The Chicken and the Egg | Brand vs. Acquisition in Gaming Marketing

15 August 2008

I’ve heard that you can now buy a car that is so technologically advanced that it runs on nitrogen converted from the very air we breathe. It has eight seats, plenty of room for luggage in the back, does zero to 60 miles an hour in less than seven seconds and has an estimated running life of approximately 50 years. And it costs less than $10,000.

It’s an incredible machine, and one which everyone on the planet will want to own in the next five years.

In fact, right about now you’re probably thinking: “I’ll buy one of those tomorrow. That’s incredible.”

And you’d be right. Except you can’t have one. Because you don’t know what it’s called, who makes it or where to buy it. Awareness of this brand is zero.

Sadly the above car doesn’t exist yet; I made it up to prove a point. You see, there’s no point in having the best product in any category if people can’t find it or if no one’s ever heard of it. The public can dream about this invention -- salivate over it, even -- but until they are aware of its existence they can never become a consumer of said product.


In gaming terms it translates like this. You can have the best site ever invented, with the best team, payment processing, customer services, up time, rewards, tourneys, you name it -- but if players can’t find you (or worse, have never heard of you) then all else becomes irrelevant -- you will never acquire new players beyond your inner liquidity.

We see this a lot when taking briefs in: “Get me more players. At less than $100 CPA. Show me your ideas.”

Which is fine if you’re a top-50 operator -- you can take one of our viral campaigns and your brand equity will support the call to action. But if you’re a startup, or even an established, but niche, online casino? Good luck.

There are plenty of examples in history of brand domination outweighing product quality in terms of long-term success. Beta-versus-VHS for one. Brand marketing put VHS on the map, seeded doubts about the competition and made it look like the only sane choice for the modern consumer. Result? I think you can still by Beta Max tapes in Togo.

Another sector where brand equity has overridden actual substance would be the diamond business. Sure, they look pretty and they’re quite hard and all that. But as the highest cost-to-size ratio product in the consumer market, what’s made these little lumps of chiselled carbon so valuable?

More than 20 years ago, a journalist named Edward Jay Epstein wrote an exposé of the diamond business, initially published in The Atlantic Monthly. His central contention was that diamonds had very little real value. Their perceived luxury value was no more than an exceptionally well-delivered brand strategy. (Married or engaged men reading this -- look away now -- you could have bought a Ducati instead.)

As the monopoly owner in the diamond trade, De Beers has been a purveyor of market manipulation for decades, controlling supply and demand at will. And as opposed to gold (a true commodity in the sense that it’s freely traded) diamonds are kept in their owner's vault and released as and when the markets need a boost. While gold is the standard of real worth and value, diamonds can be scraped, soiled and generally devalued over time.

Diamonds, therefore, aren’t anyone’s best friend. In fact, they’re a bit shit.

De Beers rarely discovers new tracts of diamonds. Instead, it looks to control existing stones, limiting production, and if necessary buying up surplus gems and stockpiling them to support the market.

On the brand marketing side, De Beers created advertising that correlated misinformation, for example that diamonds represented true love (basically, they said you can’t really be in love if you don’t fork out for a diamond. Ducati motorbikes sadly lack this brand equity).

As such, the diamond engagement ring was only invented as a marketing ploy in the 1950s.

By the time the Bond film "Diamonds are Forever" came out in 1971 viewers actually believed it was true. Only De Beers and some Madison Avenue hacks knew otherwise.

Back to the point at hand, this article is in no way meant to subvert acquisition strategy; It is, and always will be, essential. However, acquisition and brand strategy should be considered as complimentary requirements. They are eggs and bacon, not chicken and egg. And this is something that our growing industry should consider if it wants to bloom into the breakfast its potential has prophesied.

It may be much easier to look at the numbers and create a CPA which your player generation plans have to meet, but in a separate budget (especially for challenger brands) you should consider how your brand is delivered. Once new customers are aware of your gaming site, then they can be acquired. This doesn’t work in reverse.

Figure 1 below shows the flow of activity that should take place if you were to create an umbrella-marketing strategy for a poker business. These are options, not essentials, but they should all be considered on merit and elements executed dependant on budget, audience segmentation and jurisdiction:

Figure 1: The Brand Acquisition Model (Poker)

In such a flow of activity, brand marketing compliments acquisition and vice versa. And here’s the good news -- for those of you who were thinking that the last thing you wanted to do was spend more money, for many of the media shown above the same creative execution can achieve both goals! Whether it’s a brand viral campaign with a rewarding call to action to click through or an interactive banner game with incentive to deposit, two objectives are commonplace in modern media and, if you get the creative right they work incredibly well.

So that’s one concern out of the way. But your next question will be: “Why can’t I just stick to my affiliate and banner strategy?"

The answer: You can. And while you’re at it you can keep recycling the same quality of player (possibly every four months) that you’ve been doing for the last year. It’ll make money, hopefully incrementally, and if that’s your goal then well-done-you. If your horizon is beyond that, then brand development isn’t a nice-to-have -- it’s an absolute necessity.

To round up, and to give you something to chew on, think about this. Are there any gaming brands out there that, in your opinion, have ticked the following boxes?

  • Multiple platforms

  • Integrated communications

  • Loved by its players

  • Aspirational

  • Media savvy

  • P.R.-able

  • Incredibly profitable

    Can anyone tick all of them? There are a few, but as a starter, I’d say Full Tilt comes close, Paddy Power even closer, but Bodog is about as close as it gets.

    The connection? All three are entertainment brands at the same time as being great at new player acquisition. It’s a tautology, with one factor supporting the other.

    Have a think about where they’ve got to and how fast they’ve done it -- I think it might influence how you see brand strategy within your own business.

  • Mr. Lang is with McBoom, a digital gaming marketing agency in Brighton.