Jack Simcock: are the big betting firms dropping the ball in their RWC advertising campaigns?

We are in the middle of The Rugby World Cup – the biggest sports event in the world this year. Valuable ABC 1 audiences are amassed around one of the few high profile sports events that is still free to air. As a result, sports betting brands are congregating around the event, making it clearer than ever that they are missing the chance to differentiate themselves, find more loyal customers and win market share.

Of course there is one successfully differentiated brand: Paddy Power, who in recent years has surged ahead thanks to its tone, platform agnostic content strategy and agility in responding to ever changing sports headlines. We saw this approach in effect when the organisers banned musical instruments at the Scotland vs Japan game and Paddy won Scottish fans’ hearts and wallets by declaring a local shop a ‘bagpipe friendly zone’. This approach has helped them build a valuation north of £2bn and paved the way for a merger with Betfair, the only other brand that has achieved some differentiation thanks to its innovative trading platform.

So that’s two of the differentiated brands tied up. Surely the others are ready to pounce on the opportunity to stand out as an organisation that believes in something bigger than app functionality and free bets? Yet the crowds still fall silent. Instead, betting companies are spending big on Rugby World Cup campaigns that focus solely on free bets and better odds, reducing their chance to differentiate.

In the World Cup, both the teams and advertisers have spilt into two tiers. The top tier are well organised, strategic and effective, the second tier still have talent but it’s not so focussed. Top tier brands such as Guinness and Samsung have proven their passion for rugby by putting their audience before products within their campaigns, bringing the game to life and coordinating their play to make an impact. Guinness’ Gareth Thomas story and Samsung’s Jack Whitehall campaign use passion, emotion and entertainment, partnered by an omnichannel approach, to land their message effectively. This is what is lacking from betting brand attempts.

If a betting company could let offers and apps play second fiddle to campaigns that show how much they love the game, rather than just saying it, they could find an element of differentiation that could be worth big money in the industry’s current climate of mergers and consolidation.

Yet betting brands are siphoning huge amounts of their ad spend on second-rate TV spots that are not consistent across all platforms, pushing fictional lifestyles that their audiences aren’t able to feel part of, such as the ‘This Is The Ladbrokes Life’ campaign.

Lack of differentiation can cause further implications: online conversation with no distinctiveness. Ladbrokes’ online video ‘Who’s Got The Balls?’ featuring Austin Healy and Jimmy Bullard does not feel part of its TV advertising, instead making an ineffective attempt at Paddy Power’s lads approach. BetFair has drafted in Dallaglio and Keith Wood to deliver reactive commentary around the big games on YouTube, but their words just add opinion to an already over subscribed conversation.

In context of a consolidating market propelled by the union of Paddy Power and Betfair, cut through has never been so important. Ironically it’s the values of sport that could be driving differentiation to make the second tier campaigns fly: loyalty, commitment and drama.

Imagine what could have been. Top tier ideas, packed with the thrill of the game, brimming with moments that matter to fans and stir them to back teams and players. Campaigns that illuminate the importance of loyalty – the one commodity that sports betting firms need most. The brands that tap into the real reason fans love sport will be the winners at this Rugby World Cup. In the journey to future tournaments, the second tier teams can expect a long road, the odd victory but never to get their hands on the big prize.

unnamed-122-240x300Jack Simcock is a founder and strategy director of Telegraph Hill.

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