Staying inside the lines
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Staying inside the lines

Regulatory restrictions don't have to stop marketers from creating effective campaigns – they can inspire clever solutions.

Hitofude Ryuu (Japanese – ‘dragon with one stroke’) is a remarkable artistic technique. Painters produce beautiful depictions of dragons, but under a very specific constraint: the brush cannot leave the paper until the work is complete.

It’s a classic example of how restrictive rules can sometimes lead to clever, creative solutions, and is worth keeping in mind for marketers that have to deal with regulatory control. It’s also an appropriate image to use when opening a discussion about online gambling, which faces significant advertising restrictions; in Japan, dragons are thought to bring good luck.

Online gambling is big business. Gambling Compliance Research Services estimates that UK gaming revenue will reach £3.2bn in 2016 – but it is also controversial.

In the UK, for example, marketing materials are tightly controlled by the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 and the Gambling Advertising Monitoring Unit. Only companies licensed by the Gambling Commission are allowed to advertise. They must legally comply with several codes of practice, and with a voluntary industry code that enshrines principles of social responsibility. Advertisers break these codes if they target vulnerable people or children, encourage problem gambling or promote antisocial behaviour.

In the past, ads have been investigated for portraying gambling as a solution to debt, linking it with alcohol consumption or sexual success, and showing harmful behaviour like solitary gambling or gambling taking priority over other areas in life.

Marketers have had to come up with clever ways to stay within regulatory and ethical boundaries without compromising the effectiveness of their campaigns. They have been very effective at turning weaknesses into strengths – something that professionals of all stripes can learn from.

Solitary gambling is considered a major problem by regulators, while many of the consumers who gamble alone are bored or lonely and can be drawn in with offers of companionship. Gambling adverts can, therefore, avoid censure and encourage participation by emphasising the social aspect of gambling.

Rather than focusing on the game itself, or the consequences of playing, the adverts encourage the idea that by gambling, people become part of a community – while also implying that people should persuade friends to sign up. Male-centric campaigns around sports betting draw on laddish camaraderie, while for (female-dominated) online bingo, quirky characters and groups of women friends are featured.

Meanwhile, the popularity of social media is being put to work by marketers using games based on platforms like Facebook, in which people can play for cash. ‘Social gaming’, which often operates under the ‘Freemium’ model, means companies can encourage existing players to introduce their friends to games using an invite button. Existing gambling sites now include chat rooms, further blurring the line between social activity and online gambling. This helps companies to avoid the perception that they target isolated individuals.

Social involvement has another unexpected advantage; studies have demonstrated that the presence of other people in the gambling environment increases the intensity of gambling behaviour.

So far, so effective. But gambling companies are also recognising that being seen as socially responsible is a boon when dealing with consumers and regulators. That means giving prominence to slogans like ‘winners know when to stop’, providing clear guidance on responsible gambling, and funding organisations like the Responsible Gambling Trust.

According to research from IgnitionOne, 44 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to bet using a company that has contributed to helping problem gamblers; by acting in a socially responsible and ethical manner in this area, companies can actually win more market share.

While all these tactics are within the ethical standards imposed upon the industry, they do mean that a lot of gambling adverts look the same.

Marketers want their campaigns to cut through, and that could mean breaking this ethical consensus. Take, for example, Paddy Power, which has run ads offering bets on the Oscar Pistorius murder trial and mocking foreigners, the transgendered and the disabled. There is an argument to be made that, in a slightly racy industry, all publicity is good publicity. Following the rules doesn’t always get you noticed – Picasso and Duchamp became famous artists by breaking with convention.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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