Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tom Waterhouse Is Not Your Friend

When it comes to advertising, I'm of the firm opinion that a fool and his money are soon parted (it certainly happens to me more often than not). It's not that I'm unaware of the pernicious power of advertising, but that influence is not the same as determination, and I fully endorse putting more responsibility on individuals to make up their own minds. In other words, banning is merely a cover-up for a failure in education.

I really don't have strong feelings towards live odds being part of a broadcast. And as far as targeting problem gamblers, to me it would make more sense to fight for sensible poker machine legislation. Unfortunately, there's not enough political will to overcome the clubs, but there does seem to be enough political will to overcome Tom Waterhouse.

Since Aussie rules is my winter sport of choice, my exposure to Tom Waterhouse has been limited to ads and news stories. But it is the ads I want to talk about, because I think they warrant the heuristic of the title - "Tom Waterhouse is not your friend".

What distinguishes Tom's ads from other ads is how personal me makes it. When I first saw his ads last year, he used his insider knowledge as a credential to be the best source for gambling. This struck me as odd as I wasn't sure just how that insider knowledge would help the punter (the fallacy of the dubious advantage), but now I've come to realise it's part of making Tom Waterhouse seem personal. It's not a business, it's his business - a very important psychological distinction.

It's a clever strategy, but a psychologically misleading one. There's no meaningful difference between Samuel L Jackson being a celebrity spokesperson for bet365 (their slogan should be "Gambling motherfucker, do you do it?"), nor is there any meaningful distinction between Tom Waterhouse and a mouthpiece. So when Tom advertises that he's willing to give money back when the scores are within a goal, how good this deal is depends solely on the odds are relative to other gambling companies.

On one level, all this is fairly obvious. We know that it's another business, and that it's appearances. But the thing to remember about cognitive biases is how they distort our thinking. Even with conscious knowledge, our biases are still present in our cognition. It's why it helps to remember that Tom Waterhouse is not your friend, as the presentation of the company is geared around the personality behind it.

If one is still sceptical, just remember that the whole reason you see Tom Waterhouse on TV is that he's able to buy advertising space with the profits he makes from you. Would a friend do that?

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