On 15 June 2022, the ASA published its rulings on three separate ads for Paddy Power. The ASA held that one ad, which was shown on TV and video-on-demand services (VOD), breached the BCAP Code and the CAP Code due to it: (i) portraying gambling as taking priority in life over family, and (ii) encouraging gambling behaviour that was harmful.

The other two ads, which were both broadcast on radio, were not deemed by the ASA to have breached advertising regulations and, therefore, the complaints about these ads were not upheld.

Each of the ads are described below, along with the ASA’s rationale for its ruling.

1. TV and VOD ad for ‘Wonder Wheel’ (full ruling here)

A Paddy Power ad shown on TV and VOD (seen on My5 and All4) in March 2022 featured a young man playing Paddy Power’s “Wonder Wheel” game on his mobile phone. The young man paused for a second to thank his girlfriend’s mum for bringing him a drink. A voice-over then stated “With Paddy Power’s Wonder Wheel you get a free spin with a chance to win cash prizes every single day”. The man’s girlfriend then asked “Do you think I will end up looking like my Mum?” to which he responded, “I hope so”. Shortly after, he looks straight back at his phone and continues playing after realising what he said was inappropriate. The voice-over then said, “So no matter how badly you stuff it up, you’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games.”

Two main issues were raised by complainants.

i) Gambling taking priority in life

First, it was argued that the ads portrayed the man as being so preoccupied with gambling that it took priority in life and therefore the TV and VOD ads were irresponsible and breached BCAP Code rule 17.3.4 and CAP Code rule 16.3.5, respectively.

The ASA considered that the young man became so engaged in the gambling game that he made an embarrassing comment, clearly caused by his distraction and investment in the game. While the ASA did note the humour of the ad, they concluded that viewers would understand that gambling distracted the man from a family event, and therefore the ad portrayed gambling as taking priority in life over family.

The ASA consequently ruled that the ads breached the relevant rules, which prohibit ads from portraying gambling as taking priority in life.

ii) Encouraging gambling behaviour that could lead to harm

Secondly, it was argued that the line “So no matter how badly you stuff it up, you’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games” encouraged gambling in the face of a loss. BCAP Code rule 17.3.1 and CAP Code rule 16.3.1 requires that marketing communications must not portray or condone gambling behaviour that could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

The ASA considered that this particular part of the ad implied that the decision to gamble shouldn’t be taken too seriously, even in the face of repeated loss, thereby encouraging frequent gambling. Therefore, they concluded that the ad was likely to encourage harmful gambling behaviour and this breached the Codes.

2. Radio ad for Cheltenham Races (full ruling here)

The complainant argued that the ad was harmful and offensive, breaching BCAP Code rules 4.2 and 4.14, as the ad was degrading to women. Specifically, the complaint was concerned about the use of “my Olivia”, as this indicated ownership of a woman, and the reference to “ride” which, it was argued, was a sexual innuendo that was degrading to women.

The ASA did not uphold the complaint. The use of the term “my Olivia” in this context would be interpreted by the listener to demonstrate a close father/daughter relationship, as opposed to a sexist or possessive comment. Further, the ASA recognised that the term “ride” is a commonly-used innuendo for sex and while some listeners may find this distasteful, it is a non-gender specific term and would be unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

As such, the ASA did not find a breach of BCAP Code rules 4.2 and 4.14.

3. Radio ad for Cheltenham Races (full ruling here)

Another Cheltenham radio ad for Paddy Power aired on 16 March 2022. In this ad, a voice-over said “Cheltenham 2022 is underway, and we've already seen some cracking contests in the Cotswolds. Not to mention the biggest influx of Irish since London in the 1980s. They're here and they're making a big deal about the greatest rivalry Britain's never heard of. So as the British trainers aim to put the Irish trainers back in their little green horse boxes, here at Paddy Power we're turning up the generosity every day at Cheltenham.”

The complainants challenged the ad on the basis that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, contrary to BCAP Code rule 4.2 and 4.8. One complaint was that the line “biggest influx of Irish since London in the 1980s” referred to the IRA attacks and another was that “put the Irish trainers back in their little green horse boxes” was derogatory and offensive.

Again, the ASA decided not to uphold the complaint. While the ASA acknowledges that immigration could be a sensitive topic, and in the 1980s there was indeed increased emigration from Ireland to the UK, the ad was not making any negative comments about the Irish or immigration. Additionally, there was no direct reference to the IRA so the ASA concluded that listeners were unlikely to interpret the ad as making a reference to the IRA.

In terms of the reference to putting Irish trainers back in their green horse boxes, the ASA considered this to be interpreted by listeners as being a jovial reference to sporting rivalry.

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence and it did not breach BCAP Code rules 4.2 and 4.8.

Co-authored by Rosanna Gilbey