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Are affiliates at risk of advertising issues?

TAGs: Advertising Standards Authority, affiliate month 2013, Affiliates, Editorial, mike o donnell, modqs, Spin Palace

modqs-are-affiliates-at-risk-of-advertising-issuesIt has long been a bugbear of some that plenty of iGaming marketing content isn’t as clear as it should be. Upon first viewing, you take an advert that says ‘£200 free’ to mean that you’re given £200 free to play with at whatever product that happens to be being advertised.

For the uninitiated, the learning curve regarding wagering requirements then begins. It’s a pretty simple concept when looked at in general. Few could argue with the logic of the principles behind wagering requirements – without them iGaming operators simply wouldn’t be able to offer the bonuses that they do and allow players to try out games with lower risk. As they say, Las Vegas wasn’t built on winners.

But it’s the added nuances of waging requirements that often create the most fuss. After all, a seasoned user will sniff out the turnover amount pretty quickly and can assess the quality of a bonus from there. But the eligible games, split of total advertised bonus amount and whatever else is being used to differentiate bonuses these days just serves to overcomplicate.

Last month one of the longest-standing members of the ‘Overcomplicated Bonus Club’ (working title) was given a long overdue warning by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK. That member was Bayton Ltd, better known to most as Spin Palace.

As it turns out, the complaint filed was actually that the ad in question on the Spin Palace site simply didn’t make a mention of the wagering requirements attached. It read “£1000 FREE … 1st deposit – 100% Match Bonus’. Of course, Spin Palace disputed the claim by saying that a link to T & C’s was present but was ruled against on the grounds that the wagering requirements should be in the ad itself. The ad was found to breach three different parts of the ASA’s code including being misleading advertising and unclear use of the word ‘free’.

As Spin Palace referred to in their response to the complaint, they’re certainly not the only ones who aren’t completely forthcoming with the ins and outs of their bonuses. The ASA explained that the Malta-based company’s reply included the point that ‘welcome bonuses such as theirs were widely used in the online casino industry and that they were considered a fair and standard practice’.

But it even extends beyond casino gaming too with bet365 having a complaint upheld regarding an ad which was offering free bets. The only difference being that this case referred specifically to an ad banner which was we can presume was serving across a number of different sites.

Returning to the Spin Palace case, one of the most significant issues was that the even though the usual ‘see full terms and conditions’ link was in place on the site, it wasn’t deemed to be in obvious enough. So while the information may have been there, its place in the hierarchy of site content had been taken into account – something which hadn’t previously been much of an issue.

Bonus clarity

The Spin Palace bonus is a particularly tricky one for affiliates because describing it while writing clear and concise content is nigh-on impossible. First of all, it’s not really a £1,000 bonus. It’s actually a collection of five separate bonuses. Also, not all of these bonuses actually come in the form of a cash bonus, more than half of the value of the £1,000 advertised comes in free spins. Oh, and the piece de resistance; you have to play at the casino for an entire year in order to be able to claim the full bonus amount advertised.

It’s easy to understand why you might find it misleading. There are probably plenty of affiliates promoting the good Spin Palace name that aren’t even aware of the ins and outs of this particular bonus.

But more generally there’s one very clear consequence of the Spin Palace case. The fact that a bonus amount should not be seen in any form without wagering requirements is something that would be new to a lot of affiliates and as a result it’s likely to require a lot of changes to be made in order for them to comply.

However, ASA complaints are nothing new. The online gambling industry is more than used to them. So why should affiliates take notice? After all, if online casinos aren’t going to make the change, why should affiliates with considerably less resources bother?

Affiliates at risk

The answer to that is simple. Because rulings are becoming increasingly common and few of them are going the way of the defendants.

Two cases from March of this year show that affiliates certainly hold a share of responsibility. Both times the ruling went against the product owners, neither of which were gambling related. The ASA determined that as the affiliates in question were provided with financial gains if users clicked through to the product, that they were effectively employees of the business. In both these instances both the affiliates and the product owners were deemed responsible.

Given this stance, it seems that both affiliates and affiliate managers will need to keep a close eye on how bonuses are being described. From the point of affiliate managers, it lends further weight to the view that a small number of high quality affiliates is ideal. For affiliates, it requires the extra effort of explaining the bonus in full – not a big ask but it could make a big difference.

Another case of interest emerged last week with an affiliate called Play Pennies having a complaint upheld against it for the promotion of Sports Direct. The complaint was in two parts with the more relevant part regarding the use of affiliate links within a blog. It was deemed that these links were not clearly identified as affiliate links which breached the rule on recognition of marketing communications. While most iGaming affiliate sites do little to hide their purpose, it’s still something worth bearing in mind, particularly for sites that include content from other sectors.

iGaming affiliates are yet to have a case held against them but given the volume of complaints that are made against the adverts of online gambling operators on a monthly basis – it’s surely only a matter of time.

To their credit, no online gambling sites are present on the ASA’s list of non-compliant online advertisers – something that would really be a sticking point given the new regulation. And while the most common action is simply that the ads ‘should not appear in their current form’, the ever-increasing regulated landscape will mean that the entire industry, including affiliates, will need to clean up their act.

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