Did you know that there are 1.39 million gambling adverts shown on British television in a year? 96% of these ads comply with the Advertising Standards Agency strict content rules; they don’t target under 18s, they don’t make deceptive promises and they don’t promise financial security. Yet, some casinos push the limits of what is acceptable. They end up upsetting some people and triggering angry complaints. To be fair, most of the ads are attempts at humour rather than provocation. Let’s have a look of some of these controversial ads, shall we?
1. Paddy Power supports a murderer!
Paddy Power is renowned for its provocative advertising. In 2014, the bookmaker exploited the world’s attention on the Oscar Pistorius trial and offered odds on the outcome of the murder trial. It was 7/4 for a guilty verdict and 2/5 for not guilty. The following week, the firm went even further and offered losing bets a refund if the athlete is found not guilty! The promotion received an unprecedented rebuke from the Advertising Standards Agency. You see, the ASA usually allows adverts to be displayed until the adjudication is completed. This time, the ASA pulled the ad straight away.
Many people were very angry. A petition on Change.org attracted over 120,000 signatures, while the ASA had received 5,200 complaints about the ad. Everyone accusing Paddy Power for trivialising a murder case, domestic violence and disability. In case you didn’t notice it, the line “money back if he walks” is a reference to the paraplegic athlete.
Well, Paddy Power was unashamed about the publicity stunt. Their blogpost writes, “As an international media circus descends on South Africa, Paddy Power’s marketing department has entered the fray.” While there is nothing quite as juicy going on now, you could place loads of novelty bets at Paddy Power. Take your guess on when Prince Harry will marry or who the next Labour Party leader is going to be.
2. Lotteries can pay your mortgage!
One of the key rules by the Advertising Standards Agency is that gambling adverts must not suggest that gambling is a “way to solving financial concerns or achieving financial security”. The Health Lottery blatantly disregarded the rule with their 2012 campaign with the headline “Mortgage? What mortgage?” The ASA called the commercial was “irresponsible”.
Their other ads went about the same point. One said “Love one of these” next to a photo of a villa, while another ad headlined “I paid for my grandkids to go to uni”. The Healthy Lottery argued that the top-prize of £100,000 was too low to imply financial security. Of course, they lost. Gambling ads must not encourage people to turn to lotteries and slots as a source of income. Although when you think about it, professional poker players do make a livelihood out of gambling. I guess you just can’t shout about it all over the papers.
3. Gambling is a game of skill!
To gamble is to take a risky action with the hope of success. You can study the odds, learn the key concepts and analyse every hand, but every gamble involves an element of chance (that's why it's called gambling). Even poker, a game where skills like keeping your calm and reading your opponents are valued, depends on luck. So, when the Ladbrokes advertisement campaign, they were condemned for their “irresponsible attitude towards gambling”. Their claim was misleading and unsubstantiated.
Another poster in the same campaign went “when you win it’s skill, when you lose it’s bad luck”. Both posters are part of the bookmaker’s wider campaign that featured five friends and carried the tagline: “They are the dreamers, the glory-seekers, the back-page philosophers, the Wednesday night warriors. They are the have-a-go heroes of Saturday afternoon. They are the betting men, and this is the Ladbrokes Life.”
Ladbrokes responded in their usual fashion, “There appear to be a few people who have had a sense of humour failure regarding our new campaign.”
4. Free bet!
Here’s how a classic gambling advert goes: Free money! Promo codes! Join now and get £200 today! Risk free bet! All of these lines are very tempting and designed to lure new players in. Many casinos have gone down this road and many of them have been banned for misleading claims. The victims of ASA’s rulings include Ruling for Bet365 Free Bet Claim and Unibet . These guys argued that UK customers are aware that such offers were subject to terms and conditions, and that other competitors used similar terminology in their ads.
In short, ads must make clear whether customers have to stake their own money first and outline the conditions that must be fulfilled before players could withdraw their winnings. Hence, the advertisers have devised a simple way out: to print a tiny line that goes, “Terms and conditions apply”.
5. Spot the stallions from the mares…
Paddy Power is at it again! This time, the advert features transgender people at the Cheltenham Festival. It invited viewers to spot the “stallions” from the “mares”. It was banned after receiving 92 complaints, for being offensive and condoning discriminatory behaviour. The commercial eventually gained almost 600,000 views online, with twice as many likes than dislikes.
That’s the thing with ads these days. Even if they trigger complaints, the ads usually go viral on Youtube and attract many more viewers than they normally would. Other users make copies of the ad and repost the same video after the original is pulled; generating even more views and attention. Some casinos brazenly post these adverts on Youtube with the description, “They wouldn’t let us post this on TV.” Whether they are banned or not, these ads are successful ad campaigns.