Sex sells. But not if the powers-that-be make you pull the ad.
A William Hill advertisement that appeared as a message to users of the dating app Tinder was banned this week by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority. The ad read, “Stuck in the friend zone? You won’t be much longer if you use this Cheltenham free bet offer.” It then proceeded to spell out details of a horse racing bet promotion.
Amusingly, The Guardian elected to define “the friend zone” to its readers in covering the story.
Though the ad might not seem problematic to some, the advertising code of conduct overseen by the ASA says commercial materials may not “link gambling to seduction, sexual success, or enhanced attractiveness.” Whether this was what William Hill intended or not, the ad could be interpreted as implying that winning money betting on horses will translate to success in the bedroom.
Meanwhile, across the pond …
The timing of the company getting pinched for arguably risque advertising in the UK is ironic in that it coincides with the American Gaming Association announcing Tuesday a new “Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering.”
The AGA’s new code does not specifically reference sexual materials and would not necessarily have a direct application to the William Hill-Tinder incident — other than perhaps a vague statement that “messages should adhere to contemporary standards of good taste that apply to all commercial messaging.”
Rather, the Responsible Marketing Code focuses on:
- Respecting the legal age for sports betting and not targeting minors
- Including a “responsible gaming” message in all advertisements
- Providing age-affirmation, parental-control, and geolocation mechanisms on AGA member-controlled websites
“We are setting a high bar for sports betting advertising,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller, “and will continue to ensure that everyone involved in the expansion of legalized sports betting across the country — gaming operators, sports leagues and teams, broadcasters, and other businesses — rise to this standard.”
From the friend zone to the banned zone
The William Hill ad in question was first used in March, after which a customer complained and the gambling operator initially defended the message to Tinder users. The company claimed the “Stuck in the friend zone?” marketing device was meant to suggest that customers taking advantage of the Cheltenham offer would be taking their relationship with William Hill to the next level.
The ASA wasn’t buying it — or at least felt strongly that the ad could be interpreted as something of a more sexual nature. So William Hill removed the ad without further back and forth.
It’s all a bit silly, but if the gambling industry is pursuing a cleaner image, it makes sense to swipe left on marketing initiatives such as this. Presumably, this sets a precedent that will diminish the likelihood of any sort of future co-mingling of the phrases “sports betting” and “sex scandal” in the U.S.
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