A gambling marketer reveals what he really wants from agencies

A gambling marketer reveals what he really wants from agencies

Online gaming is now a hugely competitive market but UK agencies don't seem to understand how to target this burgeoning industry, says Harry Lang, head of digital marketing, Mecca Bingo.

Erstwhile pharmacologist, provocateur and gambler Hunter S. Thompson once slurred: "There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having fun and being smart."

Online gambling revenues is estimated to increase by a further 10% to £2.83bn in 2015 

The same can be said if you want to win a betting or gaming client. The work should be fun, for sure – but to beat the competition you have to act smart.

In our DNA

Gambling is a human condition, and one which has been around since the serpent backed Eve to pull a fast one on God. It offers some of the most divisive emotional swings available without pharmaceutical assistance, from high elation to the depths of despair. Which means it’s potentially dangerous – and addictive – but for many the thrill is in the risk.

England’s original thrill-seeker Henry VIII was a gambler. On one occasion, he supposedly lost a gigantic church bell in a wager. But then again, he’d made himself Supreme Head of the Church of England to expedite the annulment of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so really it was his to lose.

Things have moved on a little since then, in practice if not so much in theory. Now online gambling on desktop, mobile web and through Apps is big business and advertised constantly on every legally available channel.

A 2014 report by Gambling Compliance Research Services (GCRS) estimated the UK’s net revenue rose by 12.2% to £2.31 billion in 2013. Noting this enormous sum, the UK Government saw pound signs, and from December 2014, operators have had to stump up a new 15% ‘Point of Consumption’ (POC) tax on all online bets. This should net the coffers of Westminster approximately £400 million in gaming tax in 2015 alone.

But that’s not the end story. GCRS estimates that online gambling revenues will increase by a further 10% to £2.83bn in 2015 and 13.6% to £3.22bn in 2016. A lottery win for the UK government, if not for the gaming operators.

Every penny counts

However despite the tax increase, there’s still a hell of a lot of money up for grabs, and this understandably makes online gaming firms attractive clients to marketing and advertising agencies across the UK.

The problem is that gaming marketing in 2015 is not as simple as just big budget TV ads and the wacky banner campaigns (that was the early 2000s). Online gaming is now a hugely competitive market with margins decided on tiny percentage points. This means that every marketing penny has to be accountable, every campaign intricately designed and every piece of available BI data analysed to within an inch of its life.

Having been involved in more pitches than I care to remember over the last nine years, UK agencies (creative, digital and media) often seem to be under-equipped to offer the insights and skills required by this burgeoning industry. So here’s a tick list of items for agencies plotting their next gaming pitch.

1. Know your flop from your fat ladies

There are many and varied words and abbreviations associated with online gaming. On the measurement side, you’ve got CPD, CTR, CPA, FTD, LTV and the rest. On the games side, there are hundreds of terms related to gameplay in bingo, poker, sports betting and casino (the big four as far as online gaming is concerned). No one expects you to know all of them, but at the very least have someone that bets online in the core pitch team and give the creative teams twenty quid to bet/ spin/ raise/ dab on the client and competitor sites the day you get the pitch brief. It’s unnerving (not to say suicide for your chances of success) to present to a client when it’s patently obvious that you’ve never bet online (and yes, this happens. A lot).

2. Think like a gambler

Online gaming is a relatively young industry – before 1996 it didn’t exist. As such, it’s a relative Klondike when compared to FMCG or other traditional sectors. It’s also for over 18’s only, so creatively you’re speaking to adults only. Together this means you can spread your wings and take a few risks – differentiate through imagination and don’t hold yourself back. The industry is populated by young (ish) men and women, many of whom gamble occasionally, so play to their needs. M&C Saatchi backing itself to get through to the second stage on a Paddy Power pitch was a brilliant and original idea. It not only made for a great PR story, but it showed intent to a brand not scared of taking risks itself. My only word of warning to M&C would be to turn down a ‘double or quits’ offer when the contract is renewed – Paddy’s will likely drop you faster than pants on prom night just for the win and the craic.

3. Get a read on the competition

It isn’t enough to ask an intern to screen grab landing pages from the top ten sports books and put their welcome bonus offers into a spread sheet. You need to demonstrate that you understand why the competition is acting as it is. Are they following a value or volume model? Are they targeting geographic segments? What product attributes are they selling and are they better than what your potential client offers? Where is the low hanging fruit? What is the lead message that differentiates most effectively?

4. Add incremental value to your proposition

Fair enough, if the brief is TV only, then you should focus on exceptional insight and a fantastic core idea. However, they’re not going to shoot you for extending the thinking into a more integrated strategy. Even if they don’t need channel extensions, it helps to sell the umbrella concept if you’ve shown how it fits into a broader strategic vision. For that, you might want to think about affiliate partners, SEO/ online PR and App Store Optimisation among others.

5. "Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em"

If there’s something in the brief you don’t understand, or if there’s a channel your agency has no experience in delivering – for god’s sake, don’t bluff – you’re going to get called. Front up and admit it’s not a speciality – the rest of your work will shine with credibility as a result.

6. Play by the rules

As online gambling is a hobby strictly for adults in regulated markets only, there are plenty of rules and regulations you need to abide by when promoting gaming products. Get it wrong and your client could receive anything from a slap on the wrist from the ASA to losing their jurisdictional license. Suffice to say, if your pitch strays outside the rules of the Gambling Commission, CAP, Clearcast, the ASA, the jurisdiction or even the client’s internal guidelines your pitch will go straight to jail and you certainly won’t collect 200 quid. The Gambling Commission's ad rules page is a good start point. 

7. Always deliver the best returns

Although gaming is all about risk you’re unlikely to come across a more Scrooge-like bunch. Return On Investment is ‘Le Roi’, to coin a phrase, so don’t be surprised if direct response activity is the bottom line, even when the brief stipulates a brand building objective. At the end of most pitches, someone will always ask: "So how many new players will it get us and what’s the Cost Per Acquisition"?

No agency wants to waste time and resources on a long shot pitch, so before you step up to the plate to present to a poker, casino, sports or bingo client, check through the above and make sure you’ve shortened your odds as far as humanely possible.

That said, pitches are much like a game of poker – they can be 99% skill and 1% luck, or indeed the exact opposite. However, if your agency is better prepared than your rivals, soon enough you’ll see your luck improve.

Harry Lang, head of digital marketing, Mecca Bingo


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