Football World Cup.