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An ad posted on Instagram for Rank Group-owned Mecca Bingo must not appear again in current form after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it breached UK advertising codes.

The advert was originally posted in August 2023 and featured RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Baga Chipz (pictured).

It featured one image of the drag queen not smiling and wearing plain, dark clothes with no make-up, alongside a second image in which the character held up a champagne glass and bore a happy expression, red sequinned outfit, jewellery and a full face of make-up.

Text above the images said “Before playing Mecca Bingo vs after playing Mecca Bingo,” while a caption on the post stated: “A good game can transform you! Don’t you just love that post-bingo glow.”

ASA response

Two complainants referred the ad to the ASA, saying that it suggested gambling could enhance a person’s self-image or self-esteem, and therefore breached UK advertising standards for gambling.

The ASA determined that indeed, the juxtaposition of the two photos presented the character as having a higher level of confidence and an enhanced self-image as a result of playing bingo.

Further, the caption’s suggestion that a game of bingo may “transform” players “created an impression that an individual could improve their self-esteem, as well as their self-image, by not just playing bingo related games, but also by winning them.”

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached advertising codes.

Mecca Bingo defence

Mecca Bingo Ltd said it believed the ad did not suggest gambling could improve personal quality or enhance a person’s self-image or self-esteem.

It said its goal was to offer customers “an exciting and entertaining experience,” and that the purpose of the ad was therefore to convey that its services were fun and entertaining.

The use of a “before and after” structure, as well as references to a “post bingo glow” and the word “transform”, were used to convey the sense of enjoyment related to bingo rather than to suggest the game could alter a person’s self-image, it said.

It added that Baga Chipz had risen to fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, and that such language was regularly used on the programme meaning “viewers of the ad would be aware of that context and therefore would not take any reference to transformation literally.”

Rather, the juxtaposed images of the drag queen would simply reflect “a highly exaggerated portrayal of the emotions a person would have after enjoying the entertaining environment of a Mecca Bingo venue,” it argued.

The operator also said it deliberately omitted any reference to winning at bingo, in order to avoid suggesting that the “feel good” factor of the game could only come from winning.

Mecca Bingo acknowledged, however, that the ad could have been misinterpreted if viewed without understanding of its context.

It added that it would ensure future marketing conveyed its messaging more clearly, and confirmed it had permanently removed the Instagram post.