SportsBet’s new television commercial to promote its “juiced up” Android Mobile Betting App has been banned in Australia. The 2017 SportsBet commercial features former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson and exploits Johnson’s notoriety as one of the world’s most infamous steroid-using athletes. The ad consists of multiple doubles entendres and pun-after-pun relating to steroids, as well as the appearance of a few steroid cliches – ridiculously muscular, fast, and strong athletes. The ad makes several references to performance enhancement, unfair advantages in various sports, and drug testing.
“Nobody knows performance-enhancement like Ben Johnson.”
“It tested positive for speed and power again and again.”
“[U]nfairly fast android app.”
“Putting the ‘roid in Android.”
However, after receiving many complaints from unhappy viewers, the Australian ASB (Advertising Standards Board) made the decision to take the ad for SportsBet’s “juiced up” phone app off the air, finding that the commercial was unethical and breached section 2.6 of the advertising Code of Ethics.
“It glorifies steroid use in sport and sends a message to the younger audience,” complained one viewer, “that cheating in sport by using drugs in the long run is okay,”
“Two things destroying sports; Drugs and Gambling. This ad does both – glorifying drugs and cheats in the sport. How can this be allowed during early afternoon or anytime of the day?” said another concerned viewer.
While most viewers actually did find the ad to be funny, Australian anti-doping crusaders certainly did not, namely the ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority). ASADA Chief Executive Judy Lind complained that the ad sent the “wrong message”.
“This advert makes light of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport and sends the completely wrong message that the use of drugs in sport is normal,” Lind said. “This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world. ASADA has lodged a complaint about the advert with the relevant authority.”
The ASB received over 200 complaints from viewers offended or displeased by the controversial ad. Despite the sheer quantity of complaints, SportsBet insisted that the “overwhelming majority” of the complaints were “irrelevant” and consequently demanded the case be dropped.
Additionally, SportsBet told the ASB that the commercial was merely a parody and a spoof
“[The commercial] in no way intended to be – nor could a viewer reasonably consider them to be – a portrayal of a realistic situation,” SportsBet claimed.
“Further, the advertisements mock and deride athletes who have taken performance enhancing drugs. In no way, do the advertisements glorify or promote the use of these substances.”
However, the ASB clearly did not agree and chose to uphold the complaints by banning the advertisement in June 2017.
“In the Board’s view the use of Ben Johnson in conjunction with a humorous message about drug use conveys a message that there is not a negative side to drug use and cheating and could be seen as a suggestion that there are benefits to gain from cheating or from behavior that will enhance your performance,” the ASB said.
Ben Johnson won the 100m gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics but, just a few days later, the medal was revoked when Johnson tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol (Winstrol). Johnson’s gold medal was given to runner-up Carl Lewis.
After his two-year suspension, Johnson attempted to make a comeback but he once again failed a steroid test. This time he tested positive for elevated testosterone levels and received a lifetime ban. Johnson became infamous for his use of steroids.
Johnson’s appearance in the SportsBet advertisement is not the first time Johnson has taken advantage of his infamy. In 2006, he endorsed a sports drink called Cheetah in a couple of television commercials.
In one commercial, Frank D’Angelo, the founder of D’Angelo Brands which makes the Cheetah Power Surge energy drink asks Johnson, “Ben, when you run, do you Cheetah?” Johnson responds, “Absolutely! I Cheetah all the time.”