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Betting battles: William Hill takes shot at competitor but TV networks ban In Play ad

Betting firm William Hill has mocked the TAB in its latest marketing push in a sign of growing hostility in the fiercely competitive online betting space.

The two 30-second TV spots begin in a green studio with a smiling woman dressed in black addressing the camera – an identical set-up to that used by TAB. She is then interrupted by a man insisting William Hill offers superior products.

However a third ad William Hill wanted to run, promoting its In Play live betting service, is only appearing online after TV networks became nervous over the product’s legality.

The ads are the work of creative agency Fenton Stephens which won the William Hill account from Clemenger BBDO Sydney earlier this month, ending Clemenger’s brief association with the betting firm having only been appointed in January.

William Hill spokesperson Tim Ashworth said it accepted the stance from the TV networks not to show the In Play betting ads, saying it has “excellent relationships” with them.

But he added the company was “100 per cent” certain the product met the regulations of the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA).

Complaints about In Play, previously called Click to Call, and Ladbrokes’ Quickcall, were made earlier this year to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) amid claims it flouted local laws.

The matter is now in the hands of the Federal Police as the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) restricts the ACMA to investigating gambling content hosted outside Australia.

The issue surrounds the way the firms accept bets for sporting events which are already underway with the law restricting live gambling to bets made over the telephone.

Ladbrokes, which entered the Australian market in 2013, and William Hill, sought to bypass the legislation by allowing live bets to be made online on condition the microphone on the customer’s computer is switched on.

Ladbrokes has since axed its Quickcall service but William Hill has rigorously defended its product.

Ashworth said: “Throughout development and before launching In-Play, William Hill Australia took prudent steps to ensure the product, as a telephone betting service, was compliant under the IGA (Interactive Gambling Act).

“We remain 100% confident in the legality of the service and have received senior legal counsel advising us as such. William Hill’s In-Play technology is a lot more complex than simply turning on your microphone and uses similar technology to companies such as Skype and Viber.”

Ashworth added it has yet to hear from police but was expecting to at some point.

“Clearly they have priorities,” he said.

The banned TV ad follows the same TAB-style theme with the woman asking viewers to enjoy live betting “just by making a phone call…..”.

The man then walks into shot saying: “….where you’ll be lectured by a pre-recorded voice that will finally ask you to enter a reference number you might not remember”.

The ad goes on to promote Williams Hill’s live betting which it says “is so easy that a competitor even made a complaint” – a reference to the original complaint made to the ACMA.

TAB parent Tabcorp declined to comment on the ad campaign.

Fenton Stephens said it was asked to create a campaign to “disrupt” competitors.

“While the competitors are all battling to be the ‘blokiest’ brand, William Hill have made no secret of their plan to give the Australian betting industry a much needed shake-up with better technology, returns and offers,” a statement from the Melbourne-based independent said.

The William Hill campaign comes as the Standard Media Index (SMI) reported a sharp rise in advertising by betting firms over the past year in a sign of growing competition.

Data from the SMI showed the industry spent almost $150m this year, 42 per cent more than the corresponding period in 2014, with many now ramping up their ad spend further during both the AFL and NRL finals and the Rugby World Cup.

Steve Jones

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