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The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention.

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Top 5 Lessons Learned from Over a Decade of Social Marketing Campaigns

by Jon Kelly, CEO | May 11, 2012 11:38 AM

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 18)

The Responsible Gambling Council has been creating large-scale awareness and social marketing programs for over a decade. From time to time we ask ourselves what we are learning from this mountain of experience. The reality is we have learned many lessons on many levels: how best to work with ad agencies, the best vehicles for our message, the best time to buy ad space etc.

My picks for the top five key lessons are:

1. Segmentation is essential

It seems obvious that it is important to target a specific audience, but there is always the temptation to broaden and broaden the scope of the campaign to reach more people. In the future, as play analytics continue to get more sophisticated, it may allow us to segment the player population into even better defined groups—or even to tailor messages to individual gamblers based on their play patterns.

2. It’s not about the message, it’s about the audience. 

A lot of us who communicate social/safety messages are really good at knowing the messaging. We are immersed in the topics on a daily basis so we know what we want to say. Sometimes we get so focused on what we want to say that we overlook the audience. It is not useful to provide a message that the audience will not believe, even if the message is right. 

There are many examples of this. Any game, including poker, is heavily influenced by randomness. But, young poker players often have so much belief in their skill and the deficits in other players that they will not accept the randomness message. They think it is a message for slot players and they discount it. 

There is another side to the audience issue. Even though you may be speaking primarily to one group, there is massive ‘spill over’ in advertising. Many people who are not in the target group will hear or see the ads. They matter. The people who see ads form opinions about the messages, the organization behind the messages and, inevitably, the people funding the ads. That means that when you are creating messaging, you always have to think about who else is out there. Here’s an example: In the 1980s the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services was promoting ‘community living’ for people with developmental disabilities. The Ministry created a video showing a variety of people with disabilities in a variety of settings. One was a farm. The video showed the person with a disability riding on the fender of a tractor driven by a farmer. A lot of money was spent redoing that video because that same year the Ministry of Agriculture had spent millions of dollars telling people not to ride on the fenders of tractors.

3. It is mostly about instinct, creativity and judgement. 

There is precious little science in the social marketing process.  Surveys and focus groups help form the messages and the tactics of marketing, but they are only a piece of information. The critical piece is knowing how to interpret information from these sources. Sometimes it’s better to go with the information and sometimes it’s important to ignore it.

4. Repetition is a good thing. 

When I was in high school, I made the questionable decision to study Latin. It was, for the most part, unhelpful. But I remember the Latin phrase “Repititio est mater studiorum.” (Repetition is the mother of learning.) There is probably some truth to that adage. Most people, most of the time, understand what is healthy and not healthy for them. But they/we forget for a variety of reasons (probably having to do with short-term benefits derived from forgetting). There is a lot to be said for simply providing frequent reminders. Anti-smoking advertising is a good example of this. Surely we don’t need to be made aware of the dangers of smoking again. We have all seen uncountable messages about the negative effects of smoking. But, the messages need to keep going not because they are new, but because they keep the information top-of-mind.

5. Be attractive. 

When you have a message for which there is no demand, you have to go out of your way to attract the audience. Problem gambling prevention messages are rarely sought out. In order to get our messages to people, we normally have to wrap them in something else. That could be a piece of entertainment, a fact previously unknown, or something that surprises people into looking twice. The shiny wrapper is critical and, of course, it’s the hardest part to figure out.

There may be many other lessons about problem gambling awareness but overall, as of May 2012, these five are likely to have the biggest impact. If we ask ourselves the same question about our learning again three years from now, I would bet that the answers would be much the same. But, as seen in point (4), going over it again won’t hurt.
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