Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
How Gamble Aware’s Newest Campaign Targets an Unlikely Group
Advertising Agency
London, UK
Gamble Aware CCO Alexia Clifford and M&C Saatchi strategy director Carole Raeber on targeting women gamblers, who need support now more than ever before, writes LBB's Nisna Mahtani

Gambling is often seen as a man’s addiction. However, with the overconsumption of online websites, apps and the game-like nature of bets, these days, the everyday person has more access to gambling than ever before - and that certainly includes women. 

Research conducted by Gamble Aware and the Gambling Commission has shown that up to one million women in the UK are at risk of harm from gambling, with a 54% increase in women gamblers as well as an increase in women seeking help. Yet, there aren’t many specifically targeted campaigns that identify women as at risk, nor warn them of the harmful effects. Gamble Aware partnered with M&C Saatchi to change this in its effort to appeal to women who may see the campaign and say, “Hey, that’s me… maybe I want to read up on how to stay safe.”

To talk through the importance of their newest campaign, Gamble Aware’s CCO Alexia Clifford and M&C Saatchi’s strategy director Carole Raeber, speak to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani.

LBB> What were the initial conversations surrounding the new GambleAware campaign? Talk us through the ideas and how you landed on a women-targeted campaign.

Alexia> In 2020, GambleAware’s Safer Gambling Board commissioned a scoping report to identify areas where prevention campaigns could make a significant difference. Women were identified as largely unserved by targeted gambling harm prevention programmes. 

Safer Gambling Campaigns have tended to focus on younger male sports bettors because of the high levels of risk amongst this group. Although fewer women experience gambling harms relative to men, our new analysis shows that up to one million women in Great Britain could be at risk of experiencing gambling harm. We know that women are exposed to more gambling advertising on TV than men (seeing an average of 9.1 gambling ads per week on TV in 2019, compared with 8.8 for men). We have also seen the number of women seeking support from the National Gambling Treatment Service more than double in the past five years.  
Despite these numbers, there is a perception that women don’t really gamble or experience harm from gambling. So, there was a job to be done to change this perception and help women who gamble to be aware of the crucial early warning signs of harmful gambling.  

LBB> How involved was GambleAware and what were they keen to include in the final piece?

Carole> We worked well together as an integrated team, with GambleAware closely involved across all areas including marketing, communications and research. GambleAware partnered with M&C Saatchi and freuds to develop an integrated, multichannel campaign. For all of us, it was important to reflect how the audience feels and what they experience, while aiming to encourage low to medium risk female gamblers to be aware of early warning signs and reflect on their experience and behaviour. 

Throughout all activity it was important we took the necessary steps to ensure we didn’t inadvertently trigger anyone into gambling or stigmatise people who do gamble or experience its harms, which was why the research and focus groups with the lived experience community were so important. For example, we know that stigma is a really big issue amongst our target audience, with two in five (39%) women who experience high levels of harm refraining from seeking help or treatment because they feel embarrassed, or don’t want others to know about their gambling – this is almost double the number of men (22%).

LBB> Often, gambling awareness ads aren’t targeted towards women. Can you talk us through the research and insights that took you in this direction?

Alexia> While men are more likely to experience gambling harms, we know that up to one million women could be at risk of harm. 

Research shows there has been a long-term growth in female gambling participation, with the number of women gambling having increased 54% in the last four years, compared to a 28% increase amongst men for the same period. We have also seen an increase in women seeking help - with the number of women receiving treatment for gambling doubling in the past five years.

We know women often have different motivations behind their gambling compared to men and their experience often differs, with research suggesting that women’s mental health is often more adversely affected by ‘problem gambling’ than men. There is also a general lack of awareness of gambling harms amongst women, which can exacerbate harm, leading to shame, guilt and a reluctance for women to seek advice or present and report for treatment. 

To address this as part of the campaign, we wanted to highlight the key early warning signs that signal gambling might be becoming a problem, such as losing track of time, spending too much money and hiding your gambling from others. By bringing these to life, we wanted to empower women to take action before they are at risk of gambling harm, 

LBB> What was the casting process like and how did these four actors suit your strategic aims?

Alexia> As this is a prevention campaign, we had to make sure we were targeting those experiencing at least moderate levels of harm from gambling, and therefore more likely to be showing some of the early warning signs. Our research has shown us that some people are disproportionately affected by gambling harms and that those women are most likely to be around the 25-45 age bracket, so we cast on that basis and built the family around her. We were looking for a strong and sympathetic performance and a relatable cast. 

When we went into research, most of our scripts just had a woman by herself with fantastical things happening around her. While these games are often played when people are alone, portraying it that way in our creativity often made people look very isolated and much further up the risk scale than the audience we wanted to speak to. In research, we also learnt that it helped if the scenario felt quite ‘every day’. Putting the two together brought us to this family watching telly together.

LBB> What were some of the challenges you faced when conceptualising and planning the 30-second spot? And how did you ensure it captured your target audience?

Alexia> We needed to develop a better understanding of women’s experiences of gambling harms, so GambleAware commissioned new research and we used the initial findings to inform the campaign. There are very few examples of women’s prevention campaigns like this globally, so there was limited existing evidence to draw upon. 

It was important for us to treat gambling like any other public health issue, while also reflecting women’s experience of gambling harm. To make sure we got it right, we conducted extensive testing across a wide range of creative approaches with the lived experience community and target audience. In the end, the 30-second spot brings to life the insight that women say they can ‘lose track of the world around them’ when they’re experiencing the early signs of gambling harm. It resonates well, strikes the right tone and really cuts through. 

LBB> What sort of changes/decisions did the script go through and how did you ensure your message was delivered strongly?

Carole> We had a few different scripts on the table but this one started out as a series of three, in each one something unexpected happened. Puppies running in, magicians dividing people in half, rock bands appearing. Our audience mostly took to the puppies, and a version with a family juggling. They felt real. They brought people’s experiences to life. Once we had that, there weren’t too many changes on the script, but naturally in the production process, little elements were added, debated, taken away and put back in to get that sense of balance just right.

LBB> Juggling, spinning plates and losing a sense of your surroundings - how did these metaphors support your overarching strategy?

Carole> We want people to take a moment and self-reflect on how they gamble. Ideally, it makes people realise, “Hey, that’s me… maybe I want to read up on how to stay safe. This isn’t just a game.”

To do that, it was important to hold up a mirror to the experience of women who have experienced gambling harm and help other people recognise themselves and the warning signs.

In research people repeatedly and consistently told us that when they gamble, they often lose track of time and money and everything around themselves.

Some of the things they told us were:
you’re in a bubble, totally wrapped up in it… I am never aware of my surroundings when I’m in it.
it feels like you have blinkers on.
so sucked into it. 
I’ve spent hours doing exactly this – one more spin turns into 4 or 5 very easily.
It’s a tricky feeling to describe. It’s like being frustrated and a bit helpless, it’s fun in the moment but you feel a bit sad and addicted.

The juggling and spinning were there to show just how absorbing gambling can be and how easy it is to lose track of time and money when you are gambling.

LBB> Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Alexia> It has been great to see how much interest there has been in the campaign and the topic of women and gambling. We are delighted to have been able to get this important issue on the agenda and see gambling being talked about as a serious public health issue. We are incredibly grateful to the women who came forward to talk about their experience of gambling harm to help inform the creative development of this campaign and share their stories with the world. 

With so few examples of women’s gambling harm prevention campaigns available globally, we hope that by being open and transparent with the campaign approach, and with the full campaign evaluation, we will help to build the evidence base around what works in women’s prevention. We are very thankful to everyone who has been on this journey with us and who have shared their insights, we hope this campaign will help raise the necessary awareness about the early warning signs to look out for alongside the free support and advice that is available via 

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