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Ladbrokes TV ads banned for linking gambling to reckless behaviour 7/01/2009
Mark Sweney

The advertising watchdog has banned a tongue-in-cheek TV campaign by Ladbrokes for portraying gambling as a reckless pursuit.

Its ruling followed just one public complaint, prompting the betting company to call for a review of the decision and brand it "political correctness gone too far".

Ladbrokes said that the Advertising Standards Authority's ruling was an "incorrect application" of the broadcast TV advertising code that was in effect "a ruling against humour in gambling advertisements". The company has requested a review of the ruling with the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications.

The betting company ran two TV ads, described as "pastiches of documentary-style filming", telling the story of two adrenaline junkies who came to a sticky end after taking one risk too many.

One of the ads featured a fictional eyepatch-wearing character called Willem Snyman, described as a "mentor and oceanic guru", who talked about the demise of a shark-diving student.

Snyman explained that the student's headstrong attitude and extreme appetite for risk-taking led him to tie raw bacon and sausages to his wetsuit and dive in shark infested waters in a seal costume.

"All we could bury was his flipper," explained Snyman.

The other ad was narrated by the fictional J "Snake Eyes" Kowalski, a pilot and skydiving pioneer, talking about the death of his student Ted.

Ted was said to have died after experimenting with smaller and smaller parachutes, until one day he jumped using just an empty 30g potato chip packet.

Both ads ended with the line "If only he'd seen it would have quenched his thrill buds."

The Advertising Standards Authority received one complaint that the TV ads portrayed gambling in a context of toughness and linked it to risk-taking and reckless behaviour.

In its defence, Ladbrokes said that the humour was "deliberately exaggerated and ridiculous" and that the cautionary nature of the of the stories "actively encouraged caution and moderation over extreme behaviour and recklessness".

The ASA said that while the TV ads would not be viewed as realistic or aspirational, it agreed with the complainant that the overall portrayal of gambling was in a context of toughness with links to excessive risk-taking and reckless behaviour. The ASA banned the ads for breaching the broadcasting code.

"Ladbrokes fully supports the code of practice relating to gambling advertising but this ruling is an example of political correctness going too far," said the managing director of Ladbrokes' remote betting and gaming operation, John O'Reilly.

However, the regulator cleared the commercials of additional complaints, from the same source, that the ads encourages socially irresponsible gambling and exploited the "susceptibilities and aspirations of vulnerable people".

In September 2007 the government introduced new provisions under the Gambling Act 2005 to allow betting and gambling companies to advertise on TV after the 9pm watershed, around televised sporting events, and more freely in print media.

Alongside the liberalisation, a tougher advertising code was introduced to ensure ads are socially responsible, particularly in regard to young people and vulnerable members of society.

Ladbrokes launched its first national TV ad a month later featuring stars including TV presenting legend Jimmy Hill and ex-footballers Ally McCoist, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon and Chris Kamara.

The campaign was criticised for encouraging young people to gamble and playing on "male bravado and peer pressure".

In a test case for the new gambling advertising rules, the ASA cleared Ladbrokes' TV campaign of any breach of the broadcast TV advertising code.

However, in April last year Paddy Power and Intercasino became the first gambling companies to have campaigns banned by the advertising regulator.