Insights Rock On: BetMGM’s TV Advert not of strong appeal to young people

The ASA has not upheld a complaint that a TV advert for Bet MGM featuring the comedian Chris Rock was likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s.

The TV advert created by Bet MGM (part of the LeoVegas group) involved Chris Rock driving a speedboat, accompanied by a lion, past the Las Vegas Bellagio fountains and towards Tower Bridge, while an orchestra played Public Enemy’s ‘Harder Than You Think’. He also gave various commentary throughout, including highlighting Bet MGM’s safer gambling tools.

The ASA received three complaints alleging the ad included an individual likely to be of ‘strong’ appeal to those under 18 years of age, in breach of the BCAP Code.

Since October 2022, the rules that previously prohibited gambling advertising being of ‘particular’ appeal to children and young persons now prevent gambling advertising being of ‘strong’ appeal. There have been several decisions since this change took effect, with the ASA ruling on who does – and doesn’t – have ‘strong’ appeal. Current and former footballers are particularly problematic, but anyone featured in a gambling ad must be ‘unlikely’ to have strong appeal to the under-18s. To ascertain such appeal, operators must assess: (i) the roles or activities the person is associated with; (ii) the person’s social media profile and following (including not only the percentage but the actual number of under-18s comprised within such following); and (iii) the audiences for the role or activities that person is known for. For more information, see our previous commentary on the topic here, here and here.

Whilst primarily known as a US-focussed, adult-oriented stand-up comedian and actor (and to a lesser extent, the recipient of a slap from Will Smith during the 2022 Academy Awards), Chris Rock has appeared in voiceover roles for several children’s films including the Madagascar franchise and a five second appearance in the 2023 smash hit Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (which coincidentally was released at the same time as the TV ad). However, while all the characters Chris Rock portrayed in his film roles would absolutely be of strong appeal to children, these appearances were not lead roles and were limited to voice-overs with no visual or physical similarities between the characters portrayed and his appearance in the advert. The incident at the Academy Awards and the ensuing memes occurred 18 months prior to the TV ad’s broadcast and (being of a violent nature) were unlikely to have inherent strong appeal to young people. Accordingly, the ASA considered Chris Rock would not be of strong appeal to under-18s in the UK.

The ASA then considered Chris Rock’s social and other media following. Whilst it is difficult to precisely quantify the number of his under-18 followers in the UK, of his global 6.3 million Instagram followers, 31,500 (0.5%) were registered as under-18, with 5,400 (0.1%) of his 5.4 million X/Twitter of the same age. A total of 36,900 under-18 followers worldwide did not, the ASA found, suggest a strong appeal to young people. The estimated UK figures for his under-18 followers (with the ASA noting Chris Rock’s profile was not particularly high in the UK) were closer to 1,075, which was not a significant number in absolute terms.

Other ancillary factors raised by Bet MGM in support of their use of Chris Rock included:

  • the choice of song (given Public Enemy were at their peak in the mid-80’s they were therefore more likely to appeal to adults over children);
  • the inclusion of the iconic Bellagio Fountain (Las Vegas being a fundamentally ‘adult’ destination);
  • the presence of an orchestra (also more likely to appeal to adults); and
  • the outfit worn by Chris Rock (tuxedo with life jacket) was not reflective of youth culture.

Despite the lion and speedboat having the potential to be of strong appeal to children and young people, when viewed in context, the overall impression of the advert did not have such strong appeal.

As with all the recent complaints to the ASA around gambling adverts featuring those personalities with alleged ‘strong’ appeal, use of robust data and statistics is key. The ASA will look at the volume of under-18 followers in terms of absolute numbers, rather than a percentage of total following. A couple of things were also of particular note in this case:

  1. the ASA appears to have accepted, or at least taken into account, Bet MGM’s mathematical approximation of UK-only followers on X and on Instagram, which operators should consider when reviewing social media follower data to ascertain ‘strong’ appeal; and
  2. Bet MGM had contacted CAP’s Copy Advice team prior to publishing a poster within the same advertising campaign featuring a static image of Chris Rock. The advice given by the CAP team did not raise any concerns about Chris Rock being of strong appeal. Despite the fact CAP’s Copy Advice is non-binding (as Coral learnt the hard way when it’s Fishin’ Frenzy ad was held to be of ‘particular’ appeal to children back in 2018), Operators should keep this service in mind when considering which individuals to include in any gambling advert and seek advice if they are unsure.

Read the ASA’s adjudication here.