In a year in which the onslaught of television ads for sportsbooks has been as relentless as T.J. Watt on the pass rush, one commercial stands out from the pack. There’s no JB Smoove, Drew Brees, or Jamie Foxx hawking a product — just former coach turned NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci hawking a mindset.
Last week, the first commercial produced through the partnership between the NFL and the National Council on Problem Gaming (NCPG) debuted during Thursday Night Football. It continued to air during every subsequent Week 13 game and will run again during this Thursday’s Pittsburgh Steelers-Minnesota Vikings contest; in all other Week 14 games on FOX, NBC, and CBS; and during all Week 15 games on FOX, NBC, and ESPN. A 15-second version will run throughout the postseason, and the spots will appear during pregame shows and in shoulder programming on the NFL Network.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the commercial:
Yes, responsible gambling strategies are going mainstream. The message of the commercial is simple and easy to grasp, as Mariucci delivers, via chalkboard, a three-pronged approach:
- Set your limits, stick to them.
- Track your bets.
- Only bet what you can afford.
Then he finishes by saying, “That’s the game plan. Stick to it.” And a graphic follows directing viewers to the NCPG website ResponsiblePlay.org.
When he appeared on the US Bets podcast Gamble On in late October, NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte spoke excitedly about the plan to run responsible gambling commercials and the exposure that comes with an NFL partnership. Now a product of that historic partnership is on display for all to see.
Jamie Salsburg, a former problem gambler who is now an advocate for those who struggle and is the host of the After Gambling podcast, considers the commercial a messaging success, especially for a first try hamstrung by extreme time limitations.
“In 30 seconds, you really don’t have much time, and you want to give people actionable advice,” Salsburg tells US Bets. “It’s a challenge to try to communicate what responsible gambling is in 30 seconds. But as an introduction to the concept, the three points the commercial makes … really are the building blocks that we, as advocates, give people to work with.”
Messaging aside, is this a well-conceived and well-produced TV commercial?
“It’s a very traditional PSA [public service announcement] approach, and it’s a little bit formulaic, fitting right in with how the NFL does things,” proffers J.C. Dillon, a former advertising executive with TBWA-Chiat-Day, where he worked off and on with the NFL. “They do certain formulaic things to try to build drama, like Mariucci walking down a hall, and the slo-mo nature of it. They’re trying to build anticipation and drama up front, then they come out with a straightforward message.”
If anything, Dillon feels the commercial leans into the drama a bit too heavily, as he sees Mariucci walking down the hallway as suggestive of “impending doom.”
Salsburg doesn’t see it quite the same way, focusing on the positive messaging, as the ad tells viewers how to gamble responsibly, rather than dwelling on the downsides of problem gambling.
“I personally always like moving toward a positive message,” Salsburg says. “Tell people what we’d like to see, enforcing the positive play aspect of things, keeping people between the buoys as opposed to the scare tactics. I don’t necessarily believe that the scare tactics are all that effective. I mean, we’ve seen it with the war on drugs — that’s a pretty good example of messaging that was well-intentioned but poorly executed.”
Dillon admits that, as an outsider to the gambling world, he was left with questions about the second of the three bullet points. His reaction suggests that “track your bets” is a concept that might be lost on some viewers. Regardless, he’s pleased to see ads like this starting to run.
“It seems the NFL is coming out in a proactive way,” Dillon says. “It’s a good thing that they’re actually doing it. I don’t know what their motivation is — it might be politically motivated — but they’re doing it.”
Other angles to explore
There are important responsible gambling talking points that the commercial didn’t hit, but as Salsburg says, there’s only so much you can do in a single 30-second spot. One avenue he’d like to see the NCPG and NFL go down is exploring the social side of gambling.
“Especially with sports betting, the more you engage in it in a social manner, I think that helps with accountability, and it keeps it in that entertainment realm,” Salsburg says. “I think any type of vice done in isolation can really become a slippery slope into trouble. But that’s a hard message to convey as one small part of a 30-second commercial. It could be a standalone followup ad.”
One other angle notably left out of this first commercial is anything pointing bettors toward regulated sportsbooks rather than offshore operators that aren’t governed by the same responsible gambling requirements. On the whole, though, it’s hard to quibble much with this commercial as a first step.
“I think, ultimately, the big takeaway is that getting this started is a positive thing,” Salsburg says. “You have to start somewhere. Having an RG ad on an NFL game is huge. The creative doesn’t matter as much as just getting this started.”