Influencing the outcome

Easy to implement and highly effective, influencer marketing is fast becoming an essential component of the online marketing toolbox, with as many as 65 percent of marketers having increased their influencer marketing budgets in 2019. 

According to Business Insider Intelligence, brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, up from $8 billion spent in 2019. This comes parallel with a general shift away from self-promotional tactics to more nuanced inbound strategies in the marketing industry. 

This has become especially the case for online gaming companies, who see influencer marketing as a way to circumvent often strict regulations in advertising. 

Bhavesh Parthi, Head of Affiliates at Asia Oppo Ltd, an online betting company, attributes the growth of influencer marketing to consumer demand for greater authenticity from their brands. 

“Everyone now relies on the internet and social media when it comes to recommendations and reviews, with influencers now playing a much larger role in helping, or swaying a buyer’s final decision making,” he said. 

The concept of influencer marketing, however, is not new. For decades, variations of influencer marketing have existed in traditional advertising – in the form of celebrity endorsements.

In the land-based casino sector, football superstar David Beckham has been the official brand ambassador for Las Vegas Sands’ Asian properties since 2013, utilizing his popularity amongst football fans to promote new openings and developments for LVS in Asia. 

But brands, especially those online, have started to move away from celebrity or “mega influencers,” opting instead for “nano”, or “niche” influencers – those who have a smaller following but make up for it by being highly engaged and respected by a brand’s target audience. 

“With influencers [now] able to generate substantial income as an affiliate, more people are moving into this field, be it as a stable income or as a side income,” said Parthi. 

However, whilst nano-influencer deals are cheaper and easier to implement, experts warn that online gaming brands will still need to be smart to avoid wasting their marketing dollars, and to navigate murky advertising rules. 

“There is the challenge of gambling being one of the most regulated sectors in the world, and where it is not regulated it is prohibited or even illegal,” said Christina Thakor-Rankin, Principal Consultant of 1710 Gaming.

“Social media sites themselves have constantly changing views about the promotion of adult products as well, meaning what is allowed one week may not be if public opinion changes. This poses a real issue for anyone looking for a long-term opportunity,” she added. 

These challenges extend to the influencers themselves, who need to work hard to be noticed amongst the growing competition and avoid breaking local laws. 

“Old school affiliates had it easy compared to the new generation of influencers,” said Thakor-Rankin. “Aside from operating in a saturated and highly competitive marketplace, social media affiliates operating in the betting and gambling space also have the tricky problem of regulation to navigate.”

In 2018, Irish glamour model Jesse Vard, 19, became one of fifteen “net pretties” nabbed by authorities for violating Thailand’s gambling laws by promoting World Cup wagering for online wagering company SBOBET.  

The women were sentenced for violating Section 12 of Thailand’s Anti-Gambling Act, specifically in their promotion of online gaming sites that were not authorized to operate in the country. 

“Influencers have had to be smart and careful while promoting betting brands in Asia, as online betting/casino is still considered somewhat taboo in many communities,” said Parthi. “From not revealing their true identities online or even working under a pseudonym and using fake photographs, or even having their faces replaced by cartoon characters during live or recorded streams where their face is shown.”

So far, Instagram, Facebook and social media messaging apps, such as WeChat and Telegram, have been used by online gaming brands across all territories – with each platform coming with numerous strategies to avoid detection or a ban.

It’s a constant game of cat and mouse that needs to be played to circumvent administrators and the authorities, explains Parthi. 

Thus, when it comes to influencer marketing, success is all about securing the right person for the job.

“Successful engagement today is all about authenticity,” said Thakor-Rankin. Most customers today are aware that a recommendation or endorsement on social media is as likely to be driven purely by financial interest rather than actual interest in the product itself compared to a would-be Kim Kardashian gushing about the bonus round on a slot game.”

“Taking those very things that make social media a success, a smart influencer can tap into the fact that sport (watching, playing, punditry and betting) can be social and multi-generational, as can other gambling products such as bingo, poker, table games, esports, and multiplayer slots, making it not just about winning.”

“The thing to bear in mind at all times is that any influencing has to be predicated on authenticity and the experience,” she said. 

Finally, Parthi said it is imperative for a brand to create tight-binding and enforceable contracts with its paid-influencers. 

“Not all influencers out there can be trusted. Scams or backing out of a deal after payment is common. Therefore proper black & white agreements between each party are a must,” he said.