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ASA warns Ladbrokes over ‘Where the Nation Plays’ racing ad

| By Daniel O'Boyle
The ASA has upheld a complaint against Ladbrokes after ruling that an October 2020 ad displayed a character detached from his surroundings due to preoccupation with a bet.

The ad in question, titled “The Racers” and part of the Entain brand’s “Where the Nation Plays” campaign appeared on Channel 4 streaming service All4 on 25 October, 2020.

It showed various people using the Ladbrokes mobile app and describing how they bet on and watch horse racing.

The ad had been cleared by clearing agency Clearcast before it appeared.

The ad received one complaint, which focused on a portion where a man in a café is shown appearing anxious, looking away from those at his table and shaking while a voiceover said: “Come starter’s orders, I’m a bag of nerves.”

The complaint argued that the ad depicted socially irresponsible gambling behaviour.

Ladbrokes responded that there was no mention of this person in the ad gambling. The player was “simply stating that he got nervous ahead of starter’s orders which would be his natural reaction whether or not he was gambling”, it argued.

It added that “nerves before a sporting event were normal emotions”.

Clearcast, meanwhile, said the man was “not detached from his surroundings” but rather was focused on watching the race on a television.

While no TV was visible in the shot, Clearcast said it was “strongly implied” to be where he was looking through the narrative of the ad.

Clearcast also pointed out that the character responded quickly to a friend at his table who pointed out that his shaking was making the eggs he had ordered wobble. This, it said, showed he was not detached from the conversation.

“He might have been shown to have an annoying habit and a fidget but he was not shown being harmfully obsessed with his bet,” it said.

Channel Four also argued the ad was not irresponsible and mentioned “a number of approaches that would have been problematic for the ad to have taken, but did not believe the ad did so”.

The broadcaster added that the ad “depicted a level of excitement”, but “went no further than acknowledging that betting was a leisure activity involving an element of excitement which was reasonable to depict”.

However, the ASA upheld the complaint. It noted that the Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) guidance on gambling mentioned that ads featuring characters showing “detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling” were likely to breach the CAP Code of advertising practice.

It added that “outwardly light-hearted or humorous approaches that could be regarded as portrayals of these behaviours” should still be avoided.

While the ASA agreed that the character was likely watching the race on television, it said he was “preoccupied with the race” and noted that his food remained “untouched”.

Viewers would assume the man had placed a bet, rather than just being nervous about the race as Ladbrokes argued.

It added that the fact the character’s tablemate needed to point out the character’s actions suggested that he was indeed detached from his surroundings and preoccupied with his bet.

As a result, the ASA determined that the ad breached CAP Code section 16.1, which says “marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited”.

It was also found to be in breach of section 16.3.1, which states gambling ads should not “portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm”.

While the ASA did not ban the ad, it did tell Ladbrokes to “ensure future ads did not depict gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible”.

It highlighted detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling as particular areas of importance.

In June, the ASA rejected a complaint against a Ladbrokes ad in which characters take part in scenarios similar to casino games in their everyday lives. 

Though five viewers made complaints about the ad, arguing that it portrayed gambling as “taking priority in life”, the ASA said that characters depicted were “not so distracted that they didn’t continue” with their daily tasks.

Other Entain brands have received recent ASA sanctions, however, as the ASA banned an ad for Coral’s “Fail to Finish” promotion on the same day it rejected the Ladbrokes complaint as well as a Gala Spins ad that it said was likely to be of particular appeal to children.

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