Building trust in your brand is hard enough. Now take a situation where your audience is so cynical of your product offering some of them even call for your competitors to have their advertising banned.
This was the case for Premier League team Southampton Football Club (Southampton F.C.), and crypto-betting company Sportsbet.io.
We spoke with Southampton F.C. Head of Partnership Marketing Charlie Read, Sportsbet.io Director Joe McCallum, and Head of Partnerships Richard Barnwell to discuss how they embraced responsible disruption to provide an authentic message about safe gambling practices, increasing brand trust in the process from 13% to 47%.
A skeptical and cynical audience
Gambling companies are playing an ever-increasing role in football sponsorships. In the Premier League, where Southampton F.C. currently sit, the first shirt betting sponsor was in 2003 – Fulham Football Club with Betfair.com. In the 2021/22 Season, 45% of teams have a betting sponsor. In a documentary on gambling in football, Channel 4 estimated betting company logos can appear over 700 times per fixture. There is undeniably a huge overlap in audience between football fans and the target market for betting companies.
Much of the conversation about gambling in sport is centred on problems with the industry, typified by stories of ex-professionals struggling with gambling addictions. As such, crypto-betting company Sportsbet.io and Southampton F.C. faced an audience of football fans more critical than ever of partnerships between football clubs and betting companies. Both organizations felt there was a clear opportunity for a successful partnership. In this case, success would involve amplifying the voice for safe gambling and increasing trust in their brand as a result.
A branding strategy built on trust
McCallum, Director at Sportsbet.io, explains why Sportsbet.io looked to build a partnership with Southampton F.C. with trust at the core.
“We take responsible gambling extremely seriously. We do create a lot of content and we try to get it away from price-led advertising. Public perception at times is difficult for betting companies so we looked at what our customers need from us. They need speed, stability, and first-class customer support.”
“However, one of the key pillars was about trust. We have seen Premier League partnerships as one of the core avenues to support the engagement with our audience, but it needed to be a club who aligned with us. We had conversations with different EPL clubs but Southampton F.C. came in with a presentation all about our shared values.”
The two organizations were coming together with one goal in mind. However, building trust is easier said than done.
“It’s not been a light switch,” McCallum explains. “It’s been a gradual slow burn. You’ve absolutely got to earn the confidence and trust of your audience.”
Embracing responsible disruption
With so many betting sponsors in football, Read explains why Southampton F.C. needed to have their voice heard by their fans.
“We didn’t want to just film a generic video and then stick in a responsible gambling message on the end of it. We wanted to do something that truly connected with fans. It had to create impact. The core overlap of Southampton F.C. and Sportsbet.io’s shared values is responsible disruption. We had to create a disruptive piece of content which you wouldn’t normally expect a football club to do.” – Charlie Read, Head of Partnership Marketing, Southampton F.C.
Barnwell says this approach was another core reason Sportsbet.io chose Southampton F.C. as their partner.
“We knew things could work well together as Southampton sees themselves as a ‘challenger’ brand who embrace disruption.”
To build trust in Sportsbet.io, Southampton F.C. needed to create a campaign that cut through the noise of other clubs and betting partners and provided a unique outlook on a sensitive topic to many of their fans.
‘Listen to the Saint in you’
‘Listen to the Saint in you’ was a video campaign featuring the players of Southampton F.C. speaking to a typical target audience member as if an angel on their shoulder. The two organizations attribute the success of this campaign to three core areas:
Read highlights the importance of delivering an authentic message as crucial to the success of the campaign.
“The message was all about a gambler who has placed several successful bets thinking about placing another. Different to other adverts out there, it wasn’t obviously anti-gambling or completely pro-gambling. It showed you can enjoy betting on sports and on your team, but you should always do it responsibly. Placing the players as the voice of reason showed fans that their heroes wanted them to gamble safely. You’re always going to get better engagement and views if you use players, but they’re not actors. We had to make it authentic without having to get them to do too much acting!”
Harnessing the power of ready-made ‘influencer’ equivalents in the players themselves was a natural step. However, subverting typical campaigns and showing intervention occurring when someone was winning – not losing – was a far more authentic approach that showed Southampton F.C and Sportsbet.io genuinely care about their audience’s safety. With a skeptical audience this authenticity was crucial. Barnwell adds to this:
“We wanted our audience to see their heroes connecting with our brand and giving this important message. If they can see their heroes being responsible, it resonates with them.”
Read also discusses their choice of platform for delivery.
“The main channel focused on was Facebook because this is where our audience sits, and we’ve always seen the best engagement on this platform. Because the message was in a longer format, we knew this platform would yield better results than Instagram or Twitter. However, we wanted to deliver the message in a disruptive way within the video itself. So, we harnessed CGI within the video. It felt disruptive, different, and innovative. As the partnership was with Sportsbet.io, a tech company, it was right.”
The video campaign proved a hit with their audience:
- Delivered to an audience of individuals aged 25+
- 721,023 impressions
- 367,573 video views
The campaign ran during Safe Gambling week 2021. This allowed Southampton F.C. and Sportsbet.io to be part of a wider initiative in support of gambling safety, once again lending authenticity to their message. However, it did also present a challenge:
“In a cluttered week when there’s a lot of things going on in that space, we felt that doing something like that would kind of have that cut-through,” Read explains. “That’s why we embraced a different approach to message and used disruptive tech like CGI.”
To overcome the noise and deliver a campaign that embraced responsible disruption and built trust, all three areas had to work together.
Tracking trust as a KPI
For many brands looking to build trust in their brand, they would be unable to track trust as a core KPI. Instead, many marketing leaders face a battle with the C-suite and core stakeholders who respond far better to data points around the bottom line. However, for two brands obsessed with building a strong relationship with their audience, this was far from the case, and played a pivotal role in their success.
The shared values between organizations meant they could prioritize the KPI of trust, ensuring authenticity and the success of the campaign.
“For the ‘Listen to the Saints in you’ campaign, the key metric was about shifting that brand trust. Granted, we also tracked engagement KPIs, but for a campaign centred on safe gambling, it was vital we tracked how attitudes of trust shifted towards Sportsbet.io after viewing the video campaign,” Read says.
“At the beginning of that process, we looked at what the positive impact for this partnership could be. The priority for the partnership was building trust with their audience and fans via responsible disruption.”
It was clear from the inception of Southampton F.C.’s partnership with Sportsbet.io that there were shared values between both brands. Read discusses why they were able to do activations which were disruptive and different to what you would expect with a typical betting partner.
“The ultimate ambition is not necessarily to acquire customers. Obviously long term, we hope that’s what it does, but really, it’s about fans engaging with Sportsbet.io. We build trust, we build a connection, and they come away with a truly positive feeling towards the brand because of the type of activation that we’ve done with them.”
Looking forward: Trust at the centre
For Southampton F.C. and Sportsbet.io, the partnership is just beginning. As a crypto-betting organization, another pillar in which Sportsbet.io have sought to help educate their audience is cryptocurrency. The initial plan was to work on improving trust by increasing awareness about safe gambling as it was a more accessible topic. With attitudes here improving, Read discusses how they have been able to turn their attention to the improving trust in cryptocurrency.
“From an educational point of view, when considering crypto and gambling and in terms of trust, it was easier for us to build the trust in gambling because people understood that concept. Crypto was more niche. Everything we’ve done with Sportsbet.io is about building trust. Whether it’s ‘Listening to the Saint in you’ about safe gambling or educating and familiarizing fans and supporters with crypto, our goal is curating fun, engaging content to build trust of Sportsbet.io and their brand.”
As with their campaign around gambling, all future campaigns around cryptocurrency or other topics will come back to the foundations of the partnership. Their subsequent strategy – including a gamified, educational campaign on cryptocurrency featuring a QR hunt, bitcoin game, and social media hunt – both currently and into the future, will be centred on responsible disruption. Building trust will be the game plan at the heart of the partnership.
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