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Bookies: The Unsung Heroes of Innovation

You and I are probably quite different.  You probably live life the normal way, using your intuition based on your experience and I live life based on expectation and the probability.  We would probably also have very different answers to the following question: “who is currently leading innovating in media?”  You may well answer “Foster’s, MINI or 20th Century FOX”.  I would answer “William Hill, Betfair and Paddy Power.”

Bookmakers have delivered more innovation with broadcasters over the past five years than any other category, yet I don’t believe they get the credit they deserve.

There are two fundamental reasons why this category is responsible for driving so much innovation.  One, customer turnover is directly linked with top-of-mind awareness closest to point of bet.  This means increasing mental availability through brand distinction is absolutely crucial.  Secondly, from a TV advertising perspective, this category is only six years old (due to the 2005 Gambling Act) and has grown up in an era where everything is possible due to integration of data and technology – It does not understand just putting a TV ad out there.

The greatest piece of media innovation you would associate with bookmakers, is ‘live odds’ integration into a TV ad.  This concept was founded by Bet365 in 2008 and was the first example of a TV ad pulling in real-time data into a traditional TV buy.  Five years later, William Hill have taken this to the next level (fig.1).  Their brand TV ad now incorporates two different xtml feeds, one from Opta and one from their live prices module.  The Opta feed provides a live bet statistic that enables punters to place more informed bets while the live price gives the probability of that statistic happening.  This is a considerable step forward, as no longer does the live odds capability deliver against a punter’s gut instinct but provides a hard statistic as to why the bet should be considered.  It also provides pub ammo for those trying to impress their mates when it lands in the second half.

Fig 1. William Hill taking dynamic TV creative media innovation to the next level with Opta:


If you think about the incremental cost of real-time advertising from a media, creative and back-end resource perspective it depicts how crucial “live” advertising is for bookmakers.  Every day there will be at least one piece of dynamic communication on our screens versus maybe twenty a year for all other categories.

Betfair also use dynamic TV placements to show the cash-out value of an accumulator in real-time and Paddy Power have been specifically creating TV ads based on posts from their Facebook page, showing strong integration of social and broadcast media.

Outside of football, Channel 4 have been working with bookmakers for the past two years to drive greater innovation around their horse racing product.  In 2012, William Hill created the first ever advertiser-funded programming  in commercial airtime with ’Mark Your Card’.  This was a break takeover with AP McCoy providing racecard tips, shot only an hour earlier live from the racecourse, with integrated live odds overlaid.  Chris Braithwaite at Channel 4 believes “this kind of innovation adds a great deal to the viewer’s enjoyment of the ad break as it contextualises the commercial message and adds real relevance”. A fantastic example of how a bookmaker is blurring the lines of advertiser and real-time content publisher.

Add into the mix that bookmakers were one of the earliest adopters and producers of smartphone apps, QR codes and Augmented Reality and I think I am correct in saying this category is hard to beat when looking at recent innovations.  However, will people ever sit up, take note and give credit to these innovative companies?  It’s unlikely and 4/1 or 20% says they will…

Tim Jones, Business Director