Are Betting Firms Responsible, Or Scaling Down An Ad War?

There was a lot of attention given to yesterday's announcement that the big gambling companies will no longer advertise during live sports events. A lot of the coverage was correct -- but I'm not so sure it told the full story.

The self-imposed "whistle to whistle" ban was rightly flagged up as an example of the industry deciding to self-regulate before it risked being made to do so. There has been a lot of pressure on the gambling companies, which are seen by opponents as normalising betting on sports through their blanket dominance of ad breaks before and during an event. So, yes -- that bit is correct, but it is only half the story. 

To begin with, "whistle to whistle" only really affects one ad break -- the one at half time. I'm talking about football here because, outside of horse racing, that where's where the big money is. Speaking of horse racing, it's exempt from the voluntary ban on gambling ads during the action because it's the gambling that keeps the sport going. 

So, to recap, the bookmakers' biggest, most reliable, year-round sport is not affected. The main impact will fall on football, and yet only during the ad break at half time.

Bookmakers are effectively dropping those generic ads that come with a screen over which the latest odds for the second half are overlain -- such as player x to score next 10-1. Ads will still be running as usual up until kickoff.

The angle that I have not seen written about anywhere is the insider story when you speak to marketers within gambling companies. I have known a couple well enough to have informal talks over the years, and a common theme emerges.

At the crux of all gambling companies' business issues is that people tend to be gamblers or they tend not to be gamblers. It's very hard to change behaviour and attitudes, and so all the gambling companies can really do is fight over the same customers.

This has set them up in an advertising spending spree that is becoming unsustainable. They lit the green light on campaigns to coincide with the rise of mobile and they have not been able to bring spend down -- they have had to keep pumping more and more money into never-ending campaigns.

That's why I think the gambling companies will be satisfied with their moment of self-regulation. It takes away competition for live-betting ad spots that dominate half-time breaks on televised football, so it can only be good for clawing back some budget while also appearing to be an altruistic moment of self-regulation.

Don't get me wrong -- there's an element of that in there too, but for me, there's also a big dose of the gambling companies causing a partial ceasefire on half-time ad slots to save a lot of cash. 

Don't forget that these new ads -- the new wave of never-ending attempts to get us to "get on" a team or a player to score next -- have been brought about by a rush to get people on a particular betting company's app.

That means they have had years of spending big bucks getting gamblers to download those apps, and I would be very surprised if activity during a match now doesn't shift to app notifications and perhaps a bit of social to targeted lists of known gamblers. The mega money campaigns have taken place for years and given winning brands a direct route to a user's mobile screen.

What we are now likely to see is a de-escalation of this arms race and a shift to mobile marketing during games. 

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