ASA upholds Ladbrokes gambling ad as socially irresponsible for problematic behaviour

Published on 09 June 2021

The question

Is a gambling ad that features potentially problematic behaviour socially irresponsible?

Key takeaway

Advertisers must ensure that any ads associated with gambling do not highlight any problematic behaviour, such as detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling, to avoid the ad being found socially irresponsible.

The ad

On 25 October 2020, All4 played a Ladbrokes video-on-demand ad which showed various people using the Ladbrokes app on their mobile phones. One scene showed a clip of a horse race, before showing a man in a café with several other people watching the horse race. The man is shown shaking the table with his knee and is described as “a bag of nerves”. A woman turns to him and says, “Really?” which captures his attention briefly, but he then subsequently turns away. The man’s food remains untouched and his interaction with others is brief, indicating that he is too preoccupied with the outcome of the race to eat or chat.

The complaint

The complainant challenged whether the ad depicted gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible.

The response

Ladbrokes did not believe the ad depicted socially irresponsible behaviour because the character was not shown gambling or talking about gambling – the scene in question only showed the character waiting for the race to start. Ladbrokes also argued that nerves before a sporting event were a natural reaction – whether the person was gambling or not – and that being highlighted in the ad, as opposed to unhealthy gambling behaviour. They claimed that the scene did not indicate that nerves or gambling caused harm or distress for the character and that the character did not demonstrate any behaviour that could be considered socially irresponsible. They argued that the ad featured people in everyday situations and characters continuing with life in normal day-to-day activities – ie the character was in a social environment with friends eating a meal waiting for a race to start. In addition, the ad intended to convey that enjoyment that can be had from gambling and it portrayed using the app as fun and entertaining.

The decision

The ASA concluded that the ad depicted gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible, breaching CAP Code rules 16.1 and 16.3.1. It noted Clearcast’s view, which was that the ad implied the man was watching a race on TV. It agreed that, based on the scene and the simultaneous voice- over, viewers were likely to interpret the ad as showing him watching the television as the race was about to begin. The ASA noted that he was watching intently, and his shaking the table with his knee which, while clearly intended to be humorous, suggested he was preoccupied with the race as his food remained untouched.

The ASA also took the view that the character was so engrossed in the race that his companion had to point out his actions to draw his attention away from watching the television. The ASA noted that, after responding to his companion, the man appeared to turn away, though the shot was brief, and he was looking down. The ASA disagreed with Clearcast’s view that the man was not disconnected from his companion, or from the room, but that viewers would assume from his behaviour that he was preoccupied with the outcome of the race in relation to a bet he had placed. Finally, the ad described the character as being a “bag of nerves”, which the ASA believed viewers were likely to interpret as a result of him having placed a bet on the race.

Why is this important?

The ASA upholding the complaint is a clear warning to marketers that, even if a depicted scenario is intended to be humorous, an ad must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

Any practical tips?

Marketers should refer to CAP’s 2018 “Guidance on Gambling advertising: responsibility and problem gambling”, which makes it clear that ads which portray or otherwise refer to individuals displaying problem gambling behaviours or other behavioural indicators linked to problem gambling are likely to breach the CAP Code.

Behaviours associated with people displaying or at risk from problem gambling include detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling. Marketers should take care to avoid any implication of such behaviours, including outwardly light-hearted or humorous approaches that could be regarded as portrayals of those behaviours.

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