Have any of you reading this ever visited an online poker site because of a celebrity endorsement? Would the presence of Ben Affleck or James Woods make you more likely to play poker? Commercial gambling has only relatively recently got in on the celebrity endorsement bandwagon mainly because gambling advertising has always been very restricted. When a poker company uses a celebrity endorser, they are signing up an image that is itself a gamble. At the very least, gaming companies should get what they pay for but it can all go horribly wrong. When a purple-bearded Billy Connolly was used to promote the National Lottery in 2002/2003, sales decreased. The adverts had high recall by the public but were hated by a large proportion of the British public who found Connolly highly irritating.
This is all goes to show that any gaming company wanting to use celebrity endorsement as part of its marketing drive has to carefully evaluate a celebrity’s image and reputation. Steps need to be taken to make sure the celebrity’s image and reputation matches the needs of the company. Sales can take a tumble especially if the celebrity used does something that compromises the company’s image. For instance, Vic Reeves drink-driving conviction wasn’t very good for the car insurance company he was promoting! However, in most situations, the relationship between the company and the celebrity will be mutually beneficial. The company receives all of the perks associated with the celebrity such as publicity, positive connotation, recognition, respect and trust. The celebrity – at the very least – benefits financially.
The advertising industry claims that brand recognition, recall and awareness are the most important outcomes of successful marketing campaigns. This, they believe, will result in greater sales and increased revenue. However, as with the Billy Connolly example above, this isn’t always the case. Celebrity endorsement is perhaps even more important in online commercial activities like playing Internet poker where identity, trust and reliability equate to potential punters. As a consequence, many online commercial enterprises appear to opt for short-term, high impact celebrity endorsement and ‘buzz marketing’ rather than investing for the long term. These types of marketing tend to create an instant image and reputation but may not necessarily be good for the company’s longevity. To be market leaders amid the competition, online gaming operators will need to couple strategic marketing with solid brand management.
Interestingly, a survey carried out by Marketing UK asked marketers from a sample of the top 1000 British companies which techniques they thought were the most successful in increasing sales and at building long-term relationships with customers. It found that celebrity endorsements ranked last, beneath things like loyalty schemes, sales promotions, and general display advertising. However, it doesn’t make sense to isolate celebrity endorsements, because they are just one of many marketing elements that are used in a successful campaign. What’s more, if marketers didn’t believe celebrities help in generating long-term sales and profits, they wouldn’t keep paying the large fees they command.
While the jury is out on whether celebrity endorsement is a sales winner, one question that has yet to be answered through research is, what type of gambler does a celebrity endorsement impress and/or influence in their decision play? Is it the novices, long-standing players, or both? Maybe different types of celebrities appeal to different clientele. For me, the most interesting development of the celebrity endorsement culture is how the big poker tournament winners have now become celebrities in their own right. For instance, the star after-dinner speaker at an academic gambling conference I was at in Lake Tahoe was World Series of Poker veteran Howard Lederer. This type of celebrity endorsement may be more appealing to players. The fact that someone has become a celebrity through skill and talent in an activity that gamblers are already positively predisposed towards suggests they will want to have more of a psychological association with these celebrities than those the celebrities who just happen to play poker as a hobby. Judging by the front covers of magazines like Inside Poker, the editors clearly believe that it is the big poker winners that sell the magazine rather than Hollywood A-listers or scantily dressed women.
Celebrity endorsements also tap into the psychology of ‘intrinsic association’. This is the degree to which the gambling activity is positively associated with other interests, people and/or attractions. Intrinsic association also taps into the psychology of familiarity and help explain why so may UK slot machines feature themes relating to television shows, films, popular board games, video games or celebrities. It makes punters feel they know something about the product before they have even played it.
Gaming companies have to ask themselves how much they are willing to gamble on celebrity endorsement in trying to carve out a niche in the market. Companies have got to be clear that they are targeting the right product with the right celebrity with the right message. It can be a long hard slog to shape an image or reputation but it can take just a few seconds of celebrity madness to destroy it.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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