Papa John’s tried selling pizza with a bitcoin deal, only to get banned by the UK’s advertising watchdog

A yellow circular bitcoin with red dots making the B sign - like a pizza’ at the bottom with sparkles. Above it text reads: ‘Turn pizza into £10 worth of bitcoin’.

In proof that pizza companies should probably stick to keeping things crispy rather than crypto, Papa John’s Pizza has had an advert banned by the UK’s advertising regulator for “trivialising investment in cryptocurrency”.

The promotion, shared on their UK website and Twitter page in May, offered customers free bitcoin and a £15 saving if they spent more than £30 on their food.

“We’ve partnered with @LunoGlobal to offer FREE bitcoin worth £10 for every pizza bought via our ‘£15 off when you spend £30’ [deal].

“Order your favourite pizza to also be in for a chance of winning one bitcoin worth £40,000 or a years [sic] supply of pizza,” reads the tweet, which is still visible on their account at the time of writing.

However, the ad was challenged by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) - the independent regulator – who questioned whether the ads were “irresponsible” for taking advantage of “consumers’ inexperience or credulity and trivialised investment in cryptocurrency”.

Both of these areas are prohibited under rules around social responsibility and financial products set by the Committee for Advertising Practice (Cap) – the ASA’s sister organisation.

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In response to the investigation, Papa John’s GB Ltd said their “long-running association with cryptocurrency” dates back to May 2010, “when it was believed that bitcoin had been first used to buy two Papa John’s pizzas”.

The company added that they celebrated ‘Bitcoin Pizza Day’ on 23 May each year.

“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,” the ruling explains.

Personally, we think the connection is thinner than a pizza base, but who are we to judge?

As a result of spending £30 or more on pizza, a customer would be given a promotional code for £10 to use when they signed up to Luno.

There was “no obligation to trade or make a transaction” to get the free currency and individuals could sell the bitcoin and close their account “at any time”, Papa John’s said.

They continued to stress that the ads “made no comment on investing in bitcoin”, likening the promo to a product discount or cashback offer with the exception that the saving came in the form of bitcoin.

“Papa John’s acknowledged that some customers would have more knowledge of cryptocurrency than others. However, due to their historic connection to bitcoin, they believed their partnership with Luno would not be seen as unusual.

“The promotion only reflected the specific interest in pizza and bitcoin, at that time of year, and offered free bitcoin as part of that.

“They believed that was entirely different from a scenario where a consumer was given the opportunity to invest their own money in a financial product.

“Papa John’s confirmed the ads had already been removed,” the company’s explanation concluded.

However, in their judgment, the ASA said that because the ads were “addressed to a general audience”, most people who engaged with a pizza advert “were likely to be inexperienced in their understanding of cryptocurrencies and the risks inherent in doing so”.

No warnings about the risk of investing in cryptocurrency were included in the ads, they noted.

“We understood that cryptocurrency was a complex and sophisticated investment, subject to frequent change in value and one that could potentially lead to large losses. It was also not regulated by financial authorities or subject to the protections afforded by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

“We considered the decision to open a cryptocurrency exchange account, with the potential to invest in such a financial product, was one that required careful thought and consideration.

“However, we considered the use of pizza to promote a cryptocurrency account, encouraged consumers to engage in such a high-risk investment without consideration and trivialised what was a serious and potentially costly financial decision, especially in the context of the intended audience who were likely to have limited knowledge of cryptocurrency,” the watchdog went on to add.

Deciding that the ads were “irresponsible” and breached the advertising code, the ASA banned them from appearing again “in the form complained about”.

We’d rather the only dough that Papa John’s make is the food kind, if we’re honest.

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