William Hill’s ‘It’s who you play with’ TV ad is a model of responsible advertising. One of the core regulations of the ‘Broadcasting Code of Advertising Practice’ aimed at ensuring socially responsible advertising is regulation 17.3.4 – advertising must not ‘portray gambling as indispensable or as taking priority in life; for example, over family, friends or professional or educational commitments’.
So, William Hill runs an ad that shows a group of friends having fun on social media, part of which involves a bet. The friends are all clearly highly socialised and there is much laughter not to say outright comedy. The event determines and there is the elation and deflation of the winning and losing accompanied by more chat and humour amongst the group. There is no coercion, peer-pressure, toughness or other indication of pathological behaviour. At the end of the ad the usual responsible gambling strapline appears, in sizeable font, prominently and for an appreciable duration of time.
One might expect that advertising like this would be recognised as being part of the new realisation of restraint and responsibility for which a major gambling business might expect congratulation. Seeing one of the major brands in the business running an ad with such high production values and a thumping editorial emphasis on friends, fun, humour and entertainment should be seen as the new gold-standard of sustainable socially-aware advertising.
Surprisingly however, ‘The Big Step’, a charity fundraiser walk for ‘Gambling with Lives’ is reported as claiming that the ad is irresponsible. The basis for this is twofold. First, there is the objection that the ad portrays gambling as a social opportunity “when it’s often the opposite”. Second, there is the objection that pathological gamblers play not with their friends but with their “mental health, family trust, job security and debt collectors”. These two objections in fact describe the same thing: solitary, pathological gambling. So the objection – presumably – is that that ad should not portray gambling as a socialised activity because for a small minority of people (by any measure) it is the opposite. But then how should it be portrayed? If gambling may not be portrayed as a fun, controlled, socialised pastime how should it be portrayed? The BCAP regulation set out above forbids it to be portrayed as ‘taking precedence over friends and family’ because no-one wants advertising to promote solitary asocial gambling. But to comply with this sensible regulation and advertise it as a fun, socialised pastime is clearly still highly objectionable to some.
The ‘Gambling with Lives’ website says that the aim of the charity is to ‘reduce gambling related harm by supporting better regulation of gambling products’. Is not the BCAP prohibition on advertising gambling as solitary and pathological just such an example of ‘better regulation’: and is not the acute sensitivity shown to the principle by William Hill an example of self-regulation that is infinitely better and more respectful of those persons who have suffered gambling problems than some of the advertising that has gone up in the last twelve years? No-one wishes to see anyone come to harm from gambling and working to support people experiencing difficulty is a good and noble thing to do. But condemning a gambling operator that is doing a really good job with its advertising does absolutely nothing to further better regulation or help a single problem gambler.