Mark Ritson: Singaporean anti-gambling ad didn’t bet on World Cup result

There is a God of Marketing. A deity so omnipotent that seasoned marketers make small offerings and prayers of thanks before, during and after any major campaign launch or brand strategy.


The reason for such worship is simple – the God of Marketing is not a kind God. She, and of course it is a she, acts with great malice on those who question her existence or act with hubris in defiance of her will.

Remember the advertisements promoting the “unsinkable” Titanic? That was her. Gerald Ratner? Her too. The Edsel? You guessed it. Even Mondelez and the unfortunate Russian translation, all her handiwork. Basically if it can go wrong in marketing, She will make it go wrong. Marketers beware.
The most recent example of her wrath can be found in Singapore. The victim is a local government body known as the NCPG – the National Council on Problem Gambling – and the punishment is perhaps the God of Marketing’s most twisted yet.

NCPG has a very tricky remit. On the one hand, Singapore’s two giant casinos which opened in 2010 are major assets that bring huge revenues to the small Asian republic. On the other, many Singaporeans struggle with gambling issues and the presence of the new mega-casinos exacerbates an already significant national issue. According to the NCPG’s own data almost half of all adult Singaporeans gambled at least once in the past year and 1.4% of the population is classified as “pathologically” addicted to betting.

The start of the World Cup last month presented the NCPG with a particularly big problem because Singaporeans love to gamble on soccer more than any other sport. So the NCPG commissioned a major campaign running across June and July to highlight the inherent risks of gambling associated with the World Cup. The campaign included extensive TV, outdoor and digital media and featured “Andy”, a young boy whose father has taken all his savings and bet the lot on the World Cup.

The only snag in this whole saga was the unfortunate copy decision that followed. As Andy sits sadly with his mates as they each speculate about the upcoming tournament and who will win, Andy despairingly admits: “I hope Germany wins. My Dad bet all my savings on them”.


Who knows who forgot to make the appropriate offerings and genuflection. But whomever it was they angered the God of Marketing so much she conjured up a victory for Germany purely to spite the unworthy NCPG. Truly ours is a powerful and vindictive God.

Over the past few weeks, as the Germans approached their ultimate victory with the kind of Teutonic inevitability only Die Mannschaft backed by a major deity could muster, the NCPG must have felt a growing sense of dread. Their worst fears were confirmed on Sunday when German victory spelled ultimate disaster for the campaign and garnered much hilarity around Singapore and across the globe. “Quick, Andy, tell us which team your Dad is betting on next!” was a typical tweet from a popular Singaporean blogger on Sunday evening.

Teo Ser Luck, the Singaporean Minister for Trade and Industry attempted to defuse the situation with levity. “Andy, okay you can stop smiling,” he posted on his official Facebook page. “Go get your savings from your daddy. Tell him please don’t do this again and you get ready for school.” The NCPG went one step further on Monday morning by introducing a hastily created digital ad on its home page in which Andy depressingly worried about what his Dad would spend his World Cup winnings on next.


Clearly this was a case of too little and too late. Having blown a fortune demonstrating the thrills and ultimate benefits of gambling across a major media campaign a quick webpage fix was hardly likely to reverse the damage.

We are used to examples of what the academics like Professor Stefano Puntoni call “advertising polysemy” in which the intended purpose of an ad is twisted to include additional, non-intended meanings by its audience. But I’m struggling to think of a more extreme case in which the actual strategic intent of a campaign is not only subverted, but actually inverted 180 degrees and done so by the very organisation meant to executing the campaign. That takes rare talent or, as experienced practitioners of the dark arts of marketing will profess, a wilful disrespect for She Who Must Be Obeyed.


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