It seems the ASA is on a mission to stamp out misleading and irresponsible advertising for crypto currency trading. 

This week, the ASA upheld no fewer than SEVEN rulings against ads involving crypto currencies.

The vast majority of the ads promoted cryptocurrency trading. The ASA banned all of these ads for two main reasons, i.e. the ASA considered that the ads:

  1. irresponsibly took advantage of consumers’ inexperience [in relation to cryptocurrency as an investment], and
  2. failed to illustrate the risk of the investment. 

Those rulings are currently available here. While I will not examine those in detail in this brief blog, I do want to focus on the slightly quirky ruling in among the rest...

Getting a slice of the action

One, left-field ad stands out from the rest of these rulings. The ad was for Papa John's Pizza, which promoted their give-away of £10 worth of cryptocurrency with a min spend of £30 on pizza. The customer simply had to sign up to a Luno trading account (though they could simply sign up and immediately sell/cash out their £10 of crypto if they wished). Papa John’s said that the ads made no comment on investing in Bitcoin and the promotion only offered a mechanism for customers to get free Bitcoin. They likened the promotion to a discount on products or a cashback offer, the only difference being that the saving was paid in Bitcoin. They stated that there were no hidden surprises or processes with the offer and the sign-up procedure was made clear through the Luno account set up. Papa John’s had also purposefully required a customer to opt in for any further marketing correspondence from Luno. 

Papa John’s said that they had a long running association with cryptocurrency, which dated back to May 2010 when it was believed that Bitcoin had been first used to buy two Papa John’s pizzas. They explained that each year on 23 May they commemorated #BitcoinPizzaDay. In that context, and when there was high customer interest in pizza and Bitcoin, they ran the promotion to raise awareness of the connection between cryptocurrency and pizza.

In what seems to be a hyper-sensitive approach by the ASA, the ASA agreed with the above, but concluded:

"Nevertheless as part of the promotion a consumer would have to set up an account with Luno, a cryptocurrency exchange, which gave consumers the option to trade in cryptocurrencies, either with the promotional amount of Bitcoin or their own money."

They went on to say "We acknowledged that Papa John’s had a historical relationship with cryptocurrency and therefore some consumers may have been aware of the link between the company and Bitcoin. However, the ads were addressed to a general audience and we considered that most of those who engaged in a promotion linked to buying pizza were likely to be inexperienced in their understanding of cryptocurrencies and the risks inherent in doing so. We further noted that the ads contained no risk warnings about cryptocurrency."

The ASA appears to have treated this campaign in the same way as it would a £10 free bet, and perhaps there's some logic in there somewhere, but it seems to me excessively strict to ban this ad on such a tenuous basis in an effort to protect consumers from a hypothetical and arguably remote and limited 'harm'.