Reaction has largely been positive, with the move deemed to put an end to activities which have taken previous advantage of vulnerable people. What does this reaction tell us about the consumer industry and its marketing implications?
Gambling ads have been a staple across our sports channels for a number of years. In 2007, the Gambling Act came into force, deregulating the industry and opening up advertising opportunities to sports betting and casinos. As a result, 2013 saw a 600% rise in the number of ads being shown, according to Ofcom research.
This is largely due to a marked cultural shift in the way companies choose to market their brand. Once a slightly seedy staple of the high street, betting shops have since transformed into online hubs of brightly coloured web pages or eye-catching TV advertisements backed by star names such as Ray Winstone.
With betting now possible in real time, ad breaks have become a prime retail spot. Thanks to advertising positions biddable based on channel, programme and even as granular as chosen ad break, the market has grown exponentially with ads on TV sets, catch-up TV ad breaks, live TV and social media.
Given the saturation of the market and an increased awareness around the detrimental impacts betting can have on mental health, with reports concluding correlations to making people more prone to anxiety and depression, the potential ramifications are huge.
Stories like Jack Ritchie’s, who at just aged 24 committed suicide due to his gambling addiction, tell a harrowing tale of the role gambling ads can play.
Given their potentially vulnerable audiences, legislation around broadcasting has always existed. Campaigns are not permitted to appeal to under-18s, and are similarly banned from featuring anyone who appears to be under the age of 25. Stricter guidelines introduced in 2018 also placed restrictions on time-dependent ‘urgent’ and repetitive bet placing.
However, this doesn’t appear to have placated customers. Statistics released by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) have revealed that 2018 was a record-breaking year for complaints. Over 10,000 advertisements were found to have breached standards and been withdrawn from circulation – a 53% increase from 2017.
According to the Gambling Commission, around 450,000 people in the UK are living with a “serious” gambling addiction, whilst a further two million can be classified as “at risk”. It seems that for their myriad of critics, firms have for too long been disinterested in the wellbeing of their customers.
Despite regulations, some critics say it’s not enough. In the case of Jack Ritchie, his parents are launching legal action to hold the government liable for his death. They claim “the government has allowed this industry too much influencer and control to keep health risks hidden”. So how does this translate to marketing?
Research performed by the CAP in 2018 identified potential risk factors in areas which may impel certain groups to spend more based on various financial and emotional vulnerabilities. And gambling companies know how to market to those who like to bet.
Earlier this year, an advertisement featuring famed footballer, Ryan Giggs was banned for suggesting that gambling could aid in financial security and help players to develop higher self-esteem. Suggestive images of the ex-player driving a sports car and drinking expensive bottles of champagne were seen by many to glamourise gambling and its supposed windfalls. This is particularly negligent when considered alongside statistics from the Gambling Commission, which showed a gross gambling commission of 14.5bn between 2017 and 2018; a large disparity between the number of pay-outs going to winners and their total spend.
But it’s not just sports related – online casinos and lottery websites have experienced similar crackdowns in campaigning, with Monopoly Casino recently being banned for including a brightly coloured cartoon character in its banner ad. Concerns were then raised over its potential appeal towards younger demographics, an issue that is only growing as in June 2019, the NHS announced they would be opening their first ever gambling addiction centre for children.
Meanwhile, email marketing is used to hound users with enticements like free spins and bonuses with little to no regulation over who that player is. In one such case, an online casino company identified a problem gambler who was subsequently banned from their platform. However, their sister companies continued to send marketing emails as often as four times a day – which resulted in the user setting an account with his mother’s debit card. It was only after he spent £20,000 that his identity was checked.
And just like the sponsored content controversies which have begun to populate social media channels, gambling advertisements are becoming increasingly difficult to identify, with marketing techniques becoming subtler and further reaching. Derby Football Club recently received a large pay out to give its star player, Wayne Rooney, the number 32; catapulting its casino sponsors, 32Red into press conferences and shop windows.
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) August 6, 2019
So Derby are sponsored by a gambling company called 32Red and they've suddenly found enough money to sign and pay Wayne Rooney, and by some magical piece of luck he's picked shirt number 32 to wear? Forgive me for being slightly sceptical
— Chris Broom (@CB100991) August 7, 2019
The government’s decision tells us something about the consumer industry which has been developing for some time. As buyers are becoming oversaturated with brands names, they are beginning to look past their desires for the product being sold to them, and are instead asking for a moral incentive to their purchasing loyalties.
Newly ignited public disfavour with gambling companies has most likely arisen from the industry’s pitiful social value record. Labour’s stipulations for first introducing the Gambling Act required that all companies submit 0.1% of their revenue to charity.
What should have been a relatively easy target to achieve has since led to a damning report by GambleAware which indicated that companies were failing to meet this marker. Some, it found, had donated as little as a qualifying £1, prompting ministers to demand stricter rules around gambling business behaviours.
Meanwhile, the top five gambling firms offered to increase their funding for addiction treatment from 0.1% revenue to 1% revenue. And yet, the move was branded a “bribe” to ward off tougher regulation from government.
Businesses can work around issues by ditching the spam-style marketing and opting for smart PR and digital marketing techniques.
Showing an awareness for the ridiculous levels advertising have gone to, PaddyPower recently unveiled an ‘un-sponsorship’ of the Huddersfield home kit, bringing a refreshing display of wit and self-awareness.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) July 19, 2019
By deliberately emblazoning the chests of their players with a blown-up brand name, they allowed a few days of outrage and shock to garner before revealing the whole thing had been a hoax. Successfully flipping their platform from outrage to humour, PaddyPower took a loud stand against the current marketing climate, receiving positive coverage en-masse from both relieved commentators and fans.
This sudden interest in charitable donation and socially-aware advertising can be classed as an engagement in brand activism – otherwise known as marketing motivated by social change.
As an advertising tool, brand activism has seeped into the mainstream with many popular brands such as Nike and Dove releasing campaigns in relation to immediate social issues, and the betting industry’s absence in this category appears to be coming to an end. William Hill’s newest TV-ran campaign was, according to its promotive release, a way to establish itself as an “authority on responsible betting”, taking the approach of gambling as a way to connect and establish relationships rather than simple monetary gain.
84% of football supporters declared their firms to be irresponsible in partnering with betting companies this September. In the same month, 32Red and Unibet groups have announced that they will extend their ‘BetRegret’ campaign across their sponsored football clubs, Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Derby County and Preston North End, a responsible gambling strategy aimed at helping gamblers to keep their habit under control.
Gambling companies will not disappear under this law change, but they will need to alter their operations soon if they want to re-gain the support of their users. As socially conscious advertising becomes increasingly present across markets, the absence of brand activism will only become more noticeable amongst specific companies.
In the consumer industry, built upon the idea of taking, it is now more important than ever to provide evidence of giving back.
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