Mecca Bingo faces criticism over Instagram ad implying gambling boosts self-esteem

United Kingdom

Mecca Bingo has recently found itself in hot water following a complaint about one of its Instagram ads (“the ad”). The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) upheld the complaint, asserting that the ad, featuring celebrity drag queen Baga Chipz, implied that gambling could enhance an individual's self-image or self-esteem.

The ad and the issue

The ad in question, seen on 16 August 2023, showcased two images of Baga Chipz side by side, with a clear contrast between the two. The left image depicted a subdued Baga, dressed in plain, dark clothes with no makeup, while the right image portrayed a jubilant Baga in a red sequinned outfit, complete with matching jewellery and makeup. The caption above both images read, "Before playing Mecca Bingo vs after playing Mecca Bingo," accompanied by the text, "A good game can transform you! Don’t you just love that post-bingo glow."

The ad was challenged by two complainants who questioned whether it was irresponsible and breached the Code, believing it suggested gambling could enhance self-image and/or self-esteem.

The response

In response to the complaint, Mecca Bingo argued that the ad was intended to convey the fun and entertaining experience they offer, rather than suggesting that gambling improves personal qualities. They pointed out that the use of the "before and after" metaphor and the reference to a "post-bingo glow" were meant to highlight the positive emotions one might feel after a night at Mecca Bingo. The inclusion of the word "transform" was explained as a common expression within the drag entertainment industry to imply enjoyment, particularly referencing Baga Chipz's background in Ru Paul's Drag Race UK, which regularly used this language and explained that viewers of the ad would be aware of that context.

Mecca Bingo went on to explain that they “deliberately omitted any reference to winning at bingo” to avoid suggesting the “feel good” factor of winning, and that the “good game” reference was intended to reflect the “positive experience and atmosphere” at Mecca Bingo and the social interactions that come with attending.

Acknowledging the potential misinterpretation of the ad, Mecca Bingo expressed an understanding of the CAP Code's importance and committed to clearer messaging in their future marketing communications. They also confirmed the permanent removal of the ad.

The ruling

The ASA upheld the ruling, holding that the ad breached CAP Code rules 16.1 and 16.3.6.

The ASA noted that the extremely contrasting images, with one image being an emotionless individual wearing dark clothing, and the other in brighter clothes drinking champagne, combined with the reference to transformation, created an overall impression that gambling at Mecca Bingo could enhance an individual's self-image or self-esteem.

The ASA specifically highlighted the text implying that an individual could achieve a higher level of confidence by not only playing bingo-related games but also winning them, especially with the reference to a “good game” being followed by the hashtags “winning”, “winningfeeling” and “feelingood”.

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad suggested gambling could enhance a person’s self-image or self-esteem, which was “irresponsible and therefore breached the Code”.

CMS comment

The Mecca Bingo ad controversy serves as a reminder of the responsibility advertisers bear in promoting gambling services. The ASA's ruling underscores the need for clear and socially responsible messaging to avoid any implication that gambling can enhance personal qualities. As the industry navigates evolving advertising standards, companies must strike a balance between promoting their services and adhering to guidelines that prioritise consumer well-being.