Editor’s Note: Snake Oil & Widgets is a new weekly column written by long-time industry vet Tom Galanis. Tom will discuss marketing and advertising in the gambling industry.
There’s no doubt about it. Views on Ladbrokes’ new television marketing campaign are polarized. The campaign, in spite of a responsible gambling message communicated in the latest installment, has garnered 67 complaints at the time of writing and has now received an initial wrap on the knuckles by the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), who have commented on the advert being ‘harmful and irresponsible’ as it glamourizes gambling.
Ladbrokes’ campaign, which is driven by ad agency Bartle BogleHegarty, is a brave—some might say desperate—step into the unknown. Competitor Paddy Power has been firing out ad campaigns on brand for the past decade, whilst others—Ladbrokes included—have remained focused on communicatingand competing on the accepted industry acquisition trigger—the welcome bonus.
A spokesman from Ladbrokes has strongly rebuffed the formal criticism and labeled complainants as having undergone a sense of humour failure. It is this defiance, even in the face of a now probable ASA investigation, which shows a true belief in the new marketing message. Ladbrokes, suffering from perennial decline online and the increased levy on FOBTs earlier this year, have jumped the gun on what many iGaming marketing insiders believe will be the future of industry marketing communications in the UK with Point of Consumption tax coming into effect in December 2014.
Wagering attached to traditional customer acquisition and retention bonuses is likely to be taxed at 15 percent when the law comes to fruition later this year, and the probability is that most operators will significantly reduce the amount they award to the point that it becomes unmarketable. To the Ladbrokes’ target consumer, software platforms offer little differentiation across its product verticals compared to those of its competition. Couple this with previous overreliance on bonuses as a selling point, it is high time for the brand to stand up and engage the customer in the betting or gaming experience and beyond.
We can expect to see many more sportsbooks and online casinos in particular adopting a lifestyle element to their brand advertising going forward—the challenge for marketing teams and ad agencies will be to adhere to the CAP code and avoid the glamorization of gambling.
There ought to be significant wonderment as to how traditional forms of digital marketing will fall into place alongside it all. Using Paddy Power as a marker, as a business they rely far less on affiliate marketing than most of their competition. Is this because it is far more difficult for affiliates to convey the intangibles of a brand rather than the numbers of a welcome bonus? It’s certainly tricky to deliver brand messaging in 70 characters of a two line Google AdWords placement. In 2015 and beyond, we will likely see the redefinition of performance marketing in iGaming.
Creating a brand is not just about firing out a lifestyle-oriented television campaign. First and foremost, it must transcend all marketing collateral. It must be adopted as much as possible to the product’s capabilities and most critically as a brand strategy internally, and this is where, perhaps, Ladbrokes will need to do most work. It remains a fragmented organization, so it is critical the Ladbrokes Life is drilled in to the training of a new customer service representative and makes its way into the correspondence of CEO to investors. This is what gives Paddy Power the edge on brand marketing and goes a long way to explaining its conjoined success in the social marketing space—the employees know what the company is all about, and this comes across in almost every customer facing action they take.
Building new USPs around brand intangibles is no gimme, particularly when you’re trying to convince an audience who are well-aware of the brand name and its history. We will see many operators whose currently leading the way in the bonus stakes fall away if they get their brand marketing wrong in a scramble to achieve market position.
It is this positioning strategy that may be of most interest to the industry as a whole. To date, we have survived Paddy Power, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker aside in a linear environment, where there has been little need to corner off areas of the global customer base using experiential marketing. Going forward, with the UK being the established market that it is and with unrestricted access to licenses for any operator who need apply, operators will need to define their target audience and set about owning it using emotional connections and messaging that they have likely never even considered themselves in their weekly brainstorming sessions.
Of course, this approach may not be for everyone. The smaller operators, who don’t have the same proportion of operating costs to offset against a tax rise, may continue to press home the bonus message to potential and existing customers. It is also highly likely that, unless the UK government has every ISP at its beck and call, we will see operators who’ve opted to avoid the UK licensing process being able to target customers in the old fashioned way without the burden of tax.
Then there is the never-go-back scenario. One must only look at Paddy Power’s close-to-the-bone campaign surrounding the Oscar Pistorius’ trial earlier this year to appreciate that building a brand and sticking to its core beliefs requires staying power. In the past 18 months we have seen brands like Coral who attempted two or three ad campaigns; each with wildly different themes, straplines and calls to action. Ladbrokes itself has only recently stepped away from its Game-On strapline and TizianoCrudeli’s various antics. Chopping and changing this message once a brand-focused marketing strategy is underway is simply a non-starter; it will be interesting to see how vehemently Ladbrokes stick to their new campaign mantra. The company must understand that polarizing opinion is not necessarily a bad thing— and as a plc—must convince its investors of the same thing. The execs and indeed those with money invested can ill-afford to let the Ladbrokes life die a death at the hands of the advertising regulator, or indeed, the whim of a job change or agency switch.
Tom Galanis lives and breathes iGaming. Under the GameOn flagship, he has spearheaded the launch of over 20 affiliate programs, reinvigorating some major brands.