Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and two were Upheld.
A TV ad for www.21.co.uk, an online gambling site, seen in March 2017, featured a man in a tuxedo sitting at a blackjack table. A voice-over stated, “His heart is pounding. His body is still. He shuffles his chips as he thinks. Heart versus head. Emotion versus reason. He makes his move. He makes his own luck.” There were close-up shots of the man’s face and of his eye showing the pupil dilating before he put his chips and cards on the table.
1. A member of the public, who felt that the ad referenced a psychological thrill experienced by gambling addicts, challenged whether it was socially irresponsible.
2. The ASA challenged whether the claim “He makes his own luck” implied that gambling involved skill rather than chance, and therefore that the ad was socially irresponsible.
3. The ASA challenged whether the ad portrayed gambling in a context of toughness.
1. Intellectual Property & Software Ltd t/a 21.co.uk (IPS) said that the emotions portrayed were not unique to gambling. The ad had been constructed to depict a neutral emotion from the key point of play when the result is determined, and therefore did not depict any peak feeling of thrill being experienced. They said that social responsibility was a key consideration in their marketing strategies and they believed that the ad was within the required parameters.
Clearcast said that visuals were in line with what they had approved for other gambling advertisements. The man in the ad appeared neutral and calm throughout, with an expression of concentration. They believed that anyone could experience a thrill while gambling sensibly and there was nothing in the ad to suggest that the man was an addict because his demeanour didn’t change.
2. IPS said that the man in the ad was shown playing blackjack, a game which the brand and domain name 21.co.uk was built around (21 being another name for blackjack). Unlike other games they offered, which relied strictly on chance with no possibility of the player being able to influence the outcome, blackjack was a strategic card game. While cards were randomly dealt, how a player played their cards, and the decisions they made, would be based on their skills and experience. They therefore considered that the claim “He makes his own luck” was an accurate reflection of the particular game featured in the ad. They said the claim referenced the common expression “make your own luck”, which meant that by practising and working hard at something, one could improve one’s own chances.
Clearcast said that the man was playing blackjack, a game for which players would have their own strategies. Therefore they did not consider that the ad was irresponsible.
3. IPS said that the ad featured a well-dressed man in a tuxedo, reflecting the dress code of many casinos. The character was designed to appeal to a target market of sleek, professional males and shown as being smart, calm and controlled. IPS believed this was far removed from traditional depictions of male toughness. They also stated that the ad depicted an unknown individual, with no public persona linking to toughness.
Clearcast said that no concerns were raised regarding the ad portraying gambling in a context of toughness at the clearance stage. They didn’t believe the man appeared to be tough – the ad was more about him using his mental strategy.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted the shots of the man’s pupil dilating and lips parting, and the statement “His heart is pounding” in the voice-over, which we considered would be interpreted as signs of excitement or a thrill he was experiencing while playing. However, we noted that his overall demeanour was calm and there was nothing in the ad to suggest that his behaviour was compulsive. We acknowledged that online casino games were entertainment products that involved an element of risk, and it was reasonable to expect that consumers would experience some excitement when playing responsibly. We considered that the signs of excitement shown in the ad were subtle and were unlikely to be understood as the behaviour of a problem gambler. We therefore concluded that the ad was not irresponsible on this point.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 17.3.1 17.3.1 portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm (Gambling), but did not find it in breach.
We noted that the man was shown playing blackjack and considered that consumers would understand the claims made in the ad as relating to that game specifically. We acknowledged that blackjack could involve an element of strategy and a player’s success could in part be influenced by their skills and experience as opposed to chance alone. The voice-over stated, “Heart versus head. Emotion versus reason”, which implied that the man’s decision as to his next move was based on a combination of instinct and rational strategy. However, we noted that to a large extent, success in the game was down to luck.
Overall, we considered that the claim “He makes his own luck” over-emphasised the influence that strategy could have on the outcome of the game. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible on this point.
On this point, the ad breached BCAP Code rule 17.3.1 17.3.1 portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm (Gambling).
We noted that the central character was shown looking at the dealer and directly at the camera with a confident gaze, his body language suggested he was in control of the situation. He bet all his chips and was shown smiling slightly before turning over his final, decisive, card. While we acknowledged that the man did not display overt attributes of physical toughness, we considered that he would be viewed by consumers as displaying signs of mental toughness or resilience in the face of taking a major risk by betting all of his chips at once. We concluded that the ad portrayed gambling in a context of mental toughness and linked it to resilience.
On this point, the ad breached BCAP Code rule
portray gambling in a context of toughness or link it to resilience or recklessness
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Intellectual Property & Software Ltd to ensure that their advertising did not over-emphasise the role of strategy. Furthermore, they must ensure that their advertising did not portray gambling in a context of toughness.