Crypto ads banned by UK watchdog for failing to highlight risk

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The U.K. advertising watchdog banned seven cryptocurrency ads on Wednesday and said they must not appear again.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the ads were “banned for irresponsibly taking advantage of consumers’ inexperience and for failing to illustrate the risk of the investment.”

The banned ads included a website and Twitter post from a pizza chain as well as a digital poster from a crypto exchange.

The majority of the banned ads were put out by crypto exchanges and crypto trading platforms.

Companies affected by the bans include eToro, Coinburp, Coinbase Europe, Luno Money, Exmo Exchange, Payward and Papa John’s GB.

Papa John’s bitcoin ad

Papa John’s website ad stated “Free bitcoin worth £10 [$13]” and “Save £15 when you spend £30 or more & get £10 worth of Bitcoin from Luno!” The Twitter ad was similar.

Papa John’s said the ads were part of an annual celebration of “Bitcoin pizza day,” which is meant to mark the day when two Papa John’s pizzas were bought for 10,000 bitcoins in May 2010. Today, the same amount of bitcoins would be worth $482 million.

The pizza chain argued that the ad made no comment on investing in bitcoin and the promotion only offered a mechanism for customers to get free bitcoin.

But the ASA concluded that the offer “trivialized” a “serious and potentially costly financial decision.”

“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,” it said. “We further noted that the ads contained no risk warnings about cryptocurrency.”

Coinbase ad

The Coinbase promotion was a paid-for Facebook advert that stated: “£5 in bitcoin in 2010 would be worth over £100,000 in January 2021. Don’t miss out on the next decade  — get started on Coinbase today.”

The ad also said: “Buy bitcoin in 5 minutes with as little as £25” and the word “unregulated” was used.

In its ruling, the ASA said the ad was misleading because it implied there would be a similar guaranteed increase in bitcoin’s value over the next decade and it did not make clear that past performance was not necessarily a guide for the future.

Miles Lockwood, the watchdog’s director of complaints and investigations, said in a statement: “Cryptoassets are a red-alert priority issue for us.”

He added: “Consumers need to know about the risks of investing in cryptoassets and companies should make sure that their ads aren’t misleading or socially irresponsible by taking advantage of consumers’ lack of awareness around these complex and volatile products.”

This isn’t the first time the ASA has banned crypto ads. In May, an advertising campaign telling people in the U.K. “it’s time to buy” bitcoin was banned by the ASA.

Posters for cryptocurrency exchange service Luno — shown across the London Underground network and on London buses this year — contained a cartoon image of a bitcoin with the words “If you’re seeing Bitcoin on the Underground, it’s time to buy.”

The watchdog said that it received four complaints concerning the ad. Three of them were from people who believed the ad failed to illustrate the risk of the investment and accused it of being misleading. One said the ad took advantage of consumer’s inexperience or credulity.

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