• Harry Lang

Playing the game – in football and marketing you ignore the rules at your peril


Penalties have raised their head yet again in the finals of a major championship. For once (literally) England’s youngsters held their nerve and came through in a tense shootout against what appeared to be a squad of Colombian hitmen prepared to try everything short of a knee to the groin in order to stay in the tournament.

The introduction of VAR, seen now on reflection to be beneficial in the majority of cases rather than a hindrance to the flow of the game has made the chancers in football a little more honest. What was at risk of being debased into a game of bluff and bluster now has a chance of redeeming its status as ‘the beautiful game’.

However rules in any part of life have the opportunity to be interpreted and, if possible, loopholes found. Referees are human, players are well versed in gaming miniscule illegitimacies to win an edge and the world most costly player, Brazil’s Neymar, is fast becoming a parody of himself with his histrionics as he tries to break the somersault world record at every opportunity, his misguided aim being to win through the provision of free kicks and penalties at all times.

For us gaming marketers our rules are not overseen by a bank of cameras and a team of secondary referees but there are officials whose job is to ensure we stay within the boundaries of fair play. These authorities are the Advertising Standards Authority with their CAP and BCAP codes of practice and the UK Gambling Commission. These august bodies don’t need cameras and replays as gaming marketing campaigns are designed by their very definition to be highly visible to as many people as possible.

Footballers may feign a trip – we on the other hand are telegraphing our mistakes on the biggest stage we can afford.

On the 28th June the Gambling Commission published a report that included a statement from the Chief Executive Neil McArthur covering the following key areas of their compliance focus.

  • Anti-Money Laundering

  • Customer Interaction

  • Self-Exclusion

  • Unfair Terms and Practices

  • Advertising and Marketing

  • Illegal Gambling

The goalposts have been moved to protect consumers, the wider public and raise standards in the industry with the added benefit of improving the integrity of the gaming industry. The fines associated with non-compliance are becoming scary in their scale and frequency.

These dodgy players aren’t U.S. facing Costa Rican licensed sportsbooks either. Check out this list of big name brands (this is a highlight reel – there are plenty more) and subsequent fines and have a think:-

  • William Hill - £6.2m penalty package for social responsibility and money laundering failures.

  • Leo Vegas - £600,000 penalty package for advertising breaches

  • 888 - £7.8 million penalty package for failings in handling vulnerable customers.

  • Skybet - £1 million fine for failing to protect vulnerable consumers

Do you act more in line with the rules than these hallmark brands? Are you sure? Look at those numbers and have then decide if a full audit of your campaigns and operating protocols doesn’t sound like a pretty sensible idea. You can start by reading the ASA’s updated CAP and BCAP Codes here.

The Gambling Commission will continue to set and enforce standards that the industry must comply with to protect consumers.

In all of the sections, there are examples of enforcement action undertaken, details of the financial penalties imposed and a “health check” for each area advising on what you can employ as best practice on the topics covered.

One more thing – marketing with mention or imagery of anyone who is (or appears to be) under 25 years old. CAP ruling segment 16.3.14 (which you can read in full here) is worth repeating:-

“Individuals who are, or seem to be under 25 years old (18-24 years old) may be featured playing a significant role only in marketing communications that appear in a place where a bet can be placed directly through a transactional facility, for instance, a gambling operator's own website. The individual may only be used to illustrate specific betting selections where that individual is the subject of the bet offered. The image or other depiction used must show them in the context of the bet and not in a gambling context”.

Here’s an experiment you can do at home: -

Before the Sweden game kicks off on Saturday have a look in the paper, turn on the radio or watch the TV ad break. How many odds boost offers with imagery and copy featuring ‘Harry Kane to score’ will you come across? I’d bet Jordan Pickford’s left hand it’s more than a few.

Harry Kane turns 25 on the 28th July 2018. Now perhaps you should have another look at your campaigns.

There is no interpretation of the rules – these are the rules. Those operators that don’t comply are going to find that eventually there will be a price to be paid that’ll hurt much more than an exit in the quarter finals of the World Cup.

Harry Lang is the founder of Brand Architects, a brand-building and integrated marketing consultancy. You can follow him on Linked In or Twitter @MrHarryLang

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