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14 June 2016

The dark side of content marketing


Blog 1I recently came across a post on Facebook that was generating a lot of traction. No wonder – it linked to a story revealing a way to beat online casinos.

The rich narrative explained how Rob Lawrence, 28, was spilling the beans about his money-making strategy “to piss off the online casinos who shut his accounts”. He’d been told about the lucrative system from an uncle, a former casino employee now serving time in prison.

The first thing that raised alarm bells was the use of links in the explanation of how the scheme worked. You won’t find this in the original ‘Evening Mail’ story above because the strategy page it linked to has been removed, but you will find it in this other version of the campaign posing as a blog – there are several across the web.

Under ‘Step1 – Where to play’ it says: “The casino that let me get away with the most was Bwin – you’ve probably seen them advertised on the footy.” The word ‘Bwin’ was hyperlinked, which struck me as odd, but I carried on reading – I was curious to discover how the casinos could be beaten.

The game was roulette, and the advice was to pick a “rare event”, such as five of the same colour coming up on consecutive spins – the probability of which is 2.78% (on a roulette table with a single ‘0’). Once this happens, the recommendation was to bet on the opposite colour. So after five blacks in a row, you should then bet on red – and vice versa.

The article advised changing colour, because “the probability of the same colour being landed on six times in a row has just a 1.33% chance of occurring – which is unlikely”. In other words, after five spins landing on the same colour, by betting on the other colour next, you were giving yourself a 98.66% chance of winning, because the probability of landing on the same colour six times in a row is so low.

In fact, this is nonsense. Although the same colour coming up six times in a row does indeed have a 1.33% chance of occurring – those aren’t your odds. You’re not betting on six spins in a row, but on one spin. And the odds of landing on a particular colour on any given spin are always the same: 48.6%. You don’t have a 98.66% chance of winning. In fact, the house still has the edge.

Realising the maths were a myth, I examined the heavy use of links. They all lead to a sign-up bonus at Bwin. Hovering over the links revealed the following preview: https://mediaserver.bwinpartypartners.com/… – the home of the Bwin global affiliate programme. It confirmed that this was not a legitimate news story, but rather an affiliate marketing campaign designed to drive new customers to Bwin and earn money for the content marketers behind it.

The websites hosting the various versions of the story all appear to be fake and created just for the article. The ‘Evening Mail’ in the first link is set up to look like a news channel, while ’Best Money Making Tricks’ is designed as a blog.

I should clarify that Bwin is probably unaware of this content marketing campaign. Its affiliate programme, like most online casinos, is an arm’s-length relationship between themselves and the affiliates promoting them – both legally and operationally. The online gaming brand even has a “Whistleblowing Policy” to flag illicit activity like this. Rather than pointing the finger at Bwin for unethical promotions, it highlights the power and potential dangers of content marketing.

Done right, content marketing can be incredibly effective. People seek out, consume and share content they think is interesting and valuable – such as a strategy for making money in online casinos. If the content is legitimate, it engages the consumer far more deeply than traditional advertising, adding real value to their experience and reflecting glory on the brand behind it. However, this campaign highlights the darker side of the discipline. It posed as a genuine article and drove readers to gamble through Bwin by trying to trick them into thinking there was a strategy for beating its online roulette function. The strategy was wrong, and would likely lose consumers money rather than make them richer. Although it could well increase Bwin revenues in the short term, once the scam was uncovered it could potentially seriously damage not just the brand, but also the discipline.

This reveals the lengths that some people will go to. But it also shows why ethical content marketing – and transparency between readers and publishers – are more important than ever before. Content marketing has enormous potential. It can drive deeper consumer engagement for brands and even help save the publishing industry, but these kind of dark forces could undermine this potential and must be shackled.

By William Stolerman, founder, The News Hub


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