Controversial Ben Johnson Sportsbet ad BANNED over ‘drug use humor’

  • Advertising Standards Board finds the Ben Johnson ad in violation of the advertising standards code
  • Sportsbet not happy with the decision, claiming public “moral compass” should have no bearing on ASB’s decisions

A highly controversial advert for a sports betting firm featuring banned sprinter Ben Johnson making light of his steriod-using past has been banned by the Advertising Standards Board of Australia.

Ben Johnson controversial sports betting advert
The sprinter Ben Johnson was promoting Sportsbet’s new ‘juiced up’ app – a clear reference to his past steroid use. The Australian advertising regulator took exception to it

The ad, which promotes Sportsbet Android app, features Johnson, the athlete who lost his gold medal from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, after he tested positive for steroids.

Sportsbet created an edgy ad campaign, which made a number of references to the steroid usage like ‘Nobody knows performance enhancement like Ben Johnson’, and that it was ‘putting the ‘roid in Android.

This and other risqué references were intended to bring the attention of the punters to the newly released app, showing how it gives them an edge over other players who don’t use the app.

The tone of the ad was such that it made it sound to some like using illegal performance enhancing drugs was something to be laughed about and not taken seriously. It caused numerous protests from those who saw the ad air on TV.

Having received many complaints from the viewers, Australian Advertising Standards Board decided to investigate the matter and banned the advertisement altogether.

No laughing matter

The Advertising Standards Board concluded the ad was contrary to the section 2.6 of the advertising standards code. Their decision was based on the fact that the ad makes light of some serious issues, like drug abuse and cheating.

The humorous and cheerful tone of the ad presents the athlete in a positive light and makes no reference to any negative consequences that could come from these abuses, the board said.

With this decision, the board sided with those who sent in their complaints, emphasizing various negative aspects of the ad. Several Australian politicians reacted immediately after the ad had first aired, including Greg Hunt, the sports minister, and Senator Nick Xenophon. While Hunt just called the ad “utterly inappropriate,” Xenophon was somewhat harsher, saying it “it glorified a cheat.”

Other complaints that came to the Advertising Standards Board address contained similar messages, including the ones that emphasized that ad belittles the achievements of proper, hardworking athletes.

Sportsbet not happy with the decision

Creators of the ad weren’t satisfied with the ASB decision and did not hesitate to voice their displeasure. The company is convinced that whether public finds the ad “moral” or not should have no bearing on the Board’s decision.

Furthermore, Sportsbet emphasized that the campaign was clearly meant as a parody and they can’t see how anyone could interpret it in any other way.

However, despite the protests, the Advertising Standards Board remains in place, and Sportsbet had to withdraw the ad from all public channels.

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