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Mecca Bingo drag queen ad criticised by ASA

| By Marese O'Hagan
An ad from Mecca Bingo has been criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for suggesting that gambling can enhance self-esteem.
Mecca Bingo ad

The ad, which was posted on Instagram in August 2023, featured two images of drag queen Baga Chipz. The image on the left showed the individual with a neutral facial expression, while the image on the right showed them in drag, smiling and wearing a red sparkly dress. They were also wearing a full face of makeup and holding a glass of champagne.

The tagline on the ad read “Before playing Mecca Bingo vs after playing Mecca Bingo” above the related images. The caption on the post stated “A good game can transform you! Don’t you just love that post-bingo glow. Over 18s only. BeGambleAware.org. DrinkAware.co.uk. Ts&Cs apply.” Hashtags included #meccabingo, #bagachipz, #winningfeeling and #feelinggood.

Two complaints challenged whether the ad implied that gambling could improve self-esteem or self-image.

Recent complaints submitted to the ASA regarding gambling ads have challenged whether those featured could appeal to under-18s. The ASA subsequently critiqued ads featuring Anthony Joshua and Gary Neville for this reason, as well as an ad with Mason Mount, who is under 25.

Mecca Bingo’s defence

Mecca Bingo said it never intended for the ad to suggest gambling could improve personal qualities. Instead, it said the point of the ad was to communicate that it offers fun experiences. Mecca Bingo also pointed out that it works with Baga Chipz on a regular basis.

It explained that the use of “transform” was meant to reference how a person might feel after a night out at a Mecca Bingo event. Mecca Bingo also said that transformation references are common in the drag industry and those who know Baga Chipz are aware of this context. Baga Chipz appeared on the first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK.

The operator said it had purposefully left out references to winning at bingo, to avoid suggesting that a “feel-good” factor could only come from winning at bingo.

However, Mecca Bingo also said it understood how the ad may have been misinterpreted. This, it said, may have happened if it was viewed by someone who didn’t have the context.

The ad was removed permanently.

Complaints upheld

The ASA ruled that the ad violated CAP Code rules 16.1 and 16.3.6.

The standards body considered the neutral expression in the first image as contrasting with the happier expression in the second image. It also pointed out the glass of champagne, as well as the “more exuberant clothes, in the form of a sequinned outfit with matching jewellery” as suggesting “a higher level of confidence and an enhanced self-image”.

It also ruled that the placing of the text implied a person could achieve this higher self-image by playing bingo.

The hashtags were also judged. The ASA said #winningfeeling and #feelinggood suggested that a person could increase their confidence by winning bingo games, not just playing them.

“We acknowledged that the ad featured well-known drag queen Baga Chipz and that the two images, combined with a reference to being transformed, would have been interpreted by some viewers to be a reference about drag queens,” said the ASA.

“We still considered the overall impression of the ad, particularly through the contrasting images, suggested gambling could improve an individual’s self-image or self-esteem.”

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