They are becoming increasingly present in casinos, setting up cameras, drawing curious onlookers and avid fans.
Social-media influencers who film themselves playing slot machines or table games are making inroads in the gaming industry and with good reason. In an age when celebrities endorse everything from cars (Regina King) and tequila (George Clooney) to Tampax (Amy Schumer), a gaming influencer can offer something that’s lacking in any number of endorsements: genuineness.
“If McDonald’s is coming out with a commercial for a brand-new burger, they’re going to tell you this is the best burger we’ve ever come out with,” said BC Slots influencer and entrepreneur Brian Christopher Wednesday during the Global Gaming Expo education session, “Influence is the New Currency: How Player Marketing is Evolving.” He continued, “That doesn’t mean you’re going to go buy it right away. But if you see someone else, a Brian Christopher figure or someone like that, saying, ‘Wow, this is the best burger I’ve ever had,’ you’ll get that burger right way. It’s authenticity, really, that brings it forward to where people will listen and lean into you.”
Christopher wasn’t merely speaking anecdotally. According to a Recent Matters survey cited by BC Ventures senior vice president of operations Marco Bianchi, 69% of consumers trust influencers more than brands alone. And 62% of consumers trust influencers more than celebrity endorsers.
“Since the dawn of marketing, we’ve seen celebrity endorsers selling everything from Tide to any consumer product out there,” Bianchi said. “And this is incredibly telling: Folks are looking for something else, more than a talking head. And if you’ve been following the news, the Hollywood strikes have helped the creative economy in some ways, really opening the eyes of marketers to look beyond TV and traditional media to fulfill their various goals.”
But it’s not just enough to show up at a casino and film a half-hour of slot play. Influencers have to prove to those interested in hiring or sponsoring them that they can create a buzz during appearances and rack up views on YouTube.
Martin Van Der Merwe, assistant vice president of global casino marketing at Carnival Corporation, said the essential quality he seeks in influencers is “trusting that relationship as marketers. You want to lean into that trust, because that’s the way in which influence really works.”
Van Der Merwe noted that one of the essential qualities that influencers should have is a sense of familiarity.
“You’re looking for someone who looks like you, who does the same things you do that you can see yourself in,” Van Der Merwe said. “That’s what you’re looking for in the relationship that you’re building. From a marketing standpoint, you want to find that thing that fits into what you’re trying to communicate and have that come from an authentic place.”
When influencers are successful, they can develop and pitch ideas that are taken seriously. When Christopher came up with an idea for a branded slot machine, one company he approached was Gaming Arts and its Chief Operating Officer Jean Venneman.
When ideas are pitched, Venneman looks for brand awareness. How many people know the influencer and does he or she mesh with Gaming Arts’s player base? The idea also has to be easily tied into a gaming experience.
When Christopher approached Gaming Arts with the idea that eventually became Brian Christopher’s Pop’N Pays More slot game, Venneman was intrigued.
“Brian isn’t necessarily known the globe wide,” Venneman said. “The reason we wanted to try this and hoped that it would succeed is that we understood he has a very powerful fan base that is very active and loyal. We wanted to see how that would translate into a gaming experience.”
The Christopher-branded slot game succeeded in a way that Venneman hadn’t anticipated.
“The operators came to us and said they were interested in that game,” Venneman said. “But also, his fans started reaching out to us. That was a first. We’d never seen a player base or fan base come to us and say, ‘Hey, I live in such and such an area. When am I going to be able to play this game?”
Perhaps the biggest reason Christopher succeeded is his persona. A former actor born in Canada, he comes across as a friendly neighbor, the guy who would feed your cat or water your plants while you’re away on vacation.
“I would say we’re family-friendly G-rated fun, exciting and positive,” Christopher said of BC Slots. “And that’s exactly the same as both of your companies (Carnival and Gaming Arts). That’s why we work so well together. Your fan base is my fan base.”