A press ad by Paddy Power, seen in the 23 August 2017 edition of the Evening Standard and the 24 August 2017 edition of the Metro, featured the headline claim "ALWAYS BET ON BLACK" alongside an image of Floyd Mayweather. Further text stated "WE'VE PAID OUT EARLY ON A MAYWEATHER VICTORY BECAUSE WE CHECKED, AND ONLY ONE OF THEM IS A BOXER".
Nine complainants, who considered that the headline contained an obvious reference to Floyd Mayweather's race, challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Power Leisure Bookmakers Ltd t/a Paddy Power said the ad was not intended to cause offence on the grounds of race. They said the headline was a gambling related pun as the fight was taking place in Las Vegas and “betting on black” was a roulette reference. They acknowledged that the headline referred to Floyd Mayweather’s race, but said it was not used in a derogatory, distasteful or offensive manner and the overall tone of the ad was light-hearted and humorous. They said the early pay out was not based on Floyd Mayweather’s race but on his experience as a professional boxer compared with Conor McGregor who had never boxed professionally.
Paddy Power said the headline was a famous quote from the 1992 film Passenger 57, where Wesley Snipes asked “Do you ever play roulette? Well, let me give you a word of advice: always bet on black”. They said the Wesley Snipes quote was well known and would be instantly recognised by their demographic of customers who were adult and predominantly male sports bettors. They said the line was also parodied in the recent film The Lego Batman Movie (2017).
Paddy Power said the campaign was approved by Floyd Mayweather who found the line funny, rather than offensive or derogatory. The phrase “always bet on black” was embroidered on the underwear Floyd Mayweather’s wore at the official weigh-in for the match in Las Vegas. Floyd Mayweather also posted an image of himself wearing the underwear on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #alwaysbetonblack, which was not part of the sponsorship deal.
The Evening Standard said that, before publication, they believed some readers might find the ad distasteful, but believed the ad was unlikely to cause widespread offence to their readers; they had thought the ad was not derogatory about Floyd Mayweather’s race and was positive about his sporting prowess. They said that they had understood that the tagline “Always bet on black” was a reference to the famous line in the film Passenger 57. On reflection, however, they accepted that it was a marginal decision.
The Metro were unable to provide a substantive response within the short time-frame set by the ASA.
The CAP Code required marketers to ensure that ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and for particular care to be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race. The ad appeared in the sports section of two free untargeted newspapers, and was therefore likely to have been seen by a wide-range of people. It featured the prominent headline “Always Bet on Black”, alongside an image of the boxer Floyd Mayweather, who was a black male. We considered that readers would interpret the headline to be a pun on Floyd Mayweather’s race and betting on roulette. We understood that the headline was also intended to be a reference to a 1992 film quote. There was, however, nothing further in the ad which indicated that the headline was a film quote, and we considered that many readers would be unfamiliar with the quote.
We acknowledged that the headline claim did not make a negative statement about Floyd Mayweather’s race and had endorsed him to win the match. We also acknowledged that Floyd Mayweather had authorised the claim. However, we considered that readers would nevertheless be offended by the invitation to always bet on the outcome of a boxing match based on a boxer’s race, and the message that the boxing match was a fight between two different races. For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence on the grounds of race.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. Harm and Offence).
We told Paddy Power to ensure they avoided causing serious offence on the grounds of race.