Jason Trost, Smarkets: Calling out the betting big boys’ customer service shortcomings

Setting yourself out from the competition is one of the core goals of any marketing campaign, but Smarkets’ SBK sportsbook took this a step further last month by directly calling out its business rivals. 

Explaining the method behind the madness, Jason Trost, Smarkets’ Founder and CEO, argued that customers are becoming disillusioned with the experience offered by some of bettings’ bit hitters, whilst sharing his views on the future of marketing in the industry. 

SBC: What inspired you to take aim at SBK’s ‘old guard’ competitors in your latest marketing campaign?

Jason Trost – We have long believed that betting is an industry ripe for disruption, and our core pillars of price and product stands us out in a sector more focused on entertainment and gambling. 

There aren’t many operators trying to shake things up like we are. For too long the big boys in betting haven’t cared enough about great odds and great customer service – we will call them out on this. 

SBC: Has SBK noticed some dissatisfaction with the current market offering which inspired this approach?

JT – Speaking with betting customers there is often a resignation that betting companies are what they are and will never change. Those people might not know that most brands are run by the same few giant parent companies and they make a lot of money using the same bookie playbook. So why would they ever change?

SBC: How much exposure to the mainstream market do you expect to gain from this campaign after approval was not secured from Clearcast?

JT – It’s tough to predict. But what’s most important to us is that we believe in the mission and our message to customers. We’re not messing around and we are actively going to promote what makes us different, why we dislike the current state of the industry, what we want to change, and let’s have a little fun doing it. 

We hope we can work with the likes of Clearcast in the future, but it was obvious from the beginning that this time they weren’t going to support advertising that would upset the applecart. 

SBC: Can a marketing campaign really have an impact with UK audiences that have been inundated with generic sportsbook adverts – Does marketing count?

JT – It is difficult, but it’s important to try. Because customers genuinely want to see change so that they have a fairer and safer marketplace to bet in. Not change meaning new features or casino games designed to make even more money for the operators, but real change, real change in margins and how winners are treated. 

If you get a movement going, this could happen. But in every industry change usually starts from smaller, innovative businesses that challenge the current ‘top dogs’ who are making so much. They are forced to change when they see market share and dividends decrease. This has happened in many industries – see currency transfers and taxis for example – but not in betting yet.

SBC: You have turned to former Paddy Power ‘Mischief Maker’ – Ken Robertson – to develop your SBK campaign. How will his influence reshape SBK brand development to audiences?

JT – Ken has been brilliant. We’ve been developing betting technology for some time and have always had the same mission, to truly change the landscape of betting for good. And we spoke to a lot of people and agencies, but Ken and his team just got it. 

He understood how serious we are but at the same time, given this is the first time the UK audience has seen the SBK brand above the line, it was incredibly important to us that the brand was positioned in the right way. His knowledge of the industry and ability to strike the right tone really helped us convey our message to customers in the best possible way.

SBC: Updating its CAP Code, the ASA has issued tougher rules curbing the ‘appeal of gambling ads’ – from your perspective has marketing therefore become the hardest corporate discipline for online operators?

JT – It’s getting tougher, no doubt, but I believe that we all want the same thing, which is to have the right balance of regulation that protects customers. Where it becomes a problem is the industry needs innovation and choice for positive change. 

And if marketing is effectively shut down to challenger companies and brands it does mean the current big few companies will always maintain their position and not feel the pressure to up their game and improve. In general, I agree with a lot of the changes being proposed but as an industry we do have to be careful not to go too far, too quickly.

SBC: As it stands, what is your take on gambling shirt sponsorships, which have become a divisive marketing matter for industry reformists?

JT – It’s an incredibly divisive issue. I think if we had better measures that protected customers, particularly vulnerable groups, then it wouldn’t be such a huge topic. 

It goes back to the need for wider change that stops companies from banning winners and promoting high-margin, casino-like products to those that are losing. But as that hasn’t happened quickly enough, more drastic measures such as where and when you can advertise have to be brought in.

SBC: What marketing activity can we expect from SBK moving forward? Are there any sports or alternative markets, such as politics betting, we can expect the company to focus on?

JT – Given our core message of having the best odds in the industry, we’re obviously keen to offer those across the widest range of markets possible. We’ve done a huge amount of legwork on the SBK brand in horse racing over the last 12 months through high-profile race and ambassador sponsorships. 

This helped us rank as the third-most-popular sports app on the iOS Store during this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Our goal with this campaign is to now spread the word to the wider sports betting audience and while we won’t say too much, you can certainly expect some creative fun in the coming months ahead of the World Cup.

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