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Bitcoin ‘time to buy’ advert banned

Written by: Emma Lunn
An advertising campaign by cryptocurrency exchange Luno has been banned after the advertising watchdog ruled that it was irresponsible and misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received three complaints about posters seen across the London Underground and London Buses networks in February 2021. The ads featured a cartoon image of a Bitcoin with text that stated “If you’re seeing Bitcoin on the Underground, it’s time to buy”.

Complaints about the advert said the ad failed to illustrate the risk of the investment and challenged whether it was misleading. One complainant challenged whether the ad took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity.

After intervention by the ASA, Luno Money Ltd said the ads would not appear again in the form complained about and agreed to include an appropriate risk warning on future adverts.

The advertising ‘CAP Code’ requires that marketing communications for investments make it clear that the value of investments was variable and, unless guaranteed, could go down as well as up. It also requires that significant limitations and qualifications should be stated and presented clearly.

The ASA said initial capital invested in Bitcoin was subject to price fluctuations which could result in both losses and gains in value. It considered that consumers would interpret the statement “If you’re seeing Bitcoin on the Underground, it’s time to buy” as a reference to buying Bitcoin as an investment.

The regulator pointed out that the ads on the tube and bus networks were “untargeted media” and so likely to have been seen by consumers who did not have extensive financial knowledge or experience of Bitcoin.

It said these consumers might expect that the exchange of Bitcoin would be regulated, with legal protection in place for investment activities. However, neither Luno nor the Bitcoin market is regulated within the UK, which means investors can’t seek recourse via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCC) or the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The ASA said that the fact that Luno and the Bitcoin market were unregulated was “material information” that consumers required in order to make informed decisions about Luno’s service, and should have been made clear in the ad.

The regulator upheld the complaints about the adverts and concluded that they were misleading. It also upheld complaints about the ads being irresponsible due to suggesting that investing in cryptocurrency via Luna was straightforward and easy, and not making it clear that Bitcoin investment was complex, volatile, and could expose investors to losses.

The ASA ruled that ads must not appear again in the form complained about. It told Luno Money Ltd that its future marketing communications should make it sufficiently clear that the value of investments in Bitcoin was variable and could go down as well as up. Advertising also needs to state that Luno Money and the Bitcoin market are unregulated.

Bitcoin has been particularly volatile over the past few weeks after electric car manufacturer Telsa suspended purchases using the cryptocurrency.

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