William Hill is looking to shake off the stereotypes around gambling and “elevate” its advertising with a new campaign focused on the sociability of betting.
The ‘It’s who you play with’ campaign features a group of friends messaging each other about their weekend’s bets. The focus is on fans and the connectivity of these social groups, a place where William Hill believes it can “naturally insert” itself into the dialogue, explains global brand and marketing director, Charlotte Emery.
It is the first piece of work from 72andSunny Amsterdam since it won William Hill’s European business in June. The brief was to establish the bookie as the first choice in gambling, highlight the brand’s premium status and develop an emotional connection. In search of a sense of “realness”, the team ensured the cast were actual sports fans who understood the match-day betting experience.
Designed to show William Hill as a modern, accessible brand, the campaign seeks to counter the image of gambling as a solitary pursuit that can become isolating and scary. Safeguarding will be a focus of the campaign, with ‘nobody harmed’ messaging filtering through the creative on social media from November onwards.
Customers said they disliked the stereotypical way they were portrayed in advertising.
Charlotte Emery, William Hill
“Getting betting into the sociable arena makes it open and public, and within friendship groups there are natural checks and balances. It’s when the friends remove themselves from that group that needs to send alarm bells ringing,” Emery tells Marketing Week.
“In this campaign we want to show that people are discussing bets and show them winning, as well as losing. We are trying to show betting is part of a sociable context with your friends, it’s a natural part of that and not have it hidden away.”
This approach has also meant shedding the masculine image often portrayed in gambling advertising by showing women getting in on the bets. Emery explains that research indicated friendship groups of bettors are typically mixed. She also points to the energy generated by this summer’s Women’s Football World Cup, which she says demonstrated women are just as passionate about sport as men.
Furthermore, Emery is keen to elevate the tone of advertising across the gambling industry, which for years has been characterised by direct response, odds-focused adverts that play up to stereotypes.
“It was very clear to us when we were developing this campaign that customers were saying they disliked the stereotypical way they were portrayed in advertising and they felt quite put off by a lot of the very strong call to action, very direct advertising,” she explains.
“We felt it gave us an opportunity to elevate how we spoke to them, not just thinking of them as gamblers, but thinking of them as people and how the other brands they aspire to connect with talk to them and what we could learn from that.”
Change in direction
The ‘It’s who you play with’ campaign represents a clear shift from the highly stylised black and white advert unveiled in April starring brand ambassador, heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua.
This was William Hill’s first brand-led campaign and a debut for Joshua since he signed up to work with the bookie in 2018. The idea at the time was to elevate the William Hill brand above the crowded market and convey a sense of its premium status.
Emery explains that at the time the team had not yet developed the new brand positioning, but they didn’t want to wait until the second half of the year to “prove the power” of the William Hill brand.
The idea was to use this campaign to propel the bookie above its competitors and tap into the premium feel of an advert from the likes of Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, given it has a sports star at its heart. Emery describes Joshua as an amazing asset, whose popularity transcends boxing and through which the business could leverage this sense of being a “heavyweight brand”.
“If I’m honest, we were borrowing a bit off his values and integrity to raise the profile of William Hill and show we could be something different,” Emery explains.
“Moving into the new campaign was very much about celebrating the strengths of William Hill and taking those strengths of retail, which is about community and connectivity, and building that into the world of digital and trying to unify our sportsbook and gaming propositions.”
As with the Joshua campaign, which was weighted towards post-watershed TV spots, cinema and outdoor, William Hill has opted for a big multi-media campaign.
The main brand ad launches tonight (13 Friday) on ITV and Channel 4 around shows such as the Lethal Weapon series, The Jonathan Ross Show and Treasure Island with Bear Grylls. The TV spots will be supported by cinema and dynamic out-of-home, alongside a strong press element.
Emery explains that far from hampering her team’s creativity, the TV whistle-to-whistle ad ban brought into force for the 2019/2020 football season has enabled them to do the things they wanted to do anyway, such as moving into the 18-plus cinema market.
“I think as an industry we’ve got to get our house in order and we need to elevate the way we talk to customers and make sure we are safeguarding,” she states.
“That’s a real commitment that we take very seriously at William Hill. We strongly support the whistle-to-whistle ban and I’m strongly involved in shaping the future of how we want to regulate ourselves going forward.”
This year William Hill has talked openly about its ambition to be a “digitally-led, internationally diverse gambling company”.
With the new campaign the brand made a conscious decision to put digital at the heart of the creative, evidence of a wider shift in the business following the appointment this month of Ulrik Bengtsson, formerly William Hill’s chief digital officer, as CEO.
The bookie is evolving its business model, announcing plans to close 700 UK high street betting shops in July following the government-backed cut in the maximum limit per spin on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2.
Emery is, however, clear that retail is still “incredibly important” to the business, which is why the campaign also aims to celebrate the high street stores, while showing the experience of physical betting has been brought “bang up to date”.
Another important area of focus is the international market, as William Hill looks to reduce its reliance on the UK. In January, for example, the bookie acquired Swedish gaming brand Mr Green and in March it forged a multi-year betting partnership with the US National Hockey League.
After the UK, the ‘It’s who you play with’ campaign will roll out to Spain in November with a bespoke piece of creative that taps into the camaraderie and competitiveness among groups of friends. Emery explains her team will look to take this concept into other markets as and when regulation, and the scale of the business, allows.
Her vision going forward is to elevate the William Hill brand, the role of betting and the industry itself, by evolving the tone of voice used in the advertising and how the company interacts with its customers.
“We are an incredibly strong, trusted brand with heritage, but we can’t sit on our laurels,” she says. “We have to constantly evolve and move forward with our customers, and we’re confident this campaign puts us firmly into the modern world, but takes with it all of the strengths of William Hill.”