ASA Starts First “Psychological Harm” Proceedings

TV and remote control

In an interesting move that could change forthcoming decisions, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced that it is evaluating adverts broadcast during the 2018 World Cup for psychological reasons.

The authority received 115 communications about the adverts, complaining that they contained “psychological tricks” to encourage irresponsible gambling.

This was more than four times the usual amount of complaints the authority receives on average; the ASA revealed that it only received 27 complaints the month before.

Potential risk to children

There are concerns that the adverts broadcast would have reached a large number of young people who were watching programs slightly later than normal due to the importance of the World Cup.

Broadcasting of adverts for gambling services is banned during programs specifically aimed at children, but the rules are not clear on whether or not sporting events fall into this category.

It is well known that events such as the World Cup attract large numbers of young viewers, but with the content not specifically tailored to an under-18 audience it is difficult to imagine that a blanket ban would be appropriate.

The ban also extends to TV channels that are specifically aimed at young people, although there have been no complaints about these channels for the moment.

A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “The gambling advertising rules already place an emphasis on protecting young and vulnerable people from potential harm.”

A sense of urgency

The main concern is that by showing these adverts, they create a “false sense of urgency” – something that the ASA has already taken operators to task over.

Many of the betting adverts broadcast during the footballing event were boasting live odds that encouraged viewers to act quickly in order to secure good odds on their bets.

Other ads placed a sense of urgency by displaying odds for events that would happen in the following minutes. One advert displayed odds on England scoring in the first 20 minutes of a match that was broadcast immediately before the match itself.

The Advertising Standards Authority has regulations that specifically warn against broadcasting gambling adverts with an urgent call to action. Combined with the worry that youngsters were watching who might be unduly influenced, the ASA was concerned that mind tricks could cause harm.

The spokesperson went on to say: “Our new guidance introduced earlier this year restricts gambling ads that create an inappropriate sense of urgency, clamps down on ads that encourage repetitive play and provides more detail on vulnerable groups like problem gamblers that marketers need to work to protect.

“We’re currently assessing several ads that appeared during the World Cup to establish if any further action needs to be taken.”

Researchers call for total ban

A study by scholars at the University of Warwick suggested a total ban on gambling adverts that breach the Advertising Standards Authority’s rules may be necessary.

The group of experts studied betting adverts that were broadcast during the World Cup and were particularly concerned about the “live odds” confusion that has caused so many complaints from the public.

This news comes as Coral, Bet365 and William Hill are all under investigation for broadcasting adverts that may have breached the ASA’s guidelines.

The investigation is currently looking into the number of adverts relating to gambling that were broadcast during World Cup fixtures that were deemed unusually high.

The ResPublica think tank issued a statement last month that said: “Gambling advertising should be consistent with other types of addictive or harmful products to public health such as cigarette packs, by featuring identifiable health warnings that cannot be absorbed into an advert’s overall design.

“The wording of gambling advertisements is a problem because words such as ‘win’ and ‘fun’ are emphasized rather than ‘harm,’ thus normalizing the idea of gambling as a leisure pursuit rather than an addiction.”

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