Why TAB has accelerated its 'long may we play' brand platform during the crisis

Marketing, customer and product chief talks through how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted its brand transformation plans and the latest campaign work

‘Long may we play’ might have been TAB’s chosen brand platform well before the COVID-19 crisis hit, but it’s become even more salient as the organisation navigates through the unprecedented pandemic.

The gambling and wagering brand last week debuted a fresh ad campaign encouraging consumers to download the Federal Government’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app as a way of helping fast-track the return of a wide range of sporting play. The pitch kicked off in the national press with a QR-enabled footy pie that led directly to the app’s landing page.

It’s part of a new national campaign program commencing with the TVC, ‘Requiem for a pie’, which lamented that while football is returning to a state of play, consumers remain locked out of the stands.

TAB executive general manager of marketing, customer and product, Luke Waldren, told CMO at the onset of the crisis, it was clear the brand had to be people and employee focused. With the largest physical retail network in its category, social restrictions imposed would mean significant disruption to customers and staff alike.

But having transitioned teams quickly to the new reality, the team turned its attention to marketing and media investments. With retail closure early-on, TAB could see rapid migration of customers to digital, so a deliberate decision was made to assist that transition.

“These were our customers and we were empowered to retain them,” Waldren said of his priority list. “You can’t retain all in a competitive market, but we focused investment on that migration. We saw the result of that in the first month by investing in these decisions as others pulled money back.

“These were performance-driven decision, but it set us up for early positive results, which made internal decisions around marketing investment feel more normal in this climate. That flowed into the brand.”  

Brand thinking

TAB was less than 18 months into a wider brand transformation program when COVID-19 hit, driven by a migration of the UBET offering into TAB nationally. The brand platform created was based around the ‘long may we play’ idea.

Waldren said his team could see this pre-COVID platform played to TAB’s strengths during such a challenging time such as the pandemic. So rather than pivot, it’s been working to accelerate that plan. Waldren described ‘long may we play’ as a way of showcasing TAB as an iconic Australian sports entertainment brand grounded in a strong cultural purpose. It also complements the group’s responsible gambling efforts.

He cited two defining elements to the platform. The first is the concept of playing together, an idea that still resonated strongly given social fragmentation experienced during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We know sport and racing are a form of cultural glue bringing the country together,” Waldren said, noting the COVIDsafe app and seagull advertising campaign directly relate to this thinking. The latest advertising is also deliberately sports-centric to help TAB build its reputation outside of its racing heartland.  

The other element is gaining the opportunity to be bigger than the bet. “Beyond the bet lies a sense of conversation, unity for people engaging in our environments, venues, racing and sports,” Waldren said.

“TAB is amplifying the connective role of sports in facilitating conversations and community in a neutral way. ‘Long may we play’ aligned to celebrating all of that, and positions TAB as a champion and amplifier of that.”

Having suddenly been left “with no field of play in our field of play”, Waldren said it would have been tempting to pivot the strategy. Instead, TAB shifted the dial from observation-oriented brand ideas around the way Australians engage in sports and role sports play, to a more active brand line.  

“Our initial work was more observation-oriented and arguably, more passive, as we had to get people to buy into our initial brand position by reflecting on our role,” Waldren explained. “What the COVID-19 situation demanded is us taking a more action-oriented approach.”  

In thinking through the latest campaign work, Waldren said it’s been vital to tap into the nation’s mood and importantly, ensure the brand isn’t tone deaf to potential issues arising around gambling as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. He said TAB has elevated its responsible gambling approach, reinforcing messaging with more velocity than previously, particularly through social channels.  

Its TAB assist customer care was also brought to the fore in the earlier stages of the crisis, when consumers were arguably at the height of anxiety. What’s more, data insight has helped TAB make decisions along the way, Waldren said.

For example, the team knew a percentage of the spikes in gambling online was cash betters transitioning to digital and setting up accounts. An emphasis was placed on education and messaging in the first 4-6 weeks of the crisis to ensure retail customers were comfortable in the digital realm.

“We were caught out on the call centre in the early days with the volume of calls coming in. That was a reflection of our retail customer base,” Waldren continued. “We quickly put out messaging around digital activation. For example, we had people with winning tickets that couldn’t cash them in. We have a service in our app where you scan the ticket in app and we directly deposit money.”  

Doubling down on performance channels paid off, with Waldren citing big gains in the first four weeks of the crisis from an app install perspective. Then of course there’s building TAB’s longer-term brand ambition to be more than just a betting provider.

“We felt Australians weren’t missing having a bet, and in lot of ways weren’t missing sports, but the way these things reverberate in our lives and are instrumental in how we bond and connect with each other,” Waldren said. “This is that ‘bigger than a bet’ idea.

“This 12-week hiatus has given us the biggest insight yet of what it feels like to lose sports from our lives.”

Recovery plans

Waldren could also see the brand position resonating as Australia starts to open back up. “‘Long may we play’ does two things. It pays respect to tenure and history of the TAB, and allows us to talk to the present and the future,” he said. “COVID-19 has galvanised the brand platform in our business.”

With NSW and Queensland retail locations back open from 1 June, and Victoria from 10 June, Waldren is keen to build a better bridge between the digital and physical experiences of TAB moving forward.

For example, he noted the ‘venue mode’ feature in TAB’s app that only works in venues and is offer-based, could play a role bringing more digital elements into a physical experience in pubs and clubs longer-term. This again could help the organisation engage with consumers beyond the bet itself. In the last two weeks, TAB has turned venue mode on for every customer to experience offers from their home in order to remind them of the role the functionality played.

“If we are to extract real value out of our retail licence, it’s both through leveraging that and having digital experiences in the physical world,” Waldren said.  

While TAB was in a fairly deep transformation state before the COVID-19 crisis, Waldren said he was proud of the work achieved during this difficult time.

“Over the last three months, we’ve achieved what would have taken a year to do,” he said. “It’s been fantastic from that perspective and brought us closer together as work mates.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.




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