Addictive experiences, whether caused by using an addictive substance or by engaging in an addictive behaviour, are marketed to people who are vulnerable to feeling that experience will eliminate their distress or complete them as a person. The negative consequences are rarely felt by those who profit from the money generated by selling that experience.
A key symptom of addiction is persistence in the substance use or activity despite financial consequences. What are the financial consequences? Usually, so much of the addicted person’s money is spent on the addiction, that they don’t have enough left to pay for other things that they need.
Here is one example of marketing that targets gamblers at their most vulnerable, where they are reaching out to end their gambling addiction. I’ve searched for ‘Gambling Treatment’ and the current top paid ads are:
And the side advertisements are also pushing the searchers back to gambling:
This marketing is not easily dismissed, the wording and psychology behind them are crafted to make a gambler believe in one more spin could turn around their fortunes.
“With up to £4mil paid out each day” “£10 Free, Play Instantly” “Get £150 Welcome Bonus”
We see that they all promote the chance that you will win big and it feels risk-free as you are not asked to play with your money. And that is where you fall into the marketing trap, addict or new player. Free samples have long been used in marketing across many products and services. Ever wonder why the grocery store would give out free samples? The same reason as free money on a gaming website, you will feel obligated to reciprocate the goodwill gesture and end up buying the product or service.
Buying an unneeded jar of peanut butter at Whole Foods most likely won’t cause you problems whereas a gaming website pulling you in can have devastating effects. The truly despicable aspect of the marketing that I have shown is that it targets people who have searched for addiction help.
The ease of falling back into gambling addiction is frightening; your dealer is always in your house if you have an internet connection. Taking a one-click look around from the adverts can cause the continuation of the addiction or a relapse. Gaming websites are built to heighten your senses of winning, with colours, noises, and wording perfectly crafted; you get a dopamine high even if you are losing.
Logically you know most people don’t win so advertisers manipulate you into thinking you are the special, chosen one who will win this time. Yet they give the same message to everyone. It is time that marketing ethics are applied across the most vulnerable and that gambling addicts should be allowed to search for help without the gaming industry seducing them back.
Google has taken unilateral steps in the right direction before, searching for ‘suicide’ leads to a banner ad that shows a phone number to call for help and all the adverts are also offering assistance. Left to an algorithm the search results would probably show a ‘How-to’ suicide guide yet we know that Google is doing the right thing here by manipulating the information shown to a vulnerable group. Shouldn’t the life of a gambling addict be treated the same?
I’m not calling on a ban for all gambling adverts, merely the separation of adverts to gambling addiction help and resources. What are your thoughts? Please comment below.