The Myth and Dangers of “Zero Harm” Messaging

Brand Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility

Oct 8, 2021

For the past 19 months, the bulk of our attention has been focused on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

During this time, another virus has been picking up speed, infecting those in the sports betting and casino industry—the use of “zero harm” as a goal or key performance indicator (KPI) of a healthy industry.

Just as there are variants of SARS-CoV-2, there are also variants of the zero harm virus including the “journey towards zero” and “nobody harmed” to name a few.

While these variants are delivered with different verbiage, the overall messaging is consistent in communicating that gambling operators are dedicated to ensuring that their products do not cause one iota of harm.

This is pure fantasy.

No human can ensure another human doesn’t experience any harm.

Look at parents and parenting. Even with the best of intentions, we parents consistently struggle to raise our children without unintended side effects.

There is always some level of harm to ourselves or others stemming from each and every decision we make. It’s unavoidable. Failing to realize the impossibility of the claim comes off as egotistical and disingenuous.

Not only is it fantasy, but it creates a host of problems that could easily be avoided by rolling the messaging back to still bold, yet achievable goals.

As highlighted above, a zero harm approach is destined for failure.

Sure, you might do a ton of great things along the way. However, the critic always has the ace up their sleeve in pointing out that you have failed to reach your goal of zero harm.

Why create giant targets for critics to shoot you down when they could easily be avoided?

Ultimately, these impossible claims damage your brand. The backbone of brand is authenticity and trust, and both of these areas take a huge hit when organizations are unable to live up to their stated missions.

Once one vulnerability in messaging is exposed, it creates questions and doubts about other claims. This spiral has always been rapid, but the advancement of our always-connected, 24/7 news cycle has taken this vulnerability to all new heights.

I could (and I’m sure I will) go on and on about additional reasons to ditch the zero harm messaging, but I’ll call it a day here and leave you with one last nugget of advice.

When asked about product harm, don’t point to an unachievable goal concocted in an ad agency boardroom. Instead, point to the day-to-day activities and people in your organization that are addressing problem gambling harm.

The world doesn’t want to hear your claims. We want to see your work.

Jamie combined his professional background as a brand strategist with his experience as a former problem gambler to create dyve. He is also host of The After Gambling Podcast.

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