ASA rules that Ladbrokes TV ad was socially irresponsible

United Kingdom

Introduction

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on 7 July 2021 that a TV ad for LC International Ltd t/a Ladbrokes depicted gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible, and therefore breached the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Code. The ASA told Ladbrokes to ensure future ads do no portray such behaviour, including detachment from surroundings, mood swings, and a preoccupation with gambling.

The ad and complaint

The TV ad showed three different scenes, as follows:

  • Scene 1 - The scene showed a man looking up at a football game on the screen and then back to his phone where he appeared to be placing bets, and a voiceover stated “I’m a nodder: up to the football, down to the app like a dog on a dashboard.”

  • Scene 2 – The next scene showed a man at a train station who appeared to be on his phone and using the Ladbrokes app. The voiceover stated, “When I bet I’m a frustrated manager. I kick every ball.” The man was then shown making kicking motions and was noticeably irritated. Another person at the train station looked over at him.

  • Scene 3 – The final scene featured three men watching football with a voiceover, which said “If I’ve got an acca [accumulator] coming in, I find myself getting very excited.” The men were then shown jumping and screaming when a goal was scored. The goal was then reviewed by VAR and the men were shown to be very anxious and tense.

A person made a complaint to the ASA about the ad on the basis that it portrayed people who seemed to be addicted to gambling, meaning it was not socially responsible.

The ruling

Following the complaint, the ASA considered whether the ad had been in breach of BCAP Code rules 17.3 and 17.3.1, which state that ads must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or that could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

The ASA considered Ladbrokes’ response to the complaint. In particular, Ladbrokes explained that they had obtained advice in respect of a VOD version of the ad from the Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) copy advice team. They argued that the ad showed the emotions that football fans went through when watching matches and, referring to the CAP Code’s guidance, they said that the ad didn’t portray any of the suggested problematic behaviours, such as solitary gambling or gambling in the workplace. In addition, Clearcast agreed that the ad did not show people addicted to gambling displaying problematic behaviour and, instead, simply showed men enjoying and being engaged in the game.

The ASA made clear that as well as avoiding depicting the stated problematic behaviours, advertisers must also ensure they do not hint at such behaviours in ads. They considered that viewers might regard the man in Scene 1 as being more focused on his betting than the game, meaning he was preoccupied with gambling. In addition, given the man in the second scene was acting the way he was, especially in front of another person, a viewer might regard him as being detached from his surroundings and exhibiting emotions that don’t align with simply enjoying a match. Again, in the final scene, the voiceover suggested that the men were excited about the accumulator, rather than the game itself, and the ASA was also concerned about the men’s emotions as they waited for the VAR decision.

In summary, the ASA considered that the emotions and behaviour of the men in the ad were more focused on gambling than football, and so it ruled that the complaint was upheld, and that the ad had breached the BCAP Code.

The full ruling is available here.