In the sports wagering space, ad spend is scrutinized because, other than revenue, customer acquisition cost is the financial metric arguably most obsessed over by operators. If an operator keeps ad spend in check, it offers the chance to increase profit margin.
There is no tried and true method for mobile advertising campaigns. After all, the public’s taste is as fickle as the weather. Today’s great-tasting chocolate ice cream may be tomorrow’s bland vanilla.
Some operators have large ad budgets to saturate radio and TV airwaves for an impending launch market. Some opt for name recognition and put athletes and celebrities front and center. Some have substantial social media reach, providing an upstart feel that resonates with certain demographics.
Caesars Sportsbook launched its “We are all Caesars” ad campaign slightly more than a year ago — Aug. 2 marked the first anniversary of the first 30-second spot — following its rebrand from William Hill. With actor/comedian J.B. Smoove starring as Caesar, the ads provided instant and lasting brand recognition for Caesars Sportsbook. The Caesars universe has expanded in ensuing “seasons” to include Academy Award-winning actress Halle Barry as Cleopatra and the Manning family of quarterbacks, Archie, Peyton, and Eli — and non-QB Cooper.
The ad campaign is firing on all cylinders in starting its second year, with Cooper taking center stage in the debut of “Season 4” unveiled Friday. But getting to this point required a sprint to launch that Caesars CMO of Digital Sharon Otterman recounted at last month’s SBC Summit in New Jersey and elaborated on further during interviews with Sports Handle.
Building a brand in 99 days
Otterman did not get the chance to directly interact with Caesars until April 2021, following the completion of its acquisition of William Hill, since rules do not permit American and British-owned companies in potential mergers to talk. Otterman was coming to Caesars from William Hill, which was still better known for being England’s top sportsbook than as an entrant in the nascent U.S. marketplace.
“We had just launched the William Hill brand, so we were like, ‘Whew, we launched a brand!’ and now we’re like, ‘Great!’” she said sarcastically of the takeover timing.
During the SBC Summit, Otterman compared the compressed timetable of 99 days for the Caesars rebrand to her once-favorite television show 24, complete with the metallic clock-ticking sound that drove home the urgency of the situation. Lacking direct access to Caesars, Otterman focused her team on consumer interaction to gauge the strength of the Caesars brand.
“We did spend a lot of the time prior doing the research without being able to talk to Caesars during that acquisition period,” she explained. “It’s a blank slate. We’re launching a new sportsbook, what are all the things we wanted to learn from the brand and the consumer so that when we did get acquired, the last piece of the puzzle internally was what was the mission and the vision, and how do we bridge all that together?”
What they learned was sobering. Caesars’ casino brand and brick-and-mortar sportsbook were known; Caesars’ online sports wagering product was anything but. Surveys revealed a 2% unaided brand awareness, which caught Otterman off-guard.
“It really is one of those moments of ‘holy s**t,’” she said. “As a consumer that lives in New York, goes to Atlantic City, I love betting on sports and gambling, I always revered the Caesars brand, loved the days of Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel. It was so jarring to see in this space that we weren’t considered.”
That limited awareness, though, also brought a silver lining. Otterman noted her team went from, “‘Oh my god, I’m nauseous,’ to a sense of ‘oh my god, I can get this goal,’ because all I have to do is make you aware. The data didn’t come back and say ‘We can’t picture Caesars being there.’ It was we weren’t top of mind because we weren’t there.”
A small agency with big dreams
Image courtesy of Caesars Entertainment
Otterman leaned on Caesars’ history when it came to brand positioning. She recalled the days of founder Jay Sarno, who opened Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1966 and deliberately left the apostrophe off “Caesars” because he wanted the venue to be “everyone’s palace.”
The idea of “We are all Caesars” was born, and Otterman recounted staff “high-fiving and deploying road shows to getting everyone aligned.” They recruited Smoove, whom Otterman labeled “the perfect person for our Caesar” and “one of the hardest-working guys in show business.” The challenge then became finding an agency that could turn around the concept in 66 days.
Enter Ten6, a relatively small London-based ad agency. Otterman had known founder and CEO Spence Kramer from their ESPN days in the early 2000s. Otterman had concerns that the project could be too much for Ten6 on such a tight schedule, but Kramer put those fears to rest during an unconventional agency pitch, which came minutes after the ceremonial ribbon cutting for Caesars’ sportsbook at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., in late May.
“We had the insane notion, considering that Caesars had virtually no time between the pitch and trying to launch, to actually bring the head of the production company to the pitches, as if to say, ‘If you like our work, we can be in production by the end of this week,’” Kramer said in a recorded segment shown at the SBC Summit. “The combination of our hunger, a pretty good idea, and the idea that we were practically in production once the creative got greenlit made for a very interesting and, thankfully, successful pitch.
“That was the story, and we’re thrilled to continue working with Caesars Sportsbook to this day.”
Brand recognition success, challenges ahead
There were other moves Otterman and her team made ahead of the initial ad launch to promote brand awareness. You might have seen them if your state has legal sports wagering: Uber cars wrapped with chariot skins, goblets for use at Caesars’ brick-and-mortar locations, re-skinning the mobile app to tie in the Caesars Rewards program, NFL jersey promotions. All of this came about, as Otterman noted, because of “the power of having all the employees really understand the brand positioning because we could go parallel paths and help build the brand.”
The “We are all Caesars” campaign launched successfully and did its job in raising brand awareness, with subsequent spots sustaining the created momentum. That proved crucial because Caesars aggressively went into New York with deep pockets for ad spend and the most audacious launch promotion of any sportsbook, matching initial deposits up to $3,000. That haymaker combination continues to have aftereffects, as Caesars Sportsbook is a clear No. 3 in the Empire State, behind only titans FanDuel and DraftKings.
With new ads — there will be four for this “season” — come new challenges. Caesars will be cutting back on national ad spend as the NFL season start looms, instead looking to target specific markets. One focus likely will be Ohio, which is expected to have a universal Jan. 1 launch.
Caesars Sportsbook has positioned itself to be a prime player, and its emperor’s tales have been a vital part of that positioning. Otterman does not expect that to change simply because the medium conveying the message may change from traditional media to newer forms of social media.
“We know we can be very, very efficient about getting a clear narrative across,” she said. “And when you’re spending less dollars in media and you’re segmenting more and targeting more, you have to be more precise in your messaging. Now that we’ve built and introduced this story, it’s much easier to get a little bit more specific and deep down into the story line.”