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IN-DEPTH 5 August 2016
Affiliates and social responsibility
Social responsibility shouldn’t only be a priority for operators says bet72.com’s Darren Hall
By Darren Hall

“When The Fun Stops.....Stop” is the main campaign headline message of the Senet Group, an independent body established back in 2014 by four of Britain’s leading gambling companies – William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Paddy Power – in direct response to public concerns on gambling, and gambling advertising in particular.

The message is a simple yet effective slogan to emphasise the point that, in its basic form, gambling should be an enjoyable recreational activity for anyone who wishes to partake in it. However we all must recognise that for some people gambling can become a serious problem, which can affect the individuals involved as well as their family and friends around them. So whilst everybody involved in the gaming industry is striving for more growth within their respective businesses and a bigger slice of the market, it also falls upon all those within the industry, including us as affiliates, to provide and maintain a socially responsible framework to operate in which consumer protection at its heart.

Whilst industry-wide regulation and standards are vitally important to safeguard everyone, in order for any market to grow it needs to be afforded certain degree of freedom to mature and develop. However, with any freedom comes direct responsibility for all and that includes self regulation. The industry and the people within it are under ever-increasing scrutiny from a number of different angles and groups with varying agendas and interests, so it is a very fine line that particularly the affiliate must tread when promoting their products and services. Key to getting the balance right is how you define and control your own social responsibilities.

We are living in an age where, as affiliate marketers, there has never been more opportunity to get one’s message out there. The advertising outlets and their reach are virtually endless. Everyday most people are never more than an outstretched arm or a fumble in their pocket away from one global communication device or another, with the ability to be contacted 24/7 wherever they may be. The chance to gain potential customers who could be up, running and playing in just a few swipes and clicks is a very tempting short-term prize, but one’s eye should be very firmly on the longer-term strategy game and the old mantra that less is more.

There is no one definitive set of rules to follow when it comes to social responsibility within the industry itself as the onus is very much on the individual organisations to self regulate. So it is important to draw up and look at your own set of guidelines and consider how far you are wish to take this.

Some areas are very easy to define such as adhering to the ethical, business and general industry codes of practise. These could include general advertising standards, adhering to geographical regulations and restrictions, avoiding targeting vulnerable or unsuitable groups of people and retargeting marketing to only those with a likely interest in the products, services and offers you have to offer.

On a direct level then it is all about the information you can provide. Whether it is on a site, email, app, social media or any other medium, then the information you give out exists solely to allow the consumer to make an informed decision based on relevant and genuine detail. Some time ago I was told that on page one of the affiliate marketing rulebook is that you exist to inform not exploit, remember that and build your business from there. I totally agree, it would be very easy for us at Bet72 for example to play to the lowest denominator and push every offer, bookmaker and third party product we can get our hands on, just based on quick turnaround of sales and conveniently avoiding negative information that might put people off. But this is only ever going to take you so far, our general philosophy is to be selective, yes less really is more, be responsible for our own due diligence, work with tried and trusted partners and brands to forge relationships with so we can speak with some authority about them and in turn give our users and members facts and confidence to base their own spending decisions on.

Over the years this has allowed us to build a loyal community of users who have confidence in the information we pass on, which in turn has allowed us to build an established brand over a number of years. Sure we are still advertising and promoting both directly and indirectly to keep on reinforcing the messages, but now these messages have much more weight behind them and a lot of this is down to the very conscious social responsibility decisions we have already and continue to make within the organisation.

Of course everyone, including affiliates, can only control what we can control and unfortunately there are still some operators in the industry who would do well to follow their own guidelines that they like to preach down to us. The industry has received a lot of negative press in recent months and beyond with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, problem gambling and some exceptionally poorly managed customer service incidents to name but a few, and this negative ripple effect of can be felt throughout the industry.

For example, the events following the Cheltenham Festival concerning the TGP Holdings group of operators, where customers had accounts closed without warning, funds withheld and no direct communication back from the sites in question whilst they investigated cases of bonus abuse and multi accounting was an affiliate’s worst nightmare.

The story was covered right up to national radio and press level amid headlines including:

“Furious punters accuse bookies of withholding thousands in Cheltenham winnings and closing accounts for no reason”

“Four Betting Sites Accused of Withholding Cheltenham Winnings and Closing Accounts”

“Mirror inundated with messages from furious punters who had Cheltenham Festival winnings withheld”

In cases like this the bad press and fallout can mean that we are all very much tarred with the same brush by the outside world. It was very easy for even the most diligent affiliate promoting any of these companies and their offers prior to The Festival in good faith to be caught up in the whole saga without having done anything wrong at all. This is where the building of communities and brand loyalty for an affiliate is vital. You know your client base and your client base knows you, so you can distance yourself with integrity from incidents that are clearly out of your control. Also, where possible, you can use your position within the industry to try and answer any questions or get as much information for any of your affected users as you can.

We are all looking for leadership and guidance from the top so at an operator level it is good to see that the Senet Group is growing, with more companies becoming involved, and hopefully this will bring in closer ties and common vision between the organisation and other groups too such as local and national charities, social enterprises initiatives and of course affiliates.

For us moving forward it is very important to continue to respect the fact that all our clients, past, present and future all have a choice and to never underestimate the reasoning behind why they make those choices. The consumer of today is not just fixated on getting the best deal at all costs, sure some do exist but in the main if they are looking that short term then there is likely to be very little in the way of loyalty likely to be shown when a patch of possible greener grass is spotted elsewhere, so this type of customer is very limited value for anyone. No, the savvy, likely long-term customer, wants to deal with organisations with integrity, honesty, offering the best value products on the market who can provide support and authority within their particular niche.

So working with social responsibility at the heart of your own ethos is not only the right thing morally to do but is much the right thing to do for the good of your business too.
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