Marketing campaigns can affect how people think and behave – regulating them is a difficult area to get right.  The Advertising Standards Authority does an adequate job of setting out the rules and dealing with complaints from the public but it seems increasingly that companies themselves are looking to set the agenda and take control of their own destinies with self-regulation.

This should be a good thing surely.  So why does it make me feel uncomfortable?

The latest example is the “when the fun stops, stop” campaign.  For those that don’t  know, this is a campaign run by the Senet Group to promote responsible gambling.  The Senet Group is an independent body set up to raise standards in the gambling industry.  So far so good. 

I’m not sure how many people know that the Senet Group was set up by William Hill, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Coral – the four largest bookmakers in the UK (well three now as Ladbrokes and Coral have merged).

The website for the campaign looks like it was a primary school project – and that’s being unkind to primary school kids.  The site does not have an SSL certificate and features a couple of adverts alongside five lines of advice on how to stay in control of your gambling.  These include such seismic input as “don’t bet if you’re getting angry” and “never put betting before your mates”.  The advice doesn’t link to more detailed information and the only further link is to www.begambleaware.org, which is at least a serious site.

Advertisements from the companies behind the Senet Group all include the line “when the fun stops, stop”.  It is usually the last line of a 30 second advert encouraging people to open an account, place a £10 bet and consequently receive £30 in free bets or similar.

For me the “when the fun stops, stop” line is pure gesture by the industry. Bookmakers are obviously not likely to throw away good money so we can assume these adverts are successful in signing up new gamblers. Since bookmakers rely on punters losing to make any money themselves, the sheer tokenistic nature of this “campaign” is breath-taking.

Self-regulation is a positive thing for industries, particularly ones where over consumption of the product can lead to a great deal of misery – not only for the individual but their family, friends and society.  In an increasingly transparent world, companies will need to either do more to demonstrate the positive contribution they make to society or expect to be replaced.  The “when the fun stops, stop” campaign does not nearly do enough to convince the public that the members of the Senet Group are serious about their responsibilities.

Chris Bignell.

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