In the same way that established brands can be a good thing for the outward perception of the industry, can celebrity endorsements have the same effect? Does the fact that ex-sportsmen and other well-known faces are now endorsing the gaming industry help to enhance its reputation?
In today’s world, the cult of the celebrity has never been stronger, be they footballers, actors, reality TV performers, cooks, interviewers, journalists, even relations of famous people or people who are merely famous for being famous. Magazines like Heat and OK! have growing readerships by catering to this new obsession. There is even a new “stalker app”, which tracks celebrities across London and which, according to the Evening Standard, “allows people to search for celeb hotspots nearby and…check the favourite places of the stars and then go on to book the same table”. As Oscar Wilde once said “there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.”
Consequently, one would expect the use of celebrities in marketing and advertising to be on the increase. Indeed, it has been interesting to observe in the recent case of Tiger Woods’ serial philandering that one of the top related news items was which of his sponsors were ending his contract and which were standing by him. Moreover, depending on what you want the celebrity to do for or say about your brand, bad publicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When sponsors began to abandon Tiger Woods, for example, Paddy Power – ever the opportunist – leapt in with an offer to the golfer of a £50 million sponsorship deal; an offer amazingly he turned down. In truth, celebrity endorsements are growing all the while; some choosing famous people that companies feel embody their brands, others that they feel give them an edge, such as the association between Fred Perry Sportswear and Amy Winehouse. Equally, the use of celebrities can be for different reasons: Creating awareness, being a brand spokesperson, acquiring credibility, increasing a product’s appeal or even influencing the buying decision of fans wanting to emulate their favourite stars. As Marylou Costa, in an article in Marketing Week explains, “Get it right and the payoff can be exceptional. Travel agency Thomas Cook credits Louise and Jamie Redknapp, the faces of its television campaign, with increasing holiday bookings by 15% this year”.
So celebrity endorsement works in the marketing world, but how does it operate in the gaming industry and does it do so in a way that enhances the industry’s reputation?
Firstly, it is important to state how the biggest marketing issue that the majority of gambling brands face is one of awareness. With notable exceptions such as Virgin Games and Sky, who have strong brands in their own right, and the betting organizations, such as Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and so on, who were well-established businesses long before internet gaming became a reality, most gaming brands were created specifically for the internet. That said, it could be argued that the association started with the well established traditional high street bookies leading the charge as operators pushed to show gaming as a mainstream normal everyday activity with Ladbrokes and Ian Wright and co emulating ‘the average man in the street’ in various ‘everyday situations’ as armchair pundits to show that betting on the footie is what ‘normal blokes’ did. Interestingly, this first foray into celeb meets gaming also generated the first complaint to the ASA and the question of whether such use of celebrity might be “of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”. It could be argued that the use of footballers well past their career best was unlikely to have huge appeal to the youth culture. However, there is every chance of this rearing its head again in the future as an increasing number of operators jump on the celebrity endorsement bandwagon and the gap between gambling and gaming narrows and operators start to chase the next generation of customers.
Nevertheless, for the internet only operators, awareness and cut through are all important requirements; at least until such time as they have established their presence and built up their war chests. Even then, the temptation for celebrity endorsement never really goes away. Party Gaming, for instance, has signed Phil Tufnell, the ex-cricketer turned reality television star and TV presenter, to feature in a press, television and outdoor campaign to promote Party Casino. It was Tufnell’s supposed cross-gender appeal that attracted Party Gaming. The fact that he was an international sportsman would have been important, not least because of the strong links between sports books and internet casino games. It was for this reason that JETBULL.com signed David Coulthard as an ambassador, offering tips and advice to those who wish to bet on various sports including the Formula 1 Grand Prix. “A cool head, steady nerves, a willingness to take a calculated risk with the chance of high rewards at the end of it; these are the qualities that apply to both Formula 1 racing drivers and gamblers…” It’s all a bit convoluted, but one can see what they are trying to do.
Likewise, Pokerstars’ sponsorship of Boris Becker, although the link between tennis and gambling is less obvious, except, perhaps, an abundance of aces or, even, not relying too much on the flop when he entered that broom cupboard, and likewise with VC Poker’s sponsorship of Teddy Sherringham. All of these are looking to bask in the reflected glory of the sporting prowess of these former sportsmen and to forge an association between playing poker and a love of sport.
However, it’s not just ex-sports personalities that gaming brands turn to for their celebrity fix. Gala Bingo signed up Sharon Osbourne, presumably for her ‘mumsiness’ and appeal to women. Caprice featured in the ads for Paradise Poker, for whom both, probably, have their best days behind them, while Pamela Anderson fronted – if that is the word – her very own Poker site. It’s hardly contentious to say that ‘mumsiness’ was not that high on their agenda, but rather an association between sex and gaming. In Pamela Anderson’s case, the site was moderately successful, though demonstrably failed to become a big player. And as Pamela once said, albeit in a slightly different context, “of course, size is important. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just a liar with a small dick”.
And then, of course, there was Keith Chegwin Bingo, now closed, which, I think, tells us all we need to know about the commercial popularity of his celebrity status.
Most of the celebrities used to date have, by and large, been ‘of a certain age’ or appeal to a ‘specific’ group, possibly to ensure against an ASA complaint and accusations of appealing to too young a market, but what do you do if the celebrity you need to represent your brand won’t play, won’t fit or quite simply doesn’t exist?
It is quite possible, of course, to create your own– and then cleverly create and cultivate a cult of celebrity around them using all available ‘create your own celebrity’ tools, such as TV ads, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on. And, if you don’t believe it can be done, then just stick the name Aleksandr Orlov into Google and see what you get!!
What’s more, this principle can also be extended to apply to gaming. How? Well, it’s actually not that difficult. At Virgin Games, they took a big red chilli pepper, gave him a beard, a sombrero, a huge pair of maracas, and two minutes to charm the ladies with his promises of free bingo – and of course his own Facebook page and his own Facebook friends. Did it work? Well, let’s just say that Ricardo Jalapeno is the only male in the office with a poll asking people if they think ‘he is hot?!’
In some respects, too, Poker has created its own celebrities, famous for nothing but their skill and reputation for playing Poker. Devilfish, for example, has his own site, while many Poker businesses actively sponsor professional Poker players in order to reach out and inspire the hard core poker players who are so important to the industry.
Moreover, it’s not hard to see why so many i-gaming companies resort to a famous person, real or created, to deliver their message. Prior to the Gambling Act advertisements were not allowed to contain any worthwhile message.. Anything with a verb was verboten and the use of celebrities was therefore an effective means of saying something about a brand without actually having to say anything at all. Even so, the freedom to include such exciting things as an idea into one’s advertising, that the Gambling Act has allowed for, is an opportunity still resisted by most advertisers.
In short, the gaming industry is rife with celebrity endorsement and there is a sense that the bigger the celebrity, the more the gaming industry is coming of age. If nothing else, it demonstrates that its budgets are now big enough to afford them and that the industry is now a major player in marketing terms. Yet the truth remains that the nature of the i-gaming industry makes meaningful product differentials hard to obtain. A famous face, in that context, can therefore make all the difference.