‘Getting a run on Media Watch is a badge of honour’, says Sportsbet comms boss

Controversy-seeking gambling brand Sportsbet has described nationwide TV maulings on Media Watch as a “badge of honour” and admits it takes delight in antagonising critics.

While it is no secret the brand revels in its bad boy image – its use of drugs cheat Ben Johnson was widely condemned – it is the first time the brand has been so candid about its mischief-making strategy.

But head of communications and social content, Ben Hawes, also told Mumbrella’s CommsCom conference that the days of the big stunt, big budget campaign are nearing the end.

In a session debating the art of controversial PR, Hawes said its ads featuring Ben Johnson received the most complaints.

“That’s quite an achievement given what we have done,” he told delegates. “We have a simple methodology. We view getting a run on Media Watch as a badge of honour. We see it as a good thing.”

Dawes then explained how it has a detailed media list and deliberately sets out to push the buttons of key adversaries, who he identified as “John, a 65-year-old Green”.

“We know who our antagonists are, 3AW, ABC, and we [give them the ads] at 6am so they can talk about it for three hours. And we have a pre-recorded interview with our CEO. It’s all planned.”

He added: “We know that our audience, which is 18-54 men, love it and that’s what we care about.”

As soon as that key demographic start complaining, it will know it crossed the line, Dawes said. That has yet to happen, he added.

But Dawes admitted there comes a point when brands need to change tact.

Responding to a question over whether brands who reach a certain size must shift their controversial approach to avoid being branded arrogant, Dawes said: “It’s happening now. The amount of stunts we used to do compared to now has been slashed.”

He said it was important to constantly focus on the views of its core audience.

“Do I see a future where we don’t have these big stunts? Absolutely. That’s why now we have fused social together and we make sure our ads on radio, TV and press have all got that cheeky brand touch.

“I still think fundamentally Australians are genuinely funny, larrikin people so there is always going to be scope for that. But big stunts and big budgets? Those days are definitely numbered.”

Earlier, Dawes said that for every idea that gets off the ground, 200 are rejected.

One that didn’t materialise was a suggestion to plaster Uluru with Sportsbet advertising.

Another idea, which initially gained traction, was herding 100 sheep into the foyer of the hotel where the All Blacks were staying on a trip to Australia.

It was finally dropped after the brand concluded it would lose the battle with animal activists.

Head of communications at mattress brand Koala, Matthew Overington, said it, too, has needed to subtly rethink its approach.

After coming out “swinging” at the mattress industry for 18 months – including brandishing salesman as “sleazy” – he said the company realised it was now part of the industry.

“We suddenly thought ‘a lot of people are sleeping on our mattresses’ and we can’t keep attacking the norm, because we had become the new norm,” he said.

Overington also suggested it was overly time consuming to work with agencies when ideas need to be turned around so quickly.

He said agencies can be “amazing at big brand concepts and ideas”, but said Koala works “quickly” and needs to be agile.

“It’s also a matter of the client understanding how to engage more effectively and most effectively with an agency,” Overington said. “Do you have someone work from your offices a couple of days a week to be closer to those short term decisions and those conversations? Possibly.

“But particularly for smaller, agile businesses, I think it is very challenging to forge relationship that are able to get the most out of an agency, and vice versa.”


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