By Matt Hansen, Senior Associate
15 May 2023
A recent Sportsbet TV commercial featuring a “couch potato” style lone man imagining himself receiving an award after landing a huge multi has run afoul of Ad Standards, with the Ad Standards Community Panel deeming that the commercial implies “a link between wagering and sexual success or enhanced attractiveness”. Gambling advertising is an increasingly sensitive area, and “won’t someone please think of the children” is a common catch cry. So, what are the rules, and what did Sportsbet do wrong here?
What happened in the commercial?
The commercial started with an “everyman” sitting alone on his couch, wearing casual clothing and using the Sportsbet betting app on his phone. He wins a bet (a “multi” with various “legs”), and a voice over describes the feeling as “feels like you’ve finally made it”. The scene then transitions to the same man, now at an “Oscars” style awards ceremony, wearing a tuxedo (albeit with football shorts and thongs) and sitting next to an attractive woman. He is announced as the winner of the “Most Outstanding Same Game Multi” award, and he then accepts the award and thanks his “anytime goal scorers”.
What does the AANA Wagering Advertising Code say?
The relevant provision to consider here is section 2.7 of the Wagering Advertising Code, which sets out that “Advertising or Marketing Communication for a Wagering Product or Service must not state or imply a link between wagering and sexual success or enhanced attractiveness”.
The AANA has also published some further guidance around this provision and how it may be interpreted. Specifically, the AANA cautions that advertisers should take care when “characters in advertising are treated with admiration as a result of their wagering to avoid creating a link between wagering and enhanced attractiveness … references to fame, being special or being a VIP should be treated carefully”. An example provided by the AANA of something that could imply enhanced attractiveness and breach this provision would be “portraying the transformation of characters’ appearance after wagering”. Similarly it would be a problem if an advertisement were to show a group of men or women at a bar betting on sports, winning, and then all of a sudden being surrounded by attractive new friends.
What did the Ad Standards Community Panel say?
The Panel upheld the AANA’s guidance above and deemed that the transformation of the man in this commercial after winning a bet, from casually dressed and alone, to well-dressed and accompanied by an attractive woman at an awards ceremony, implied a link between wagering and enhanced attractiveness.
Sportsbet attempted to argue that the scenario was a “fictional analogy (underscored by the dream element) and promotes Sportsbet’s SGM product through a humorous and harmless parody of the well-known Oscars ceremony setting” and that the main character was not afforded excessive admiration for his win, but rather, the ceremony was depicted as “modest” and that “the crowd reacts to the winner’s announcement and acceptance speech with balanced levels of applause and disappointment in a way that is consistent with that seen at the Oscars or similar event”.
This was rejected by the Panel on the basis that, despite the absurd nature of the scenario, and noting that the man is depicted accepting his award in a tuxedo top but football shorts and thongs, it nonetheless “does show a transformation of the man’s appearance that suggests that his attractiveness has been enhanced as a result of his win”. The Panel drew specific attention to the fact that “the man is shown to go from sitting alone on a couch in casual clothing to being dressed in a tuxedo with a woman next to him celebrating his success”. The Panel considered that this depicted a “positive transformation of the main character’s appearance and demeanour after winning”, and whilst this was in the context of an imagined scenario, it demonstrated “that the man’s self-image has improved after winning and he feels more attractive”.
What is the importance of this decision?
This is the first time the Panel has made a determination against a wagering ad on the grounds of sexual success or enhanced attractiveness, and the decision offers a good analysis on the nuances required to be considered when depicting any kind of success or celebration in a wagering ad. For example, had the man not been depicted as being alone at home, but rather, with a partner or a group of friends, and then all of them were transported to the award ceremony scenario after a win, and celebrated together, the result may have been different.
It is also worth noting that this is the first decision to be upheld against a wagering operator since July 2022, where another wagering operator, Unibet, received complaints about an ad depicting a man holding up a sign that said “Cashing Out Is For Pussies”. Generally speaking, most complaints about wagering ads tend to focus on concerns over encouragement of excessive wagering (as the Unibet complaint did). Recent trends in wagering advertising have seen increased focus on the communal and shared experience aspect of wagering, with increased prominence given to groups of friends sharing the experience together. This recent decision against Sportsbet however, serves as a reminder to be cautious in regard to depicting a transformation of circumstances after a win has occurred, to avoid linking any positive changes in circumstances with winning themselves, even on a subtle level.
What happens now?
Sportsbet will have to discontinue the commercial or modify it to address the Panel’s concern. It should be noted that Sportsbet does not agree with the decision and will be seeking an independent review. That said, the grounds upon which to request a review are:
- Where new or additional relevant evidence which could have a significant bearing on the determination becomes available. An explanation of why this information was not submitted previously must be provided.
- Where there was a substantial flaw in the Community Panel’s determination (determination clearly in error having regard to the provisions of the Codes or Initiatives, or clearly made against the weight of evidence).
- Where there was a substantial flaw in the process by which the determination was made.
In the absence of any additional evidence, Sportsbet’s only option here would be to argue that there is a substantial flaw in the Panel’s decision. Given that this commercial appears to tick all the boxes in terms of what the AANA’s guidance says NOT to do, Sportsbet’s punt here may not go their way. We will watch this space in any case for any changes in the result.
If you would like further information on AANA Codes or Ad Standards, and how they impact on you or your business, please contact one of our experts below.