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Marketing Lessons from Big Gamblers

Ben Macklin
Marketing Lessons from Big Gamblers Ben Macklin

Imagine a situation where your company is in a very competitive industry, your primary target market lives in a country where your business is outlawed, you are unable to advertise on TV or in print, the leading search engines won't take your paid search listings, and credit card companies and Pay Pal will deny all the transactions that your customers wish to make. What to do?  This is the challenging situation that currently faces the online gambling industry, yet it continues to attract converts and grow rapidly in the very market where it is illegal.

Faced with these challenges, the online gambling industry has been innovative, daring and some would say down right tasteless, but perhaps there are lessons to be learnt for traditional marketers, (not necessarily being tasteless but hitting their target market).

The primary target market for the online gambling sector, and particularly online poker and sports betting, are males aged 18 - 35 years old.  Online casino, bingo and skill games skew more toward women but the majority of marketing efforts to date have been targeted at the Gen X, sport-loving, single male with an average income of more than $70,000.

With this target market in mind, sponsorship of sports events and sports people have been a significant marketing avenue for the leading poker and sports book companies. In fact, poker is now being marketed as a genuine sport along the lines of the NBA, the PGA and NASCAR. US-based company World Poker Tour Enterprises recently developed a Professional Poker Tour (PPT) with sanctioned tournaments throughout the year. Poker personalities have emerged with their greater television exposure and they now sponsor not only online gambling Web sites, but beverages, sunglasses and other products. And of course like the other major sports, the video games have emerged - World Series of Poker for Playstation 2 and World Poker Tour for Playstation 2 and X-Box should arrive in time for Christmas.

Along with sponsoring high profile poker players, which is common among poker sites, Sportingbet sponsors a top American bull rider, a professional women's volleyball team and an Arena Football league team. Leading poker brand 888.com sponsors an English Premier League Football team (Middlesbrough) and has its branding all over their home ground. All of the leading poker sites sponsor televised poker tournaments and poker sites have circumvented advertising restrictions in the US by advertising 'how to play poker' in their commercials and directing viewers to an "educational" site rather than their commercial site. BoDog and others have put posters in Sports bar washrooms to hit their target market as well as advertising heavily in trade magazines such as Card Player, Bluff, Poker Europa and others.

Guerilla marketing from companies such as GoldenPalace has been very successful. One lady sold her forehead as advertising space on eBay and GoldenPalace happily paid her $10,000 to tattoo a website address there. GoldenPalace has painted its website address on the back of a boxer, on the chest of a swimsuit model, on the stomach of a pregnant woman, on the body of a streaker at the 2004 Super Bowl and even spent $28,000 on eBay for a 10-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich that appeared to bear an image of the Virgin Mary. All these stunts created a great deal of publicity and has undoubtedly helped the company become one of the most popular online casinos in the world.

One web site, PokerFaceBook.com, even developed a new advertising medium - bumvertising. Employing homeless people that stand next to highways begging for help, PokerFaceBook.com has provided them with food in exchange for having their website address displayed under the homeless person's sign e.g. "Lost job, family, hungry, please help - PokerFaceBook.com", tacky yes, but creative nonetheless. 

Many in the online gambling industry have been forced to employ this type of viral marketing strategy to quickly raise awareness because of the restrictions placed on other marketing channels. Word-of-mouth marketing, which has been around forever, is now being better studied and quantified and the online gambling industry has been one of the best exponents of this type of marketing.

Ben Macklin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. This article is drawn from his new report on Online Gambling, recently published by eMarketer.


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