The use of humour in Paddy Power ads again comes under the ASA’s microscope

Paddy Power has for a very long time had a reputation for injecting humour into its advertising campaigns. However, this has sometimes failed to find the approval of the Advertising Standards Authority. A previous example of this was the ASA’s 8 May 2019 ruling upholding complaints that an ad featuring Rhodri Giggs (brother of former footballer Ryan Giggs) was irresponsible by glamourising gambling and suggesting it was a way of achieving a good standard of living.

Three separate ASA rulings this week on Paddy Power ads have had markedly different outcomes. We deal below in turn with each of those rulings (copies of which you can download below):

  • the first of which resulted in complaints being upheld and
  • the second and third of which resulted in complaints not being upheld.

The first ruling

The Ad: A TV and VOD ad showed a young man using his phone to gamble on Paddy Power’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ game in a living room whilst family were present. The young man briefly looked away from his screen to thank his partner’s mother for bringing him a drink, before he returned to looking at the game on his phone. A voice-over said, “With Paddy Power’s Wonder Wheel you get a free spin with a chance to win cash prizes every single day”. The man’s partner asked him, “Do you think I will end up looking like my Mum?” He replied, “I hope so” while looking at his phone before appearing to realise what he had said was inappropriate. A voice-over said, “So no matter how badly you stuff it up, you’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games.” He then continued to look at the game on his phone.

The complaints: Three complaints were made:

  1. Two complainants, who believed that the ads showed someone so occupied by gambling that they made an inappropriate remark in conversation, challenged whether they portrayed gambling as taking priority in life and were therefore irresponsible.
  2. One complainant, who considered the ads encouraged repeated gambling in the face of a loss, challenged whether the claim “So no matter how badly you stuff it up, you’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games” encouraged gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible.
  3. The ASA challenged whether the same claim encouraged gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible.

ASA assessment

1.  The ASA upheld the first complaint above, ruling as follows:

The CAP and BCAP Codes required that ads did not portray gambling as indispensable or as taking priority in life; for example, over family or friends. The ASA considered that the man depicted in the ads was taking part in a family event, where he and his girlfriend had gone to her parents’ house for lunch.

We acknowledged the family members were enjoying different activities after lunch, and whilst the young man’s focus throughout the ad was generally directed towards the screen of his phone, he did look up to thank his girlfriend’s mother for making him a coffee before returning to his game. However, we considered the young man then became engaged in his gambling game to the extent that he made an unwitting and embarrassing comment aloud, which was clearly not his intent and was clearly caused by his distraction and investment in the gambling game. We noted the young man quickly realised he had made a gaffe and looked up at his girlfriend apologetically, but that moment was brief and he quickly returned to his phone to continue the gambling game and celebrate a win, whilst his girlfriend remained angry and embarrassed.

We considered that the humour in the ad relied on a gaffe caused when the man was distracted by the gambling game, which created a comedic moment of awkwardness and embarrassment. We recognised the ad was light-hearted in tone but considered that most viewers would understand that the young man behaved in a way which was not appropriate at a family event because he was distracted by gambling. We considered that the girlfriend’s shocked expression in response to his answer supported the assumption that he would not ordinarily be so tactless in his communication.

Although we accepted it was a brief moment, because we considered most viewers would understand that distraction caused by gambling had caused an embarrassing gaffe at a family event, and therefore concluded that the ad portrayed gambling as taking priority in life over family.

2&3. The ASA also upheld the second and third complaints above, stating:

The CAP and BCAP Codes stated that marketing communications or ads for gambling must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm. CAP and BCAP’s Advertising Guidance on Gambling Advertising: responsibility and problem gambling, also stated that marketers should take care to avoid trivialising gambling and avoid the impression that the decision to gamble should be taken lightly, for example by not encouraging repetitive participation.

The ad depicted a young man making a gaffe at a family event and, in that context, we acknowledged that the statement “So no matter how badly you stuff it up” would be seen by some viewers as a reference to the embarrassing comment the man had made in the presence of his partner’s family. The ad further stated that there was an opportunity to win prizes “every single day” and we noted the advertised ‘Wonder Wheel’ game offered players one free spin in any period of 24 hours. We acknowledged the statement “You’ll always get another chance” would be understood by some viewers as a reference to the daily availability of the advertised game.

However, we also considered that the full statement “You’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games” would be taken as a general reference to gambling and gambling outcomes; for example, to playing other or multiple gambling games offered by Paddy Power. We further considered that the statement “You’ll always get another chance with Paddy Power games” in conjunction with the statement “So no matter how badly you stuff it up” gave the impression that the decision to gamble, even in the face of repeated losses, should be taken lightly. We considered it was therefore likely to encourage repetitive or frequent participation in gambling. For that reason, we concluded that the ad was likely to encourage gambling behaviour that was harmful and therefore breached the Codes.

Outcome:

The ASA found the TV ad to have breached BCAP Code (Edition 12) rules 17.3.1 and 17.3.4, and the VOD ad to have breached breached CAP Code rule 16.3.1 and 6.3.5, i.e. ads must not: 

  1. ‘portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm’ or
  2. ‘portray gambling as indispensable or as taking priority in life, for example, over family, friends or professional or educational commitments’

It directed that the ads must not appear again in their current form and told PPB Counterparty Services Ltd t/a Paddy Power to ensure that future ads did not portray gambling as indispensable or as taking priority in life, or portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible.


The second ruling

The ad: A radio ad for Paddy Power, heard on 12 March 2022, featured a conversation between a father and his prospective son-in-law. The ad began with the father-in-law saying, “So you’re the man marrying my Olivia, eh?” The son-in-law said, ”Yeah.” The father-in-law then said, “Tell me, Cheltenham’s this week, do you ride?” and the son-in-law replied, “Er, only with your daughter, sir.” This exchange was followed by the sound of a glass smashing. A voice-over then said, “Blown your big chance?”

The complaint: The complainant, who believed the ad was degrading to women, challenged whether the ad was offensive and harmful.

ASA assessment:

The ASA did not uphold the complaint, ruling as follows:

The ASA considered that the ad used a commonly understood situation relating to the anxiety about saying or doing something inappropriate when meeting a partner’s family for the first time and that the ad used sexual innuendo relating to the term ‘ride’ to illustrate that scenario. We acknowledged that the humour was derived from a commonly used, non-gender specific slang term for sex. However, whilst some listeners may have found the reference distasteful, we considered that the innuendo was relatively mild and therefore would be unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

We considered the phrase “my Olivia” was used to establish the father-daughter relationship and add to the context of the situation. We acknowledged that use of the possessive to define a familial relationship, specifically two males talking about a female, created the potential for listeners to interpret the ad as paternalistic or sexist. However, we considered that the term “my Olivia” would be interpreted in this instance to demonstrate the close relationship between the father and daughter.

We further considered whether some listeners might interpret the ad as portraying the gender stereotype of women as sexual objects or where a father’s approval of a relationship or marriage was influential, such that it could determine his daughter’s future. However, as above we considered that the ad would be taken as simply portraying a close relationship between the father and daughter, and the anxiety of the son-in-law in an awkward situation, and we did not consider that it portrayed a harmful gender stereotype.

Given the above, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence, or harm.

Outcome: 

The ASA found that the ad did not infringe BCAP rules 4.2 and 4.14, i.e. ads must not:

  • ’cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards’ or
  • ‘include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence’.

The third ruling

The ad: A voice-over in a radio ad 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 complaints: Two complainants challenged whether the statement “biggest influx of Irish since London in the 1980s” was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. One of those complainants believed this to be a reference to IRA attacks. The other complainant believed this, alongside the statement, “put the Irish trainers back in their little green horse boxes” to have been derogatory references to Irish emigration.

ASA assessment:

The ASA did not uphold the complaint, ruling as follows:

The ASA understood the theme of the ad centred around the rivalry between British and Irish trainers and their supporters at the Cheltenham festival, a celebrated horse racing based event. We considered the statement “biggest influx of Irish since London in the 1980s” would be understood by most listeners as a reference to the increased emigration of people from Ireland to London during the 1980s, a well-documented socio-economic event in recent history, driven in part by the economic climate in Ireland at that time. We considered that listeners would also understand that this statement was also intended to be a comedic reference to the rivalry between British and Irish trainers and their supporters, their attendance at Cheltenham and the popularity of the event in the UK and Ireland.

We acknowledged that immigration could be a sensitive and controversial topic and that some listeners might find that basing humour on the issue of immigration or making light of Irish emigration in the 1980s to be distasteful. However, we considered that the ad was not making negative or disparaging comments about immigration, emigration or the Irish, and concluded that, in the context of the ad, the statement “biggest influx of Irish since London in the 1980s” was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

We considered that the statement “So as the British trainers aim to put the Irish trainers back in their little green horse boxes” was also likely to be interpreted as a light-hearted reference to the sporting rivalry between the respective trainers. We therefore concluded it was unlikely to be seen as derogatory towards the Irish population in general.

We noted there were no direct references to the IRA in the ad, and in light of the general understanding that the ad was making reference to emigration and sporting rivalries, did not consider that listeners would interpret the ad to be making reference to IRA activities in the UK during that period.

We therefore concluded the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Outcome: 

The ASA found that the ad did not infringe BCAP rules 4.2 and 4.8, i.e. ads must not:

  • ’cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards’ or
  • ‘condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment’ or ‘prejudice respect for human dignity’.

Within each of the rulings (downloadable below) you can read the respective responses advanced by PPB Counterparty Services Ltd t/a Paddy Power.