BBH London’s first campaign for Ladbrokes – hailed at launch as portraying “the excitement, energy and anticipation of betting” – has been ruled offside by the ad watchdog for portraying socially irresponsible problem gambling behaviour.
“Where the Nation Plays”, which launched in March 2020, comprised a series of three TV ads, designed to “epitomise Ladbrokes’ brand proposition and the way it resonates with the UK”.
“The football bettors” spot began with a voice-over that stated, “I’m a nodder: up to the football, down to the app like a dog on a dashboard.” 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.
The next scene depicted a man at a train station who appeared to be using the Ladbrokes app on his phone. The accompanying voiceover stated: “When I bet I’m a frustrated manager. I kick every ball.” The scene showed the man making kicking motions and visibly frustrated. His actions caused a glance from another person waiting at the station who was standing normally.
The third scene featured three men watching football. The accompanying voice-over stated, “If I’ve got an acca [accumulator] coming in, I find myself getting very excited.” The scene showed the three men jumping and screaming after a goal was scored.
The screen then showed that the goal was being reviewed by the VAR (video assistant referee). The three men were depicted looking extremely tense and nervous. One of the men said: “I just want the cheer.” The other man said: “Not yet.” The two men who had spoken were then shown with nervous faces. Finally, the Ladbrokes logo was displayed accompanied by the voice-over, “However you like to play, we’ve got your bet. Boost your acca odds at Ladbrokes.com.”
But one complainant, who believed that the ad portrayed people who appeared to be addicted to gambling, challenged whether the spot was socially irresponsible, sparking an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority.
In its defence, Ladbrokes said the ad had gone through a thorough review and sign off, and it had sought advice about a VOD version from CAP’s Copy Advice service.
The firm insisted the concept of the ad was to present the feelings experienced around football matches, and that the scenes showed people watching football and reacting to it in the way that a football fan might.
Referring to CAP’s Advertising Guidance “Gambling advertising: responsibility and problem gambling”, Ladbrokes said that none of the scenes depicted behaviour that the guidance highlighted as indicators of problem gambling.
It claimed the characters were engaged with their surroundings and watching football and that the ad did not suggest solitary gambling was preferable to social gambling, depict gambling in the workplace, or suggest that it was an escape from problems or a solution to financial concerns.
TV ad clearing house Clearcast also waded in, insisting the ad did not depict a gambling addict exhibiting problem gambling behaviour, instead it believed the scenes simply showed men enjoying and engaged in football.
However, the ASA panel was not convinced by these arguments, although it did acknowledge Clearcast and Ladbrokes’ view that the ad showed the emotions involved in enjoying football.
In its ruling, it added that the behaviour of “nodder” character “was likely to be interpreted by viewers as referring to a man who repeated that behaviour all through the game, and who was engrossed in betting”.
Meanwhile, the ASA said the “frustrated manager” character appeared to be “detached from his surroundings and had a preoccupation with gambling”.
On the final scene, featuring the three men, the watchdog stated: “Because the ad appeared to depict a major mood swing and directly related it to the tension of potentially winning an accumulator, rather than just watching sports, we considered that the ad depicted problem gambling behaviour.
“For those reasons, we concluded that the ad depicted gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible, and therefore breached the Code.”
Banning the ad from appearing again, the ASA also warned Ladbrokes about future activity.
At the time of launch, BBH creative director Nick Gill said: “This is a campaign that embodies ‘Where the nation plays’. It’s about the nation’s bettors – all the different people across the land who bet in many different ways.
“We hope to have found a fresh language for this category and a campaign that gets to the absolute heart of the excitement of betting with Ladbrokes.”
The agency won the Ladbrokes – and sister brand Coral – account in October 2019 following a pitch against The & Partnership and Pablo.
Cravens previously handled advertising for Ladbrokes; Alpha Century ran Coral.
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