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ASA Ruling on Ladbrokes Betting & Gaming Ltd

Ladbrokes Betting & Gaming Ltd

Imperial House
Imperial Drive
Rayners Lane
Harrow
HA2 7JW

Date:

17 September 2014

Media:

Internet (video), Poster, Television, VOD

Sector:

Leisure

Number of complaints:

98

Agency:

BBH Partners LLP

Complaint Ref:

A14-267066

Background

Summary of Council decision:

Three issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld in relation to two ads only and two were Not upheld.

Ad

Four TV ads, six poster ads, four video-on-demand (VOD) ads and a video on the Ladbrokes Youtube channel formed part of the "Ladbrokes Life" campaign:

a. The first TV ad introduced five male characters, each with their own nickname. At the beginning of the ad, the group was shown walking in slow motion down an alleyway whilst music played. The ad cut back and forth between this scene and shots of the group, either together or individually, in various scenarios including playing football, at the pub, at the races and in a nightclub. The ad focused on each group member in turn, whilst the voice-over stated "So, there's this guy, right - The Believer. He likes his odds long and his wins big. Risk would be his middle name, if it wasn't already Douglas. And Generous John. First to the bar, last in the cab. He know betting's a team sport. And who better to have on your team than Brightside here? If he was a battery, he'd be positive at both ends. And then there's The Professor: calculator with a beard. He knows all the stats and facts and reckons he can work the whole thing out, which winds this man up no end [the screen showed a still image of "Gut Truster"]. 'Where's the fun in form?', he says. 'When you know, you know you know ... you know?' 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".

b. The second TV ad was similar to ad (a), but focused on the characters "The Professor" and "Gut Truster".

c. The third TV ad was similar to ad (a), but focused on the characters "The Believer", "Generous John" and "Mr. Brightside".

d. The Youtube video was similar to ad (a), but included at the end links to further videos in the campaign.

e. The first poster showed an image of "The Believer", accompanied by the text "NO ODDS TOO LONG - NO DREAM TOO GREAT" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

f. The second poster showed an image of "Generous John", accompanied by the text "WHEN YOU WIN GET THEM IN" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

g. The third poster showed an image of "Mr Brightside", accompanied by the text "WHEN YOU WIN IT'S SKILL - WHEN YOU LOSE IT'S BAD LUCK" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

h. The fourth poster showed an image of "Gut Truster", accompanied by the text "WHEN YOU KNOW - YOU KNOW YOU KNOW" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

i. The fifth poster showed an image of "The Professor", accompanied by the text "ONCE IS LUCK - TWICE IS TALENT" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

j. The sixth poster showed a group shot of all five characters, some of them holding mobile phones, accompanied by the text "JOIN IN WITH THE NEW APP - SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN YOUR POCKET" and the slogan "This is the Ladbrokes Life".

k. The first VOD ad, seen on 4OD, featured the character "Mr Brightside" dancing in a nightclub. Voice-over stated, "This guy wouldn't let a bad bet ruin a good night. He nearly made a killing on the first goal-scorer today ... but then the linesman got involved. But does he let it get to him? Nah. It was only a few quid - nothing he'll miss on Monday ..."

l. The second VOD ad, seen on 4OD, featured the character "The Believer" playing football. Voice-over stated, "Look up 'ambition' in the dictionary and you'll find this face screaming back at you. He's a man with a ten-team accumulator - that's why he backs Coventry to win away this weekend ..."

m. The third VOD ad, seen on 4OD and Demand 5, was the same as ad (c).

n. The fourth VOD ad, seen on 4OD, was the same as ad (b).

o. The fourth TV ad was the same as ad (k).

Issue

The ASA received 98 complaints.

1. Most complainants challenged whether ads (a) − (o) breached the Code, because they: portrayed gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm; portrayed gambling as indispensable; suggested peer pressure to gamble; suggested that gambling could enhance personal qualities; and portrayed gambling in a context of toughness;

2. Some complainants challenged whether ads (d) − (j) were irresponsible, because they could be seen by under-18s; and

3. A few complainants challenged whether ads (a), (c), (d) and (m) breached the Code, because they linked gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

BCAP Code

Response

1. Ladbrokes Betting & Gaming Ltd said the Ladbrokes Life campaign was centred on a group of five male friends who were shown to engage in a range of everyday activities typical of their age group. Betting was only one of those activities and no more defined their characters than did the other pursuits depicted. They noted that, according to a 2014 report by the Gambling Commission, 65% of all English and Scottish adults engaged in gambling and suggested that consumers would identify with the portrayal in the ads of betting as only one small part of life.

Ladbrokes stressed that the friends, who they said were clearly in their late twenties or early thirties, were normal, ordinary-looking men engaged in commonplace leisure activities and were not cool or glamorous. They stated that the ads did not show the men as behaving in an irresponsible or reckless manner or taking any risks beyond the mundane (such as the overhead kick on the football field attempted by the character The Believer in ads (a), (c), (d), (l) and (m)). They also commented that the ads showed each of the men alongside some kind of vulnerability; for example, Mr. Brightside was geeky and could not dance, The Believer was an inept footballer and The Gut Truster demonstrated misplaced blind faith. They did not consider that the ads portrayed gambling in the context of toughness.

As well as stating that betting was shown to be only one, incidental, part of the backdrop to the characters' lives, Ladbrokes noted that the ads did not show large bets (and in the case of ad (k) in fact referred to the amount as only "a few quid") or isolated gambling, or suggest in any way that gambling took precedence over other events. They said, instead, the ads reinforced positive social engagement by showing occasional betting in the context of a normal social life whereby the characters shared chips in a local café, socialised together irrespective of whether they had won or lost a bet and were sanguine about not having played football well, having lost to a linesman's flag and other events in their lives. They noted that the ads represented a move away from the more typical approach of referencing specific products and pricing information in gambling ads and did not consider the campaign likely to appeal to problem gamblers. They also disagreed with the notion that the ads could suggest peer pressure to gamble, commenting that not only were there no instances of characters being criticised or ridiculed for not betting but that ad (k) conveyed the importance of not betting further following a loss.

They considered that there was a clear disconnect between the "heroic" style of the voice-over and the normal, everyday lifestyle of the men portrayed in the ads and therefore that the former would generally be interpreted by consumers in an ironic light. Further, they felt that the phrases assigned to the characters would be understood as each one's own pseudo-philosophical musings rather than direct commentary from Ladbrokes presenting a call to engage in betting.

In summary, Ladbrokes believed that most consumers would see the ads, viewed as a whole, as depicting snapshots of the life of a regular group of friends, would recognise the dryly humorous tone and would not interpret them to encourage an irresponsible attitude towards gambling.

Clearcast pointed out that all of the TV ads included a link to the Gambleaware website and stated that betting should be enjoyed responsibly. They considered that the ads showed a group of friends betting responsibly and in moderation, within a context of enjoyment, and said there was a complete absence of reckless or destructive gambling, or of the depiction of placing large bets. They echoed Ladbrokes' comment that ad (k) specifically portrayed betting a small amount and conveyed that the outcome of a bet was not of such importance that it should ruin a social occasion.

Clearcast said the characters in the ads were described as a risk taker, a generous person, someone with a positive outlook on life, an analyser of form and an instinctive decision-maker, none of which gambling characteristics were irresponsible. Further, whilst gambling was a part of the group's social life, it was not seen as being indispensible, detrimental or performed obsessively to the disadvantage of any other commitment; instead, the men were shown enjoying many other activities besides gambling. Clearcast said there was no indication that gambling could enhance personal qualities. They noted that each character's personality was described in the relevant ad before any gambling took place and was unaffected by placing, winning or losing a bet. They considered that the characters were not portrayed as being particularly cool or glamorous and disagreed that the ads suggested peer pressure to gamble or portrayed gambling in a context of toughness.

Youtube responded regarding ad (d). They confirmed that they had not received any complaints directly and stated that the ad, which they noted appeared only on Ladbrokes' own Youtube channel, did not seem to be in breach of their content Community Guidelines relating to uploaded video content.

Clear Channel and JC Decaux, two of the site owners for the poster sites at which ads (e) − (j) were located, confirmed that they had not received any complaints directly about the ads. JC Decaux said their policy was not to run gambling ads within 50 metres of a school, and Clear Channel said they had placed a voluntary restriction on the Ladbrokes Life campaign to ensure that it targeted vehicular traffic, although a limited number of ads had been placed within a reasonable distance of schools.

The other site owner, Primesight, did not provide any comments.

4OD responded regarding ads (k), (l), (m) and (n). They said the ads had run across all 4OD content, but were demographically targeted such that they were only shown to users aged 18−34 years.

Demand 5 responded regarding ad (m). They said the ad had run with a post-9 pm timing restriction and a scheduling restriction that prevented its being served in or around programmes made for, or likely to appeal particularly to, children. They considered that it had been responsibly scheduled.

2. In relation to ad (d), Ladbrokes stated that, although they did ensure that subscribers to their own Youtube channel were aged 18 years or over, in accordance with standard practice in the gambling industry the ad was made generally available on their Youtube channel and was not restricted to those subscribers. They considered that the ad was nevertheless targeted at an adult audience and said it had been accompanied by other videos that showed humorous "behind the scenes" content, none of which contained links to actual bets, offers or promotions.

Ladbrokes confirmed that in order to minimise the exposure of under-18s to the advertising, ads (e) to (j) had not been positioned within a 100-metre radius of any school. They noted one complainant's specific concern over the placement of an ad at two locations she believed to be frequented by school children, but said it would not be possible to establish that type of data for each potential poster site. They considered that the poster ads had not been irresponsibly placed. They also pointed out that each ad contained text including "18+".

Youtube, Clear Channel, JC Decaux and Primesight responded as outlined at point 1 above.

3. Ladbrokes noted that ads (a), (c), (d) and (m) contained a scene in a party showing eye contact between The Believer and a woman. They commented that the scene was fleeting and featured towards the end of the ads as part of a montage showing the various pursuits of the group of friends. They considered that it could not be said from the interaction, which was limited to eye contact only and did not include any visible signs of seduction such as winking or blowing kisses, whether there was any sexual attraction towards The Believer on the part of the woman.However, regardless of that fact the scene took place at a party and as she could not be aware of the character's pursuits outside of that setting there was no link between her behaviour and gambling.

Clearcast said none of the ads linked gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness. They commented that they had approved the ads featuring a scene of Mr. Brightside dancing in a club on the condition that no one would react positively to his dancing, develop eye contact or appear sexually interested in him, in order to ensure that the ad portrayed a carefree attitude and an enjoyment of dancing. They stated that everyone in the nightclub other than his two male friends was shown to be oblivious to him.

Youtube, 4OD and Demand 5 responded as outlined at point 1 above.

Assessment

1. Upheld in relation to ads (g) and (i) only

The ASA noted the issues raised by the complainants. Many had expressed concerns that the ads portrayed gambling as a normal, inherent part of a successful social life for young men and considered that the characters were shown to be popular within their group because of their gambling activities. They had also commented that the tone of the ads, including the voice-over, suggested that gambling was cool and glamorous and objected to the mottos assigned to each character on the grounds that they presented an irresponsible attitude towards gambling that could lead to harm. A few complainants believed that the ads were likely to appeal to problem gamblers.

We acknowledged the need to market gambling products and services carefully, in order to minimise as far as possible the likely impact of such ads on children, young persons and other vulnerable persons such as those with a history of gambling addiction. However, in this case we were satisfied that the particular content and presentation of the ads, which as described below presented responsible betting as part of a range of social activities, was unlikely unduly to encourage gambling amongst such consumers.

The TV, Youtube and VOD ads portrayed gambling as one of a range of activities performed by a group of friends. Although we recognised that some viewers had interpreted the ads to suggest that gambling was, and should be, an inherent and unifying feature of social relationships, especially for young men, on balance we were satisfied that the overall attitude towards gambling expressed in the ads was not an irresponsible one. In reaching that view, we noted the absence in the ads of any scenes appearing to show gambling to excess, gambling as an addiction or pressure on characters to engage in gambling. Whilst the characters were shown to enjoy betting together, that act was only one of a number of activities depicted and we did not consider that it was given undue emphasis within the ads or that it alone, rather than the group's social life as a whole, was proposed as a unifying factor bonding the characters together.

Notwithstanding the above, we disagreed with Ladbrokes' and Clearcast's views that the characters in the ad were "uncool", and that the ads did not in any way depict or suggest a glamorous lifestyle. We noted parallels between the opening scene of many of the TV, Youtube and VOD ads and the credit sequence of the cult film 'Reservoir Dogs', with the characters being shown walking down a street in slow motion against background music, with a focus on each one in turn as they were introduced. Further, we considered that the tone of the voice-over was reverential and were concerned that some aspects of the description of the characters − and in particular the closing statement, "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" − carried an element of bravado and could suggest gambling as way of life to be aspired to. On balance, however, and in view of the tongue-in-cheek style of the ads, we considered that most viewers would understand the mock-heroic intent of the voice-over and would not interpret the ads to imply that gambling would confer admiration or otherwise enhance personal qualities.

Each group member was described together with a characteristic. We considered that, in the context of the TV, Youtube and VOD ads, it was sufficiently clear that the personality traits described were gently humorous observations of their general attitudes towards life, and not only betting, and were not direct incitements by Ladbrokes of particular approaches to gambling. However, we were concerned that poster ads (e) to (i) did not contain the same degree of context for the claims. We considered that the statements, when isolated from the story presented in the TV, VOD and Youtube ads, would likely be understood as endorsements from Ladbrokes directly about individual approaches towards gambling that were each epitomised by the person pictured. We considered, in that context, the statements in ads (g) and (i), "WHEN YOU WIN IT'S SKILL - WHEN YOU LOSE IT'S BAD LUCK" and "ONCE IS LUCK - TWICE IS TALENT", condoned an irresponsible attitude towards gambling and thereby breached the CAP Code.

On that point, we investigated ads (a), (b), (c) and (o) under BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising) and 17.3.1, 17.3.4, 17.3.5, 17.3.6, 17.3.8 and 17.4.4 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

On that point, we investigated ads (d), (e), (f), (h), (j), (k), (l), (m) and (n) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 16.1, 16.3.1, 16.3.2, 16.3.5, 16.3.6, 16.3.7 and 16.3.9 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

On that point, ads (g) and (i) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising), 16.1 and 16.3.1 (Gambling). We also investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.3.2, 16.3.5, 16.3.6, 16.3.7 and 16.3.9 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

2. Not upheld

The CAP Code prohibited gambling ads that were directed at those below 18 years of age through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. We understood that ad (d) had appeared on Ladbrokes' own Youtube channel only, rather than having been scheduled to play before certain types of content on Youtube. We considered that children and young people were unlikely to constitute a significant proportion of visitors to Ladbrokes' own Youtube channel. Similarly, we noted that none of the poster ads (e) − (j) had been placed within 100 m of a school. We acknowledged one complainant's specific concern that two of the ads had been placed in locations frequented by schoolchildren. However, as those particular locations were stops on the London public transport system we understood them to be likely to attract a more general audience and therefore concluded that the posters had not been directed at under-18s.

We acknowledged that the ads could nevertheless have been seen by a minority of children and young people. The CAP Code imposed stringent restrictions on the content of gambling ads, in order to mitigate as far as possible any negative impact such an ad might have on a young audience; the ads were considered under those rules at points 1 and 3 above and below.

Because we were satisfied that ads (d) − (j) were not directed at under-18s through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared, we concluded that the particular placement of the ads was not irresponsible.

On that point, we investigated ads (d) − (j) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 16.3.13 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

3. Not upheld

We noted the scene in ads (a), (c), (d) and (m) in which a woman was shown to engage in eye contact with the character The Believer, at the point that the voice-over referenced "dreamers", "glory-seekers" and "back-page philosophers". Contrary to Ladbrokes' view, we considered that the shot did imply sexual attraction towards the man. However, as set out at point 1 above, we recognised that the ads portrayed a wide-ranging view of the characters' social pursuits and did not focus unduly on gambling as the defining or central part of their lives. We agreed that, in that context, viewers would not interpret the woman's attraction to The Believer, which took place at a location removed from the betting shop, as a direct consequence of his gambling and therefore that the ads did not link gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness. On that basis, we concluded that the ads did not breach the Codes.

On that point, we investigated ads (a) and (c) under BCAP Code rule 17.3.7 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

On that point, we investigated ads (d) and (m) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 16.3.8 (Gambling), but did not find them in breach.

Action

Ads (g) and (i) must not appear again in their current form. We told Ladbrokes Betting and Gaming Ltd to ensure that their advertising did not condone an irresponsible attitude towards gambling.

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For advice and training on the Advertising Codes please visit the CAP website.

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