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PokerStars doubles down on social video after Cristiano Ronaldo worldwide success

Paying the world’s best football to appear in viral-baiting, social videos promoting poker might seem like a misguided attempt to woo new players but it seems PokerStars may have had the last laugh.

Social video has piqued the interest of the gambling brand after posts featuring Cristiano Ronaldo garnered a level of attention that would make his main sponsor Nike jealous. Videos with more than 180 million views in seven months would make any marketer sit up, particularly when 95% of those were effectively through people sharing PokerStars’ videos, putting it among the esteemed group of John Lewis, Red Bull and more as the only brands to have managed to rack up over 100 million organic views online.

The secret of the brand’s success is twofold: the first being that there’s nothing like a social media spat to win people’s attention: the second being that while influencers and niche targeting are the du jour for many marketers now, bigger is better. Combined, the insights led PokerStars and agency Gravity Road to concoct the #RaiseIt campaign, whereby Ronaldo and well known basketball player Dwayne Wade responded to challenges from each other, which quickly descended into the two performing all manner of flicks and tricks in a carefully-staged game of one-upmanship.

PokerStars views these videos as a humorous (and shareable) take on the competitive nature of a sport in which raising the stakes to ‘one-up’ your opponent is critical.  And while it won’t be replacing TV anytime soon, PokerStars sees social video as a way to reach “those people who haven’t yet found you [he brand] via partnerships and clever targeting”.

A closer look at the campaign’s metrics suggests it was the right call; PokerStars claimed it achieved 82 million views on Facebook, most (56 million) of which were organic, with an average of £0.01p per video from a paid media perspective. The 4 million views the campaign sparked on Instagram were all organic and it went on to become Ronaldo’s most viewed video on Instagram. The Real Madrid star’s Ronaldo’s first video in the campaign generated over $5m in Advertising Value Equivalent through PR coverage including ESPN, CNN, Mail Online, Daily Mail and FOX to name a few.  The campaign was featured in 7 mailonline.com articles.

Attention on this scale is vindication enough for the millions of pounds parted with to secure not just Ronaldo’s endorsement but also access to his following, according to the brand. If the next generation of poker players at PokerStars “live and breathe social according to our analysis”, then videos like Ronaldo’s drone knockout stunt become a potent platform for spreading brand awareness, said Al Berry, who’s recently created global head of content marketing role is emblematic of PokerStars’ plans to do more of the same “just bigger and better”.

His role is also testament to the folly of just doing social video for the likes and shares. While the brand has not shied away from equating views with success, Berry couches those stats with the acknowledgement that merely sharing a video on Facebook doesn’t change behavior or increase purchasing.

In his strategy, video sits further up the funnel than its more performance-led fare and are working to shift perceptions, while he and his team employ a mix of sentiment analysis and retargeting to get closer to understanding how people value the brand.

He’s talking about using its social media pages as wells of customer intelligence. Armed with this, PokerStars can start to shape social media strategies around the fact that fans behave differently to non-followers. Part of this has led the brand to look at what people would have done had they not followed the brand after watching the videos. Getting to know “the person, their interests, hobbies and passions has value beyond jus social interactions – it tells me who they are as a human,” explained Berry.

“That information can be extremely useful in planning campaigns and activations, not just in social,” he added.

“One of my big things coming into this role was understanding sentiment and how people value us,” continued Berry. “I think we take a holistic approach about what social video is doing. With a performance ad unit you can easily bring it down to a CPU but what we look at [for social video] is if we’ve discovered an audience who like it and now with Facebook for example we can retarget against that.”

Even amid reports that PokerStars will deemphasise sports personalities in its marketing, it is unlikely to stop using the likes of Ronaldo, Wade and Neymar on social media. While the move may be cost motivated, marketing isn’t the first place an internet gaming company would usually look to make savings given how competitive the sector is.

There’s a proof of concept in place that PokerStars hasn’t had before and with that a clearer role for social media in its marketing mix. “What’s interesting from my perspective is the data that sits behind the social videos as we’re starting to understand more about what happens when we reach new influencers and what happens when they’re retargeted,” added Berry.

“It’s looking at how much value do you put on a view versus how much value do you put on it becoming a conversation piece. That could be better engagement, be that a share or even a like. As we go forward and start to measure the impact [of our videos] in social with better social listening tools then we can measure the effect.”

Featured by The Drum

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