An ad for betting brand William Hill has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the watchdog concluded the campaign was targeting children. The ad was served to under-18s after Google’s ad placement program placed it in a Nintendo Mario Kart app.
The ad, which appeared within an app called New Mario Kart 8 Trick, advertised William Hill’s online ‘Vegas games’, followed by a button which said ‘Install’. The app had a PEGI rating 3 – meaning that it was considered suitable for all audiences.
William Hill said its Mario Kart brand is not targeted at children.
It said the game in which the ad was seen was based on Mario Kart and that Nintendo had reported that in 2017, 86% of Nintendo Switch players were over 18 and that Mario Kart was one of the main games available on the platform. It argued that although the figures were subjective, it considered that it was a good indication that Mario Kart was used by the "older generation".
However, the ASA suggested that its audiences included under-18s, and that gambling ads were not appropriate around related media. It told William Hill to ensure its ads had appropriate targeting in the future, and that “the ad must not be used again without further, specific targeting to minimise the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to it.”
William Hill said that it “would ever knowingly target children or people under the age of 18 and that their intention was always to advertise and market to consumers who were 18+.” The brand said that it had used Google’s Universal App Campaign and that it had minimal control over the placement of ads across the tech giant’s search, display network, YouTube and Play Store properties.
For its part, Google said that ads such as William Hill’s would only be served to signed-in users who had declared their age as over 18. Google said that William Hill could have used a range of options that would have allowed it to exclude its ad from apps likely to have audiences under the age of 18, and that it had not done so.
The ASA said that the app’s audience was likely to include under-18s, and that William Hill should have applied more stringent guidelines to their ad placement.
It said that advertisers should identify interests and issues likely to be of interest to children, to ensure that children who had said they were over 18 would not be served inappropriate ads. The watchdog said that “the ad had been inappropriately targeted and breached the Advertising Code.”
The ASA has taken a tougher line with advertisers targeting children lately. A Betfair TV spot was investigated for featuring a man who was said to appear under 25, while the watchdog banning several ads which promoted online games in ways designed to appeal to under-18s.