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September 19, 2013

Guest Blog

The loyal family: A brief look at brand image and gambling

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist, Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University in the U.K., and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. His presentation at this year’s New Horizons Conference will focus on Social Responsibility in Gambling, Marketing and Advertising. We invited Dr. Griffiths to share some initial thoughts on this topic.

Opinions and observations are his own and do not necessarily reflect BCLC’s advertising guidelines.

Over the past decade, the psychology of gambling marketing has become big business. Despite the strict regulations concerning how gambling can be advertised, the psychology of ‘gambling advertising’ is important in attracting potential clientele. Gambling imagery is designed to make a person spend money, and in almost all advertisements there is a lack of reference to the word ‘gambling’. Instead, guilt-reducing statements referring to leisure are used. Typical examples include “try your luck”, “test your skill” and “get into the holiday spirit”.

Image has become all important in the commercial arena and the gambling industry is no different. Having said that, the gaming industry has known that perception and image are important for well over a century. For instance, the first slot machine designed in 1895 was called ‘The Liberty Bell’ and typified patriotism as it was the symbol of American Independence!

The real shift that I have noticed in recent years has been the increased strategic use of ‘branding’ products. Brands are highly defined products that go beyond the packaging and the material they are made of. They can be anything from goods such as soap powder through to major corporations, service companies, political parties and even people. They appear everywhere and gambling products are no different. Research by psychologists has shown that children as young as three years old can recognize a brand. In fact, one study I read showed that more schoolchildren recognized the ‘crossed fingers’ Camelot logo than products such as Coca Cola and McDonalds!

So how are brands defined? The principal difference between an ordinary product and a brand is the intangibles beyond the product itself. A brand goes beyond functionality. In short it is how it is packaged, what it looks like, what its colour is, its personality. At the most basic level, product plus personality equals brand. My guess is that when you hear the words ‘Ladbrokes’, ‘William Hill’, or ‘Gala’ they invoke particular thoughts, moods, colours, and feelings.

Every great brand has an outstanding feature at its heart. A product also needs time to be promoted and communicated consistently to become a brand. Repetition appears to be one of the keys to establishing brand success. However, what really determines a brand – and this is especially important in the gambling arena – is trust. This is of paramount importance in getting individuals to gamble online. Players are more likely to gamble online with those companies that are well established than a little known company operating out of the Caribbean. Successful brands have a ‘trustmark’ rather than a trademark. It is the reason we prefer the product to other non-familiar ones. It says you have not been let down by the product or service and you can reduce anxiety by using the product or service again. Again, this is especially important in a business whose primary aim is to relieve you of your money!

Trust is an historical concept because we need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that we don’t even need to have experienced the product ourselves. We might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years.

Trust is an historical concept because we need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that we don’t even need to have experienced the product ourselves. We might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years.

One of the most important things about brands for the gaming industry is that they help us define our self-image and who we are – at least on some psychological level. For some people, this ‘personal branding’ may be more important than their social identities within a community. For example, the car we drive or the newspaper we read, are particularly strong cultural indicators of what sort of person we are. Where you gamble and on what games can be an extension of this.

Brands appear to mean much more than they ever did probably because successful brands are worth millions of pounds. Nowadays, gambling brands are linked to ideas, hopes and dreams and match the player’s thinking and self-image. It is not enough that going to a casino will be a lot of fun. It has to say something as well. Gaming companies try to match their products and games to consumers through extensive market research by surveying potential clientele about their attitudes, habits and pleasures. The gaming industry spends a lot of resources (time and money) turning their products into brands. If the product is successful it will soon be open to competition from others who want to cash in on the market for the particular product. The gaming industry therefore has to find a way of showing that their brand of products gives something better than the competitors.

Over time, even the best brands can lose customer loyalty, which is why the gambling industry needs to stay fresh and innovative. Brands rely on image and are vulnerable to scandal. That is where the gaming industry walks a fine line. High profile stories about gambling addiction or gambling-related suicides will not bring in new players and is why there is now such a major investment in corporate social responsibility.

Written by: Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, Nottingham Trent University (Nottingham, England)

http://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com

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