A sports betting advert by online sportsbook operator Sportsbet has set a new Australian record for public complaints.
On Wednesday, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Ad Standards CEO Fiona Jolly saying that a Sportsbet 15-second promo had received 793 complaints since it first aired on Australian free-to-air television in March. That easily surpassed the previous record of 481 complaints the regulator received regarding a 2014 ad for a dating website.
The ad in question begins by showing a youngish man in a bathroom, visible only from the waist up but apparently naked and engaged in some ‘manscaping’ of his nether regions with an electric razor.
Startled by the Sportsbet pitchman’s booming voiceover detailing a ‘head to head’ mobile betting feature, he appears to inadvertently cut himself, although this is never actually visible.
The complaints received by Ad Standards ranged from viewers arguing that the spot (a) was violent, (b) demeaned men, (c) suggested that betting could help men achieve greater sexual success than personal grooming, and (d) “depicts masturbation of some form.” One gramatically-challenged complainant engaged his inner Nigel Tufnel by saying that ad was ‘sexiest.’
Sportsbet denied that the ad was demeaning or violent, pointing out that the man on screen didn’t appear to be in any pain. The company said it “regrets if the jovial nature of the advertisement was either misconstrued or may have offended the complainants,” but rejected the notion that the ad was in violation of the AANA Wagering Advertising & Marketing Communications Code.
An Ad Standards community panel largely sided with Sportsbet regarding the complaints, except on the issue of whether the ad was ‘sexually suggestive.’ After “significant deliberation,” the panel determined that the ad “did not treat the issue of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant broad audience,” which could include children, and thus was in violation of Section 2.4 of the Code.
Sportsbet, a division of UK-listed Paddy Power Betfair, has generally followed Paddy Power’s tongue-in-cheeky approach to advertising. In June 2017, Sportsbet was ordered to pull a TV spot featuring disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson extolling the company’s “juiced up” Android app.