The ultimate goal of advertising is to influence behaviour. That is, to encourage people to take a particular action.
Like other sectors, the UK gambling industry appears to be trying to entice customers at a massive scale, spending more than £1.5 billion in advertising every year. Existing evidence suggests that this advertising encourages gambling, and may lead to risky behaviour.
But we don’t know what specific features or contents of adverts are influencing people’s actions and how conscious people are of the risks or implications of their choices. BIT’s Gambling Policy & Research Unit has developed a new, rigorous methodology that will help us to answer these questions.
A typical slot game advert
We conducted a content analysis of 100 real online slot game adverts that were live on Facebook and Instagram.
A mock-up of a typical slot game advert (defined by features that were present in >50% of our sample, or the next most prevalent).
We found dozens of design features leveraging behavioural biases across the 100 adverts which could be negatively impacting gambling behaviour. A lack of transparency was a common element, appearing in the form of:
- Misleading depictions of risk: Ads for specific slot games lacked odds information. Most ads highlighted low-risk offers, potential wins, and used unclear language like ‘playing’ instead of ‘betting’
- Minimised important terms & conditions: Prominently featured T&C statements like “No deposit required” overshadowed other important terms like age restrictions and wagering requirements.
Honing in on features to test
To hone in on what we should test in part 2 of our study, we used existing behavioural science evidence and feedback from the Committee of Advertising Practice. We also consulted our Steering Group, broader network of policymakers, and our GPRU team to shortlist what to test next. The features fall into three groups:
- Salience of free incentives: Adverts offer free spins or other incentives to entice new customers to gamble and distract from other important information such as T&Cs. Furthermore important details like wagering requirements tended to be hidden, making it difficult for people to know the true costs involved.
- Lack of transparency: Many adverts did not include odds information, which made it difficult for people to assess the true risk of gambling. Additionally, some adverts used vague language or focused on the potential wins, which could give people the impression that gambling was a sure thing.
- Misleading depictions:Adverts depict slot games in a way that makes them seem more exciting and profitable than they actually are
We plan to test these features against a “typical” advert and one designed with good practices in mind. Our goal is to understand if these features affect customers’ perceptions and behaviour beyond the expected commercial impact of an ad.
To meaningfully reduce harm, we should understand every touchpoint of a person’s journey with gambling—from seeing advertising to interacting with operators themselves.
This methodology has provided us with the findings we need to now design and run an online randomised controlled trial to test specific features. The results will reveal whether these features hold the potential to cause harm, and help shape future policy for the gambling market. In the meantime, you can explore the full report of our slot ad content analysis here.