888 Ran a Fake News Ad; What People Saw Gave Them the Secret of Weight Loss in One Easy Step.
We all know that gambling can be fun, exciting, and profitable. I, myself, enjoy playing poker when I can; I don’t have any illusions that I am going to get rich doing it, I just like to play for the entertainment and the mental challenge and if I win some money along the way, great. Gambling companies advertise these benefits, as well, but recently, four firms, including 888, got in hot water with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for running ads that came in the form of irresponsible “fake news.”
Now, with the rise of sentient waterlogged circus peanut Donald Trump in the United States, the term “fake news” has become mainstream. But in this case, we are not talking about Trump’s definition of fake news, that is, any negative reporting about him or simply a story he doesn’t like. What is at issue in this case is more along the lines of the original fake news that largely spread on social media before the term was co-opted and corrupted by Trump, news that is literally false with the intent to deceive readers into believing it is real. This is not to be confused with satire such as pieces found on The Onion, which, while not real news, is also quite obviously comedy.
According to the ASA’s report, 888 and the other three online operators – Ladbrokes, Sky Vegas, and Casumo – were marketed via “advertorials” on few couple garbage fake news sites like 24hournews.co and casinohacks.co. The ads were made to look like news articles, complete with the click-bait headline of “On Their Wedding Night He Delivered A Secret She Wasn’t Ready For. The Result Will Have You In Tears,” and even fake reader comments at the bottom.
The “articles” detailed the sob story of a guy who was in six-figures of debt to pay for his wife’s medical bills. They sold their house and were quite simply in a bad way, but then the man found an ad for 888 Casino (or one of the other casinos mentioned), decided to try a promotion, and won a truckload of money, solving his problems for good.
Here is an example of the copy, as related by the ASA in its reports on the operators:
… William is also over £130,000 in debt after having to sell the house and continue to pay out of pocket for his wife’s cancer related medical bills their insurance WOULDN’T cover … William took to Facebook one night in the hospital lobby to update his friends and family on his wife’s health. A little tired and admittedly a bit depressed, William stumbled upon an ad for 888 Casino. With little to no money to spend he admits he laughed and almost scrolled past it until he saw they were offering a promotion that would reward him with “£888 Free Bonus” at the Leprechaun’s luck game which at over £700,000.00 was too hard to pass up.
Hoo boy. I have been in this industry for over a decade and while the vast majority of the time I have controlled my own content, there have been occasions (not on this site and not in many years) where a higher-up has told me to write something I didn’t want to write. Take the time, for example, that I had to write an article once a week for a few weeks about UltimateBet DURING the superuser scandal. And for one of those, I was directed to write about how some shitty sponsored player, only popular because of his/her attractive appearance, was having a birthday party at some Vegas club. My complaints about it fell on deaf ears and I begrudgingly wrote the articles, but AT LEAST I did so with some professionalism.
My point is that I have had to write some bullshit at times, but this fake news ad is some PRIME bullshit. It is dangerous, too, as it preys on the financial and mental insecurities of vulnerable people.
One of the ASA’s regulations is that “ads must not suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal problems such as depression or that it can be a solution to financial concerns.”
Thus, after evaluating the case, the ASA wrote of the 888 ad:
The ASA considered that the content of the ads targeted vulnerable people as it identified a number of personal difficulties William had to overcome, including having to sell his property to pay his wife’s medical bills, dealing with his wife’s cancer and how he did this through taking up the offer by 888. The ads specifically stated how William was depressed when he saw the ad and made the decision to gamble. Further, it stated “Having won over 30 times his annual salary in a single spin, his debt and financial worries came to an abrupt end”. It explained that through gambling he won enough money to pay off his wife’s medical bills, re-purchase the house that had been sold to alleviate his debt and to pay for his expensive honeymoon. The image of the bank statement shown in the ad indicated that William was over drawn when he made the decision to place a £10 bet with 888. The ad further stated that “Down on his luck their ‘200 Free Jackpot Chances’ turned his life around”.
Because we considered that the ads suggested gambling could provide an escape from personal problems such as depression and that it could be a solution financial concerns, we considered it to be socially irresponsible and was therefore in breach of the Code.
For its part, 888 said that the ad was created by an affiliate, not 888, and that not only has the ad been removed (it only ran for a limited time in March and July), but that 888 terminated its agreement with the affiliate because the ad violated the terms of their agreement. The other operators had similar explanations.
The ASA did consider this and seemed to believe the operators were being truthful, but still ruled against them. It also considered that the term “advertorial” was used on the web page, but the copy read much more like a real news article than an obvious paid advertisement in editorial form.
In the end, there was not real punishment given. 888 and the rest must never let that ad run again and “….their future ads, including those prepared by affiliates, must be clearly identifiable as marketing communications and to take care to ensure their ads were prepared in a socially responsible way.”