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How are gambling marketers adapting to increased regulation?

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By Hannah Bowler | Journalist

November 8, 2021 | 7 min read

As UK advertising codes around gambling are updated ahead of a government review, operators and agencies in the space need to read up on the new rules fast.

Gambling brands adapting to revised CAP guidance

Gambling brands are adapting to revised Cap guidance

In March 2020, GambleAware published its report looking at the effects of gambling marketing on young people and vulnerable adults. Its findings led to the Committee of Advertising Practice (Cap) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (Bcap) reviewing its guidance and the DCMS launching a consultation into its gambling laws.

Gambling operators have since made voluntary moves in this space, including a temporary TV and radio ban during the first lockdown and the ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban, opting out of ads during sports matches. The Advertising Association (AA) said this had reduced exposure to four-17-year-olds by 97%.

Although Cap and Bcap’s guidance isn’t legally binding by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Nick Breen, partner at Reed and Smith law firm, says: “The new guidance is going to require gambling operators and their agencies to take even greater care in their campaigns and consider an ads implication.”

Revisions to Cap guidance

The following are advertising tropes Cap believes could encourage harmful gambling habits:

  • Ads that present gambling as ‘complex’ and skilled, appealing to a gambler’s perceived sense of expertise.

  • Gambling messaging that makes someone feel like they are part of a wider community.

  • Ads offering money back, free bets, bonuses or enhanced odds.

  • Messaging that trivializes the risks of gambling, humor or light-heartedness, and ads that portray unrealistic winners.

  • Ads that create a sense of impulsiveness and urgency, such as time-limited offers and ads that emphasize the immediacy of an event.

Potential government regulation changes

  • The government review is considering banning ads that feature celebrities that appeal to under 18s.

  • One consideration is a ban on gambling brands sponsoring football shirts – shirt sponsorships currently provide Premier League and Championship clubs with £110m a year.

Insight from the legal profession

Breen, an expert in advertising law, says the crackdown will “force gambling operators into those slightly peripheral forms of advertising and away from pure advertising.” Since TV campaigns are more expensive and harder to pull, Breen says TV is riskier to invest in while the guidance is under review.

Breen raises concerns that this latest guidance will make it harder for agencies and brands to diversify into other marketing forms that “fall within the gray area of the rules,” urging marketers to be aware of further changes coming down the line.

According to Breen, the gambling advertising industry is a long way from a total ban. “We’re still at the beginning of this crackdown,” he says. “Up until now, the UK regime has been reasonably open.”

The agency view

Mark Lloyd, strategy director at the sports-focused ad agency Dark Horses, has been looking at the wider consequences of the gambling crackdown. He says while there will be an “undeniable” short-term hit on sports brands, the long-term recovery from the tobacco ban is proof of sport’s sustainability.

He says sports such as Formula 1 managed to “reposition itself as a truly premium sporting property, which is now undeniably better off following the ban.”

To mitigate the financial loss, Lloyd says sports brands should widen out to a broader spectrum of sectors. “We need to prove sport’s value to new categories and show to potential investors how effective sport can be in achieving marketing goals,” he says. “As media becomes more fragmented, the potential to tap into the universally-shared cultural moments that sport provides is unmatched in today’s society.”

Lloyd says the opportunities with a “post-betting money world” may lie with digital-first scale-up businesses such as Cazoo, Getir and TikTok, which have entered the sports space in the last 12 months.

“Sport just needs to work on covering more companies like them, showing how sport can provide the relevancy at scale these brands need to make the next step,” he says.

What the Ad Association says

The AA has given evidence to the government’s gambling act review, which encompasses both advertising and broader gambling regulation. In a statement to The Drum, the trade body says: “Gambling regulation is a highly sensitive issue, and we believe gambling companies must be responsible in their use of the tools provided by the advertising industry.”

It adds: “We remain of the view that it is essential gambling companies use advertising responsibly and follow the requirements we have of all advertisers to ensure their ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

Although not legally binding by the ASA, the AA said gambling operators are “required to follow both the spirit and letter of the advertising codes with specific intentions to protect children and vulnerable adults.”

Innovative new advertising avenues

Ad-funded content is one avenue betting brands have been investing in to diversify. In 2020 Flutter-owned Sky Bet funded an ITV documentary about jockey Daryl Jacobs, and more recently Coral funded the 10-part ITV doc Against The Odds.

The docuseries deal included multiple platform distribution and integration into the real world off-screen. Coral also struck a full activation package with additional behind-the-scenes footage for its platforms, in-store promotion and branding, plus talent-signed merchandise for competitions.

Coral head of brand marketing Chris Brocklehurst says: “This is a brand-new format for Coral and it brilliantly captures some of the most compelling and exciting stories in sport and cements Coral’s position as a leader in the sport.”

Paddy Power has also stepped into the scripted comedy space, first launching the four-part series The Mascot and more recently The Var Room, which dropped exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in January.

Ladbrokes made an interesting move in October by hosting its first live music event. Ladbrokes Amplify is a series of live gigs aimed at football fans, and the event kicked off with a performance from Red Rum Club, a brand synonymous with Liverpool FC fans.

“Football and music go together hand in hand, and Ladbrokes Amplify gives our customers intimate access to gigs with artists that support the same teams as they do, creating a unique experience that enhances any football and music lover’s passion for the game,” Ladbrokes says.

In more traditional event sponsorship, Sky Bet agreed a deal with ITV Racing in July to host its own racing series called The Sky Bet Sunday Series.

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