Building trust in your brand is hard enough. Now imagine a situation where your audience is so cynical about your product offering that some of them are even demanding that your competitors ban their advertising.
Such was the case with Premier League team Southampton Football Club (Southampton FC) and crypto betting company Sportsbet.io.
We spoke to Southampton FC Head of Partnership Marketing Charlie Read, Sportsbet.io Director Joe McCallum and Head of Partnerships Richard Barnwell to discuss how they’ve embraced responsible disruption to deliver an authentic message about safe gaming practices convey and increase brand trust in the process from 13% to 47%.
A skeptical and cynical audience
Gaming companies are playing an increasingly important role in football sponsorship. In the Premier League, where Southampton FC currently plays, the first shirt betting sponsor in 2003 was – Fulham Football Club with Betfair.com. In the 2021/22 season, 45% of the teams have a betting sponsor. In a documentary about gambling in football, Channel 4 betting company logos can appear over 700 times per game. There is undeniably a large audience overlap between football fans and the target market for bookmakers.
Much of the talk about gambling in sports focuses on issues with the industry, typified by stories of ex-professionals struggling with gambling addictions. For example, crypto betting company Sportsbet.io and Southampton FC have faced an audience of football fans that is more critical than ever of partnerships between football clubs and betting companies. Both organizations saw this as a clear opportunity for a successful partnership. In this case, success would come from amplifying the safe gambling voice and thereby increasing trust in their brand.
A brand strategy based on trust
McCallum, Director at Sportsbet.io explains why Sportsbet.io wanted to create a trust-centric partnership with Southampton FC.
“We take responsible gaming very seriously. We create a lot of content and try to get it away from price-driven advertising. Public perception is sometimes difficult for betting companies, so we looked at what our customers expect from us. You need speed, stability and top-notch customer support.”
“But one of the most important pillars was trust. We’ve seen partnerships in the Premier League as one of the key ways to help support engagement with our audience, but it had to be a club to join us. We have held talks with various EPL clubs but Southampton FC came out with a presentation on our shared values.”
The two organizations came together with one goal in mind. However, building trust is easier said than done.
“It wasn’t a light switch,” explains McCallum. “It was a gradual slow burn. You absolutely must earn the trust and trust of your audience.”
Embrace Responsible Disruption
With so many betting sponsors in football, Read explains why Southampton FC needed to be heard by their fans.
“We didn’t want to just shoot a generic video and add a responsible gaming message at the end. We wanted to do something that really connected to the fans. It had to make an impact. The central overlap of the shared values of Southampton FC and Sportsbet.io is responsible disruption. We needed to create disruptive content that you wouldn’t normally expect from a football club.” – Charlie Read, Head of Partnership Marketing, Southampton FC
According to Barnwell, this approach was another key reason why Sportsbet.io chose Southampton FC as their partner.
“We knew things could work well together as Southampton sees itself as a ‘challenger’ brand that embraces disruption.”
In order to build trust in Sportsbet.io, Southampton FC needed to create a campaign that would cut through the noise of other clubs and betting partners and offer many of their fans a unique perspective on a sensitive issue.
“Listen to the Saint Within”
‘Listen to the Saint in you’ was a video campaign in which Southampton FC players spoke to a typical target audience like an angel on their shoulder. The two organizations attribute the success of this campaign to three core areas:
- Timed coordination
Read emphasizes the importance of delivering an authentic message to campaign success.
“The message was about a player who has placed several successful bets and is considering placing another one. Unlike other commercials out there, it wasn’t overtly anti-gambling or entirely pro-gambling. It has shown that you are welcome to bet on sports and on your team, but you should always do so responsibly. Placing players as the voice of reason showed fans their heroes wanted them to play safe. You will always get better interactions and views if you use players, but they are not actors. We had to make it authentic without making them act too much!”
Harnessing the power of ready-made “influencer” equivalents within the players themselves was a natural step. However, subverting typical campaigns and showing interventions that took place when someone won – not lost – was a much more authentic approach, showing that Southampton FC and Sportsbet.io genuinely care about the safety of their audience. With a skeptical audience, that authenticity was key. Barnwell adds:
“We wanted our audience to see their heroes connect with our brand and convey this important message. When they can see that their heroes are responsible, that resonates with them.”
Read also explains the choice of platform for deployment.
“The main channel we focused on was Facebook because that’s where our audience sits and we’ve always seen the best engagement on that platform. Because the message was in a longer format, we knew this platform would perform better than Instagram or Twitter. However, we wanted to deliver the message in a disruptive way in the video itself. So we used CGI in the video. It felt disruptive, different and innovative. Since the partnership was with Sportsbet.io, a technology company, it was right.”
The video campaign proved to be a hit with its audience:
- Delivered to an audience of people aged 25 and over
- 721,023 impressions
- 367,573 video views
The campaign ran during Safe Gambling Week 2021. This allowed Southampton FC and Sportsbet.io to be part of a broader initiative to support gambling safety and once again bring authenticity to their message. However, it also presented a challenge:
“In a packed week with a lot of things happening in this space, we felt like something like this would be a breakthrough,” says Read. “That’s why we took a different approach to messaging and used disruptive technologies like CGI.”
To cut through the noise and run a campaign that welcomes responsible disruption and builds trust, all three areas had to work together.
Track trust as a KPI
Many brands that want to build trust in their brand could not track trust as a key KPI. Instead, many marketing leaders face a battle with the C-suite and key stakeholders who are much more responsive to data points around the bottom line. However, for two brands obsessed with forging a strong relationship with their audience, this was far from the case and played a crucial role in their success.
The shared values between the organizations meant they were able to prioritize the KPI of trust, ensuring the campaign’s authenticity and success.
“The Listen to the Saints in you campaign was all about building brand trust. Granted, we also tracked engagement KPIs, but for a campaign focused on safe gambling, it was important that we track how trust levels towards Sportsbet.io changed after watching the video campaign,” says Read.
“At the beginning of this process, we looked at the positive impact this partnership could have. The priority of the partnership has been building trust with their audiences and fans through responsible disruption.”
From the start of Southampton FC’s partnership with Sportsbet.io it was clear that there were common values between both brands. Read explains why they were able to run activations that were disruptive and different than what you would expect from a typical betting partner.
“The ultimate goal is not necessarily customer acquisition. Obviously long term, we hope it does, but in reality it’s about fans engaging with Sportsbet.io. We build trust, we build a connection, and they come away feeling really positive about the brand because of the type of activation we’ve done with them.”
Looking ahead: Focus on trust
For Southampton FC and Sportsbet.io, the partnership is just beginning. As a crypto betting organization, another pillar where Sportsbet.io has tried to educate its audience is in cryptocurrency. The original plan was to work on improving trust by raising awareness about safe gambling as it was a more accessible topic. As attitudes improve here, Read discusses how they were able to draw their attention to the increasing trust in cryptocurrency.
“From an educational perspective, looking at crypto and gambling and in terms of trust, it was easier for us to build trust in gambling because people understood that concept. Crypto was more of a niche. Everything we’ve done with Sportsbet.io is about building trust. Whether it’s listening to the saint in you to practice safe gambling or educating and familiarizing fans and supporters with crypto, our goal is to curate fun and engaging content to build trust in Sportsbet.io and its brand build up.”
As with their campaign around gambling, any future campaigns around cryptocurrency or any other topic will come back to the basics of the partnership. Their subsequent strategy – including a gamified cryptocurrency awareness campaign with QR hunt, bitcoin play and social media hunt – will focus on responsible disruption both now and in the future. Building trust will be the game plan at the heart of the partnership.
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