An advertisement for Entain’s Ladbrokes featuring Mark Whalberg as Mike Iceberg has been found in breach of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics Section 2.3, advertising shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.
The Mike Iceberg character was introduced in a campaign by independent agency Thinkerbell in May earlier this year.
The complaints were for a spot that shows three men in a kitchen juggling apples. One of the men says he has three going at once, while another man shows his phone and states he has four. A voice-over gives details on a same race multi promotion. Mike Iceberg, Mark Wahlberg’s character, is then shown bouncing a ball off the window. He says, “I’m not going to lie. You Ladbroked it. You Ladbroked it good”. He then throws one of the balls and hits the juggling man in the face.
Mumbrella could not locate the advertisment in breach.
One of the complaints about the advertisement stated: “I find this advertising disturbing false and alarming. The violence and throwing a ball in anger at a person, in this day and age to promote a betting product that this company prays on people’s weaknesses and addictions it makes me absolutely sick.”
In its initial response, the advertiser Entain Group, which is the parent company of Ladbrokes, argued that the ball was not thrown at a person, but in the direction of the person. Further, Entain argued that throwing a “small soft rubber ball” is not a violent act.
For the complaints under Section 2.3, Entain stated that: “The throwing of a small soft rubber ball at a friend/acquaintance is not violent and does not portray violence. The act of playfully throwing a small soft rubber ball at and between friends is a common activity played with friends. It is particularly common amongst ‘sporty’ type friends. Just because the ball hits the person on the head in no way indicates that that act is violent, and in no way portrays violence.
“The context of the Ad confirms this by the surrounding circumstances. The character, Mike Iceberg commends/congratulations the person saying “You Ladbroked it!” and follows this up with a complimentary statement, “You Ladbroked it good!”. He also gives a thumbs up sign. This all clearly shows the surrounding positive (and not violent) nature of the Mike Iceberg character’s behaviour and actions.”
In its determination, the Ad Standards Community Panel considered previous cases that had been found to be in breach of Section 2.3, in particular, an advertisement from November 2020 with Wally Lewis which was similar as it also involved someone being hit with a ball.
To be consistent with past decisions, a majority of the panel found that the depiction of one person hitting another person in the head with a ball did constitute violence.
The panel further found that: “although the ‘Mike Iceberg’ character was seen to be acting erratically, the setting was realistic and not fantastical.”
Further, as was the case for a January 2020 decision involving cricketer Andrew Symonds, the panel found that Mike Iceberg did not express remorse for his actions.
The panel found that: “Although the ball appeared to be soft and not to cause harm to the man who was hit by the ball, he appeared unhappy to have had a ball hit him in the face. The Panel considered that the action was in the nature of bullying. The Panel considered that throwing something at someone’s head, even a soft ball, was violent and was not an appropriate action.”
The panel concluded that the advertisement was in breach of Section 2.3.
In response, Entain “strongly denies that the advertisement contravenes any section of the AANA Code of Ethics (Code). Nevertheless, Entain has (without any admission) discontinued the advertisement.”
Entain also flagged an intention to request an independent review of the Panel’s determination.
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