IPSOS on advertising: time to get creative with quality over quantity

In such a crowded market, Ontario sportsbooks and casinos cannot afford to gamble on creating a strong advertising strategy. That was a key message highlighted by IPSOS in a POV entitled Don’t Gamble on Advertising Effectiveness: Lessons From Sports Betting ads.

Ted Doering and Scott Morasch spoke with SBC Americas ahead of the Canadian Gaming Summit to discuss the research and its findings.

Beginning the conversation, Morasch shed some light on his career in the research industry – a journey which began straight after his time at University. 

My entire professional life has mostly been involved in research. I went to Business School for my undergraduate degree, and after that, started working at a small research firm before going on to join IPSOS,” he began. 

The move into the gaming industry, however, was “almost an accident”. But for Morasch, the move into this sector has been an exciting step in his career within the research space.

He continued: “I’ve been here for 21 years now, and in that time, have focused exclusively on research in the gaming sector. Think about anything related to betting or gambling – iGaming, casinos, sports betting, lotteries. This isn’t just for North America, Ipsos does this on a global scale too. That’s what I’ve primarily been involved in.”

Similar to Morasch, Ted Doering – Senior Vice President at IPSOS – had a similar journey into the research industry. 

He told SBC that his career began following a work experience day with a family member back in primary school. This experience went on to shape his career as he got older.

Doering said: “I was similar to Scott, I’ve worked in research since I graduated from school. But before that, my dad worked in market research. Back in grade seven, he took me to Detroit as part of work experience where I was able to sit in on a client meeting. I took on a summer job at his company during University, and then they hired me straight after school. 

“I’ve been in the industry since 1999. When I first broke into the industry, we would oversee all sorts of different projects, but the most interesting ones to me were advertising testing and tracking. Then in September 2008, I joined IPSOS and have been here for 15 years now.”

Where Doering’s role differs, however, is his focus on ad testing which focuses primarily on gaining insights on ad performance and tracking creatives to understand how ads work. 

“We aim to understand best practices and how to deliver in-depth insights to our clients. I’ve really enjoyed this aspect of my career. I’ve enjoyed most of my career, but this aspect in particular, has been really fun,” he added.

How many is too many?

As we all know, the regulated gambling market in Ontario has been up and running for just over a year now. With regulation has come a tidal wave of gambling operators looking to advertise their products to consumers. 

But with an influx of operators entering the market, how do you stand out from the competition? In short, it’s not as simple as it might sound. 

A recent POV from IPSOS entitled Don’t Gamble on Advertising Effectiveness: Lessons From Sports Betting Ads takes a look at some of the key lessons that sports betting operators must take into consideration when it comes to advertising – most importantly, the ways in which individual brands can differentiate themselves and generate strong brand linkage.

Doering explained to SBC that this study has been in the works for “quite some time” – and has largely stemmed from his own experience of viewing sports gambling advertisements on television. 

He said: “I watch a lot of sports, and something that became really apparent was that viewers were being inundated with so many different ads for different gambling brands. These companies are just trying to get their names out there, right? But my thought was ‘surely people are getting annoyed by this’. 

“Do people like these ads? And probably a more important question to ask is whether these gambling brands are getting any brand linkage from these ads. I was somewhat doubtful.”

IPSOS conducted the research by analysing six ads from different brands and testing them using its Creative|Spark solution which measures thoughts, feelings and emotions towards advertising. 

Doering continued: “What we discovered through this method is that people did enjoy the ads, to a certain degree, especially those ads that featured celebrities. But across the board, our hypothesis was confirmed – very few, if any, could link back to the correct brand. Companies were not getting the credit for their ads.

“When we did some social intelligence work to gain some insight into what people were saying about these types of ads in Ontario, we found that people were annoyed with the frequency of ads. Those consumers not understanding what brand each advert was from contributed to that annoyance, because it just seemed like a string of the same ads all at once.”

An annoyance with the volume of ads was just one of the findings from the research. The biggest learning, Doering noted, was the huge opportunity for brands to deliver much stronger branding to consumers across the board. 

Something that became apparent was that many consumers enjoyed the ads but struggled to link any particular footage back to an individual brand – meaning that gambling companies were not getting the branding credit that they’d hope for. 

Finding the right partner

It’s unsurprising but another key finding was that ads that featured celebrities tended to build greater brand memorability.

Something that must be taken into account when partnering with a celebrity for any advertising campaigns is relevance – a finding that has become particularly apparent through IPSOS’ meta learnings.

The research firm analyzed more than 2,000 adverts from its North American database to determine what impact, if any, use of celebrities in advertising had any impact on brand linkage.

“We wanted to find out if celebrities can be a distinct brand asset for you if used consistently, and what makes a celebrity a ‘good fit’ for an advert,” Doering continued.

“Some of these sports betting ads are using famous hockey players like Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. They’re using these celebrities in a context that we’re used to seeing them – playing ice hockey, or on a Zamboni. If people can fit a celebrity into an activity that they’re often associated with, that often helps.

“We’ve seen some companies deploy celebrities extremely effectively – one that comes to mind is George Clooney in the Nespresso ads, or Ryan Reynolds for Mint Mobile. They seem to be a good fit for the brand and their face helps with brand recognition. So using celebrities can be a sustainable way of building brand identity.”

The risk that the gambling industry runs is the over-use of celebrity endorsements, which could lead to consumers not having a clear understanding of which brand the ambassador is supporting.

“I do think that in the case of the gambling industry, the space is fairly cluttered. A lot of these brands are using celebrities, so it might be a case of too many celebrities and people not really understanding which brand they’re supporting. 

“The frequency of use, and maybe the overuse of celebrities, can be working against the gambling sector. I can’t think of another sector that has relied so heavily on celebrity endorsements right out of the gate.”

Something that Morasch highlighted when discussing the use of celebrities is the shifting public perception and sentiment towards brand ambassadors as a whole. This, he explained, is a public conversation that has been in the spotlight over the last few months.

Morasch said: “Based on our own public opinion polling, the sudden volume of advertising that began last year has been fairly consistent since the legalised gambling market opened up in Ontario, and this has really brought the issues regarding athletes and celebrities as brand ambassadors to the forefront. 

“This then touches upon public sensitivity over the matter, which further fuels sentiment and questions about the topic. We know that the AGCO has been looking into further regulations, and they’ve solicited feedback from the industry. Various stakeholders have been able to give their views on the matter.

“It’s likely going to be a topic that requires a balance between what the government believes is in the best interest of society versus allowing for an open, fair and competitive marketplace. 

“That process, I believe, is still going on right now and we don’t yet have a clear view on when that is going to end. We may see further regulations in the future, but at this point, it’s too early to say.”

Get creative

Whether sports betting companies can continue to partner with celebrities is yet to be seen, with the AGCO currently mulling over potential restrictions to curb endorsements from celebrities and athletes.

Doering added: “I think any changes from the AGCO will force sports betting and gambling companies to tell different stories and approach their advertising strategies in a different way if they want to continue to remain competitive.

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of uptick in people advertising sports betting in Canada – companies like The Sports Network, theScore, they’re all affiliated with a betting company. So even during intermissions when you’re watching hockey, for example, we’re seeing the latest line from FanDuel or whatever company they’ve partnered with.”

Prohibiting the use of celebrities will no doubt have a short-term effect on advertising strategies, but Doering is confident that such a move from the AGCO could force gambling companies to develop new and creative advertisements. This, in the long run, could be much more beneficial.

He noted: “It is a high stakes industry when it comes to advertising. If regulations did come in to prevent companies from using celebrities, it’s going to force these brands to tell different stories which, to be completely honest, may help their branding come to the forefront. 

“This is something that has cropped up in conversation recently. Sometimes if a brand uses a well known celebrity, do they run the risk of that person overshadowing the brand? Does a feature advert with Ryan Reynolds take away from the story of Mint Mobile, for example? Or have these brands just not built a brand story that is strong enough? I think it may be a bit of both.”

Distinctions were also drawn between the use of female characters within ads, and more importantly, the perceptions of women within sports betting ads.

In its research, IPSOS found that ads which featured female characters weren’t necessarily presenting them in the best light.

Doering added: “We have a gender equality measure that we include in all of our studies, so when we asked people about these characters, they found that they were not represented as strongly as they could be. On many occasions, consumers found these characters to be much more stereotypical female characters, or not appropriate role models.

“In short, these ads were memorable, most of the stories somewhat entertaining and unique, but the brands themselves were not being recognised.”

Lessons to be learned

Talk soon turned towards other industries and the lessons that can be learnt from these sectors. To our surprise, the sector that the IPSOS duo drew reference to is the beer industry – more specifically Corona.

Doering said: “One of the industries that we touch upon in the POV is beer. Let’s take Corona for example. Corona has been a brand that’s been around for a long time and it’s always been associated with the beach, relaxing. But it’s also become synonymous with adding that slice of lime into the bottle itself. Those are the things that have become distinct branding assets for Corona. 

“When you see a Corona advert, it automatically evokes a feeling of relaxation and being on holiday. Their advertising probably started with the question of ‘what do we want Corona to stand for? What do we want consumers to associate our brand with?’

“It’s all about establishing that brand identity from the get go and creating a consistent narrative. It takes commitment to those assets.”

So what can the sports betting industry learn from Corona? Creating a strong narrative, that’s what.

He continued: “What none of these ads do in the sports betting world, at least the ones we’ve tested and seen, is that they’re not really relying on those distinct brand assets. The use of celebrities is somewhat limited, logos and branding is very subtle. They’re not really tying their brand story to those assets, which is something you really need to do.

“I think the betting world can take cues from more regulated or undifferentiated categories that have sort of broken through by developing brand assets. These days, it’s not necessarily about how many times you say your brand name in an ad. 

“It’s more about developing distinctive assets that people can then associate with your brand and a narrative that can be used across different mediums. That will ultimately stick with the consumer in the long term.”

Morasch echoed this sentiment, highlighting that the key to standing out in a crowded market is a strong brand identity and an engaging narrative. 

He concluded: “I would echo what Ted was saying about leveraging a brand identity and those different assets over time. To me, those types of things – in research – ladder up into higher order need states. Some companies really hit the mark in this regard.

“We know that people choose to make bets or gamble for a number of different reasons. For example, there’s self-indulgence, or the feeling of power, control, beating the odds. There are also social needs, conviviality, to be around friends and enjoy the additional excitement that betting can bring to game night. 

“There’s many need-states at play that would need to be investigated for a brand to really then take that into developing their creative and figuring out what their long term play is, as far as their brand identity.”