PokerStars, the world’s leading online poker platform, is on a mission to grow its category globally, drive mainstream brand awareness and consideration among non-poker playing audiences.
The commercial opportunity comes from a younger, mobile-first audience. But in this category, consideration can be hard-won. Millennials are less predisposed to gambling than their parents - a trait typical of a post-financial crash mindset. Added to that, they have strong conceptions of poker as a fiddly game with intimidating rules. To change these audiences’ minds, we wanted to reframe poker as a game of natural smarts and instinct, rooted in behaviours we’re all born with: bluffing and spotting bluffs, keeping your cool and having the courage of your convictions.
With targets around 100 million views globally, we needed the power of social media on side. That meant being not just “on social”, but mimicking real social behaviours. Drawing on the popularity of social media celebrity feuds, we planned an authentic game of oneupmanship, using talent that fans could rally behind, played out natively on our stars’ social channels.
Our talent needed natural smarts, a competitive spirit, global reach and affinity with a mainstream male audience. Given the campaign’s global reach, they also needed an aptitude for visual comedy that couldn’t be lost in translation for non-English speaking markets. Comedian Kevin Hart and athlete Usain Bolt fit the bill perfectly. Even better, they’d once had a friendly disagreement over a NBA basketball race in 2013, so the feud conceit had real life roots. The stage was set for battle.
In June 2017, #GameOn was born. We gave the feud all the theatre and spectacle of a UFC fight, as for two months, our stars outsmarted and outwitted each other with smart callouts on their social media feeds. What had begun as a setup soon felt intensely real, with stars helping co-create in their own plays and put-downs, which - in the case of expert roaster Kevin Hart - took things really close to the bone. Nothing was off the table: even Bolt’s infamous hamstring injury was fodder for the feud.
We enlisted UNILAD, the world's biggest social publisher, to document the drama. Celebrities rushed to back their mates, with The Rock, Lewis Hamilton and Brooklyn Beckham all weighing in. A Usain Bolt cut-out statue even appeared to taunt Hart at his own LOL comedy network launch. And with more than 500 press mentions, the campaign was seeping into culture.
Over the course of the campaign we brought the rivalry closer and closer to poker thinking. We got Hart and Bolt together on set to face a series of challenges, hosted by Daniel Negreanu, the world’s best poker player. These tested their inherent poker skills - the ability to keep a straight face while lying in an ice bath, or eating chilli wings; or to bluff and get away with it. We upped the jeopardy with internet-ty forfeits we knew fans would love to watch and share. In the case of Shocker, a challenge where Bolt and Hart could electrocute each other for spotting the wrong bluff, we had upwards of 40 million organic views, powered by xxx shares: the videos were Bolt and Hart’s most popular videos of 2017 on Facebook. The chemistry between the duo was magic, with scores of viewers asking for them to have their own show.
With the rivalry driving views and media attention, we also co-created a series of UNILAD videos around poker - including tournament livestreams, on-the-street content and talent-hosted poker tables. And we enlisted Hart, a keen poker player in real life, to star in a series of entertaining “How To Play” videos for newbies.
PokerStars is not shy of ambition and fierce targets.
Their goal with #GameOn was to drive fame, and their metric for this was around 80-100 million organic views. So far, GameOn has doubled these figures, with around 170 million organic views and counting (with final videos released in February and March, we’re projected to comfortably break the 200 million barrier). The campaign outperformed all our talents’ other brand partnerships, and those of our media partner UNILAD - but even more impressively, they outperformed editorial content too, beating all of Hart and Bolt’s own videos in views for 2017. (It was Bolt’s most viewed content of all time on Facebook.)
We knew the key to success was in letting our talent be themselves, and the conceit of the feud gave them the perfect setup for natural banter and ribbing. Trusting in our talent and our scenarios also meant loosening the grip on the "social best practice" rulebook. Some videos were long, well over recommended lengths for branded content - over 5 minutes on Facebook. But those very videos saw a more than 30% completion rate. When the content really resonates, the “rules” don’t matter quite as much.
But it wasn’t just about engaging videos. With a carefully orchestrated framework of both reach-driving rivalry content, and more consideration-earning “how to play” pieces, as well as UNILAD’s own tournament coverage and training videos, we were able to significantly shift the needle on poker perceptions too. Sampling mainstream male UK audiences, we found the content made one in three feel better about poker, and 4 in 10 felt they knew more about the game as a result of seeing the content.
27% were more likely to play poker and use PokerStars as a direct result of seeing UNILAD / PokerStars content, and 16% actually went on to use PokerStars after seeing the content featured on UNILAD.
With wider reach and more meaningful engagements than ever, GameOn was PokerStars’ most successful social brand campaign of all time. And with two months to go, we still have a few more records to break before we’re done... #GameOn