I’m planning on writing about the study released about FOBTs by the Responsible Gambling Trust, but when looking into it I remembered a little promotion we had called Project 50. The 50, I presume, was the number of shops involved in the scheme, which was later upped to 250.
This thing always left me feeling a bit weird. It was a machine-focused promotion which aimed to drive customers to the machines, especially new over the counter customers. It also aimed to keep existing machine customers at the machines for as long as possible. First you have to fill in a personal profile in this massive red folder. You have to draw a picture of yourself, for some reason, which I refused to do, in a childish fit of rebellion. My area manager would come in the shop later and basically demand I draw the picture, in front of him, and he wouldn’t proceed until I drew it. This was one of the first signs that management at Ladbrokes had their priorities a little skewed.
Anyway, I draw my stick figure, write out a person profile using all of the Ladbrokes buzz words (Game On! Bold! Buzz! WINNERS!) and now it’s time to profile my customers. I need to get at least one customer a day set up for Project 50. I need to find out his name, his interests, and I need to find out what he likes to eat and drink. There is a whole section in the folder for this, it’s called something like ‘targeted refreshments’, or something equally complicated.
It’s suggested that on a Friday, when all the lads are around the machines, I should leave the shop and buy every one fish and chips. Is a machine customer hungry? Buy him a pizza. Does John like coffee? Don’t serve him that free swill we give to the peasants over the counter. You get your arse to Costa and buy him one of those vanilla bullshit things. I’m not exaggerating, my area manager got annoyed with me for not buying in fish and chips. I explained that we were in an area known for having smack heads and trouble-making vagrants, so I didn’t want to leave food around. I didn’t explain that I thought it was a bit weird that we were basically acting like a casino and trying to make sure the customers stay glued to the machines as long as possible. I was a pussy and needed to pay my rent.
There was a guide in there about how to attract certain customers. Are the lads placing their football accumulators at the weekend spending enough money over the counter? Reward them with £10 free credit on the machines. Women, it was suggested, would be attracted to Thai Flower, the game with a vaguely Asian lady and flowers. Because… women like flowers. And Thais. Oh shit, I should’ve ordered in Thai food and did a whole Thai Flower promotion. Hindsight is even-money, I suppose.
For a company trying to promote a community-friendly, responsible gaming image, it was promotions like this that just jarred slightly. Look at the Ladbrokes Life advertising campaign. The briefer we got for the whole campaign, and how to promote it, was that the Ladbrokes Life was “aspirational”; it was trying to get away from the image of a bookies only being for “lads” and getting away from “lad culture”. Now look at the fucking advert. It’s five complete dickheads, doing dickhead things, in the most laddy way possible. We did a cringeworthy promotion with a shitty Twitter account called The LAD Bible, for fuck’s sake. There’s something going on in Ladbrokes management, they try and be responsible, try to be different, then release a print advert for gambling with the slogan ‘once is luck, twice is talent’. No, twice is luck. ‘When you win it’s skill – when you lose it’s bad luck’. Get fucked. The ASA banned the posters with these slogans for condoning an “irresponsible attitude to gambling”.
The 4Tunes scheme came around the time we’d heard machine limits would be coming into place. It was a little piece of card that a cashier would stamp when a customer went over a certain time/money limit, I can’t remember which. It was another example of a weird dissonance in management’s minds. We need to be responsible! But… the machine numbers are looking a bit down. Give them pizza and iPads and stamp that little piece of cardboard disappointment. Sorted.
All this shit has been quashed now. Things are changing, but it was weird being there at a time of mental transition. When the left hand didn’t really know what the right was doing. I still think the company isn’t taking things seriously enough, that they’re doing the bare minimum, but until government steps in, they won’t. Why should they? No one’s going to be spitting in Dave Hammond’s face at 9.50pm on a cold Sunday evening. No one’s going to tell Nick Rust the story about how his wife has left him and could he please borrow some money, he’ll pay it back soon, please?
That was the Ladbrokes Life.