Operators Searching for Right Marketing Approach In Ontario

May 31, 2022
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With an American-style marketing approach featuring attractive sign-up bonuses and risk-free bets off the table in Ontario’s competitive online gaming market, operators say they are focusing on differentiated strategies to attract and retain customers.

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With an American-style marketing approach featuring attractive sign-up bonuses and risk-free bets off the table in Ontario’s competitive online gaming market, operators say they are focusing on differentiated strategies to attract and retain customers.

Ontario’s online gaming regulations prohibit advertisements that include inducements for players, requiring operators to use different means of attracting customers than the type of “free money” promotions seen in many U.S. jurisdictions at launch.

Companies can still offer bonuses to players once they have registered for an account and expressly consented to join a mailing list, but blanket advertising of promotions is not permitted.

Two companies, BetMGM and PointsBet, have already been sanctioned by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), with BetMGM fined for multiple Twitter posts the regulator found to violate the rule, whereas PointsBet was fined for advertising on Ontario public transit.

“The challenge for operators like PointsBet, and there are over a dozen others, is figuring out how to engage that consumer without being able to induce them,” said Nic Sulsky, chief commercial officer, Canada for PointsBet, during a recent webinar presented by Parleh Media Group and content provider Spotlight Sports Group.

“It is a major challenge that most of us didn't know was coming down the pipe as regulations were being crafted.

“So I think Spotlight and other content partners and third-party solution providers are becoming, I would say probably more important in this market from a real money gaming conversion perspective, than they probably are in every other market,” he added.

Aubrey Levy, vice president of content and marketing for theScore, agreed that content was important but added that brand building is another key component for operators looking to gain a foothold in the market despite the regulations.

“It’s going to be paramount that you have a top rate product (and) a differentiated offering. What do you stand for that the competition doesn’t’?” Levy said. “And you have to build a brand.”

“It's not like in the U.S. where I can just one up your signup offer and I'll steal your audience,” he added. “That doesn't fly in Ontario, so you're going to have to stand for something.

“In the U.S., you’re able to be particularly cheap with your marketing, not from a cost perspective, but from a message perspective, because it’s inducement, inducement, inducement, inducement,” Levy added.

“But we’ve seen this game, that only lasts so long, until the next guy has the bigger inducement.”

Several Canadian media outlets have posted articles in recent weeks that are critical of the deluge of advertising that has been seen since Ontario’s launch in April, particularly as the country’s highest profile sporting event, the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, remains ongoing.

The AGCO, meanwhile, has said it is monitoring the market and will consider whether any restrictions on the volume of advertising might be appropriate in future.

Levy says he is not surprised that Canadians are starting to get irritated.

“You’re seeing some of the playbook from south of the border (in the United States) attempting to get replicated north of the border, just without inducements,” Levy said. “In fact, you’re seeing some guys try to push that.

“There’s good faith trying to figure out what the line is, then there’s other stuff going on that questions if they’re even concerned with what the line is, about what an inducement is and making some deliberate choices,” he added.

“There’s been instances where we’ve chosen not to run in certain programming because it was so noisy, and that not withstanding how good we think our creative is and our brand message, we just didn’t think it was good marketing to be up alongside three other sportsbooks in a single program who are hammering users over the head with marketing.”

Sulsky said that from PointsBet’s standpoint, the company’s playbook must be to out-think operators rather than outspend them.

“Let's face it, if any operator seven weeks into the market thinks they have figured it out or think they understand the market there, they will be one of the first out of the market,” he said. “We don't know what we don't know yet; we're learning every day we're learning more things, we have to be flexible and iterate.

“While you see all of the same commercials up here over and over and over again, the question is, are they actually connecting and resonating with the Canadian sports fan?” he continued. “Ultimately what are their goals? Is their goal just mass-market awareness, which won't cultivate or convert into quality sports betters who are ultimately going to stay with you.”

“The goal isn’t just to acquire customers; it’s to keep the customers.”

That extra noise, Levy said, makes it even more important to have a differentiated brand.

“The game needs to be, 'OK, I’m watching three or four sportsbook commercials, what is the difference?

“It can’t just be about win money, win money, win money. In a market that’s going to be hugely competitive for years to come, you have to scratch the itch and provide value and show that value,” he added.

“Hopefully for consumers, it gets more and more sophisticated, people actually start to find a brand lane, but if not, I think it’s to the benefit of the operators that are spending the time to actually care about what their consumer is interested in hearing from them.”

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