UK Advertising Regulator Issues Tough New Rules to Protect Children

Mother locking computer for little son

30-second summary

  • Toughest standards yet to protect children
  • No more gambling ads on sites popular with children
  • No celebrities who look younger than 25 in ads
  • Followers of social media “influencers” must be over 18

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has drawn up a new set of regulations to protect children from exposure to gambling ads. The tough new standards are intended to reduce social harm and the normalization of gambling.

Banning irresponsible ads

The CAP, which drafts the UK’s advertising codes, has published new advertising standards aimed at minimizing children’s exposure to gambling ads.

The code on restricting ads targeted at under-18s was last reviewed in 2014, when evidence on the impact of such ads on under-18s and how the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on violations was examined.

The code itself has not been changed. The new standards are designed to change how the code is applied in practice. The ASA will monitor how gambling companies adhere to the standards. It has the power to take action against offenders.

The CAP’s new rules

The new standards come into effect on April 1. They are in addition to the existing guidelines on responsible advertising across all forms of media.

A key change is a total ban on any gambling-related advertising on platforms popular with children. This includes computer games and websites. Also banned are online ads targeted at individuals likely to be under the age of 18 and using data on their internet browsing habits.

Sports stars and celebrities who are younger than 25 years old, or who appear to be, are banned from appearing in any gambling ads.

The CAP has also drafted an extensive list of “unacceptable types of content, including certain types of animated characters, licensed characters from movies or TV and sportspeople and celebrities that are likely to be of particular appeal to children, and references to youth culture.”

Also restricted are “gambling-like games or games that feature elements of simulated gambling activity.” The CAP said these “should not be used to promote real-money gambling products. Where social and online games feature marketing communications for gambling games, they should not be directed at under-18s.”

This is the closest yet in the UK to a move to ban loot boxes as well as targeted ads to children.

Restrictions for “influencers”

Social media influencers already have to indicate in their posts or videos if they have been paid to promote a product or if it was given to them. Now gambling operators face a crackdown if they select an influencer who has a predominantly young following to promote their products.

They will need to be able to demonstrate that they have acted responsibly, using data on influencers’ demographics. And they may not do promotional deals where more than 25% of an influencer’s followers are under 18.

Gambling operators must also ensure that affiliates or other third parties who publish or circulate ads or promotions on their behalf comply with the rules.

Is a ban on the cards?

The new restrictions on promoting gambling bring the UK a small step closer to a possible total ban on any gambling-related advertising.

Campaigners against the social harms caused by gambling in the UK have shifted their stance in recent months. They are now describing problem gambling as a public health issue akin to smoking and alcohol addiction.

Other countries have already moved to ban gambling ads, such as Italy and Belgium, which has a partial ban.

In the UK, gambling companies have voluntarily agreed not to advertise during live sports events on TV – the whistle-to-whistle ban. This comes into effect in early August, when the soccer season resumes.

Politicians campaign for restrictions

Conservative politician Lord Timothy Kirkhope has long pushed for a ban on all gambling ads. He says banning gambling advertisements is necessary to protect children. He addressed Parliament again on the issue only last month.

In 2018, Lord Chadlington, another Conservative politician, commissioned a Populus poll of 2,000 people. The results showed that 58% of them supported a blanket ban on gambling advertisements in the UK. Only 14% were against it. And Dr. Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans in the UK, has campaigned relentlessly to protect children from the harms caused by gambling.

Today’s announcement will likely strengthen their case for a total ban.