The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is challenging baseline reason with its recent ruling regarding a completely innocuous Ladbrokes’ advertisement. At least two outside parties have spoken out against the ruling and called it out for the absurdity that it is.
Back in October of 2020, Ladbrokes aired an advertisement on an on-demand video channel that depicted some punters sitting at a table in a cafe of some sort using a mobile app to wager on the horses. An announcer’s voiceover from the TV says, “Come starter’s orders, I’m a bag of nerves,” while a man’s leg is shown shaking.
Somehow, the one person in the UK who always finds something wrong with gambling ads thought this was somehow socially irresponsible. If you find this confusing it’s because your brain is functioning. But that’s not how the ASA saw the situation. The UK’s top advertising regulators agreed with the complainer and hit Ladbrokes with an undisclosed sanction.
Ladbrokes’ defense picked up a boost when Clearcast, an independent advertising watchdog; and the broadcaster Channel 4, both spoke out on behalf of the company.
A Ladbrokes’ official defended the company saying in a report by SBC News saying the company, “Did not believe the ad depicted socially irresponsible behaviour because the man was not shown placing a bet nor indeed talking about gambling.”
The ASA, who always has the final word on these matters countered by saying, “We disagreed with Clearcast’s view that the man was never disconnected from his companion, or from the room, and considered viewers would assume from his behaviour that he was preoccupied with the outcome of the race in relation to a bet he had placed. We also considered that the man was obviously detached from his surroundings as he watched.”
We would counter that the ASA is obviously detached from their surroundings, and probably owe Ladbrokes an apology.
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The U.K.’s battle with the gambling industry continues to show how far regulators will go to push gambling into dark corners that no one would want to visit. The U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) is implementing policies and regulations that will severely handicap operators, and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is always willing to take a stab at the industry. All it takes is for one person to lodge a complaint about a gambling operator’s ad, and the ASA is ready to put the company in front of a firing squad. While there may be some ads that have crossed the lines, the latest attack, this one against sports gambling giant Ladbrokes, shows how petty the ASA can be. Ladbrokes ran an ad on on-demand video services that was introduced last October. In it, several individuals were seated at tables in a café using the Ladbrokes mobile app to place their bets. The commercial cuts to show a live horse race with a voiceover asserting, “Come starter’s orders. I’m a bag of nerves,” as the camera pans to the man’s shaking leg. That nervousness was enough for the ASA to assert that Ladbrokes was “socially irresponsible” with its ad, and the advertising watchdog slapped it on the wrist, as well as the wallet. It’s absurd to think that there could be a link between nervousness and “social irresponsibility.” Most individuals would be nervous when placing bets, regardless of the size, and some people get nervous just reading the menu at Starbucks. Ladbrokes isn’t happy about the situation, either, and said in a statement, “[We did] not believe the ad depicted socially irresponsible behaviour because the man was not shown placing a bet nor indeed talking about gambling.”The operator has support from several marketing industry insiders, including Clearcast, which oversees commercials that are put on commercial TV in the U.K. It asserts that, because the man wasn’t presented as an individual obsessed with gambling, and was still aware of his surroundings, the ASA might be reaching too far. Channel 4, a U.K. broadcaster, agrees, arguing that it fails to see how the ad could be viewed as causing emotional, financial or social harm. The ASA has a proverbial stick somewhere it shouldn’t be and seems to be willing to ignore common sense when it comes to enforcing advertising regulations. It countered the arguments by Clearcast and Channel 4 by saying that the individual depicted in the ad was seen as “preoccupied with the outcome of the race in relation to a bet he had placed.” That goes into the Thank you, Captain Obvious pile, since anyone making a wager is going to want to know the outcome of the event. However, if that is “socially irresponsible,” the ASA should simply begin prohibiting all TV commercials from now on.
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