All in good fun? PR and the gambling industry

by James Chadwick

During Sutton United’s fifth round FA cup tie with Arsenal at the Borough Sports Ground, reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw made an error in judgement. His decision to eat a pie on camera, passed off by the  man himself as “just a bit of banter” eventually led to his resignation, amid claims of match-fixing, or at the very least, a breach of FA rules. But how did we get here?

Shaw’s decision was centred around a promotion offered by one bookmaker, which promised to pay out at odds of 8-1 if the custodian were to be caught on camera with his snack of choice. These types of stunts are now common fair from bookmakers, but is their relationship with the speculators a healthy one? Do these companies have a responsibility in terms of their PR?

The tobacco, alcohol and even the fast food industry has to operate under a strict set of guidelines when attempting to raise brand awareness. The gambling industry is open to criticism, but is not currently under the same amount of scrutiny. However, given the addictive nature of gambling, should they be more closely regulated, or face sanctions if behaving irresponsibly?

In 2013, Ladbrokes, one of the UK’s biggest betting and gambling companies, offered students the chance to bet on the outcome of their own degree during their fresher’s year. Perhaps understandably, this was met with mixed reactions. Many accused the bookmakers of encouraging gambling, though other parents would presumably jump at the chance to further motivate their child and increase their will to achieve at university.

More recently, in 2016, the government proposed a ban on daytime gambling adverts on social media and television. This followed growing concerns over the number of people with a severe gambling problem, alongside the amount of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority relating to betting adverts.

The gambling industry’s reach in the current climate is huge. Events, teams, and even competitions are sponsored by betting firms. Football games shown on live TV are awash with betting advertisements, even some updated in real time to further entice the viewers.

Alongside their responsibilities to promote sensible gambling, the firms also have to consider

Paddy Power’s 2002 Billboard

where the lines of general decency should be drawn. In 2014, PaddyPower’s Oscar Pistorius advert was named the most complained about advert of the year. Their “Money back if he walks” promotion drew record complaints, and the firm took the very unusual step of pulling the whole campaign immediately. They were less considered back in 2002, with their billboard depicting 2 old ladies crossing the road. This offered punters the opportunity to bet on which one would be run over (PaddyPower later claimed they were betting on who would cross the road first).

What we can be sure of, given the massive riches available to those firms who can best capture the public’s attention, and perhaps imagination, is that these stunts are here to stay. Bookmakers will be striving for ever more outrageous and attention grabbing adverts and campaigns, leaving the onus on the Advertising Standards Agency, and in part the government, to keep tabs on the growing influence they can have in manipulating the general public.

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