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To boost brand value, choose branded content, not internet ads

Calvin Ayre talks about building brand value through quality, branded content instead of online advertising. Bodog and its associated brands, BodogFight, BodogMusic, Calvin Ayre WildCard Poker are testaments to the effectiveness of branded content. This article was originally published on on December 11, 2010.

According to a new survey conducted by Adweek Media and Harris Interactive, almost two-thirds (63%) of Americans claim to ignore internet advertising. In terms of the type of internet ads that garner the most scorn (and the least amount of eyeballs), banner ads were routinely ignored by 43% of responders, while 20% said they pay the least amount of attention to search engine advertising.

Those figures look even worse when compared with other forms of media advertising, such as television ads (ignored by 14%), radio (7%) and newspapers (6%). The 9% who claim that they don’t ignore any of these forms of advertising presumably (a) have way too much free time on their hands, or (b) have their eyelids forcibly held open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

The data in this survey highlights the folly of any company attempting to build brand value predominantly via online advertising. Seriously, the only people getting rich off this arrangement are the companies who get paid to host the ads. Not for nothing do people say ‘content is king’. The branded content I’ve created over the years for the Bodog Brand and its associated entertainment properties – BodogFight, BodogMusic, Calvin Ayre WildCard Poker — not only made a significantly greater impression on viewers than a plain old banner or pop-up ad, it continues to resonate years after its initial release, and will continue to do so for however long digital media exists.

Quality editorial content is another high-value method of building your brand. My appearances on VH1’s Fabulous Life and MTV Cribs got loads of play upon their initial release, and continue to get the brand message across every time someone bangs my name into a search engine. Of course, it helps that the Bodog Brand’s message is universal, eternal and not subject to the whims of marketing gurus.

On that note, be sure to catch my upcoming appearance in the January issue of Playboy magazine, (available late December 2010 — just ahead of the NFL playoffs). Score!


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The Bombay Manifesto – Redux

Calvin Ayre looks back at his 1997 Bombay Manifesto, where he talks about the foundational principles that lead the Bodog Group of Companies to success. This article was originally published on on November 17, 2009.

During an email conversation a couple of weeks ago one of our senior staff members had asked me if I had a copy of “The Bombay Manifesto” kicking around. It took some serious digging on my part but I did eventually find it. Anyway, I thought it might be kind of fun to share that document with you now, on my blog. Keep in mind that this article was written back in a time when the Internet was still young, the World Wide Web was still very new…and I had recently switched from Tanqueray to Bombay Sapphire gin.

But I digress.

I started what became the Bodog Group of Companies in the early 1990s. At this time the world was just feeling its way through the thorny issue of what a website really is. Hyperlinks were a fringe concept restricted to a few abstract thinkers and sci-fi writers. I, however, was convinced that the Internet and more specifically the Web in the case of this article would be significant forces in a global societal change that was already under way. The Bodog Group was no exception.

We were so much ahead of the curve that we had no online references to go by. Everything we did we had to invent from scratch using real world examples. At this time the technical guys were making all the decisions, but I thought this was backwards. I remember thinking that the end users would be average Joes, so it was really they that should be driving the design of the user interfaces, not highly skilled, and in many cases, highly intelligent technology professionals.

I did not really qualify for the “average Joe” title, but I did have a background that I thought would make me more qualified to design user interfaces than many others in the industry. While I was going to University, instead of getting a summer job I bought an old 5-ton truck with an insulated box and a refrigeration unit. I fixed this truck up, took it over to the local fruit orchards, loaded it full of whatever was in season and headed out on a 20-hour drive to the prairies to sell fruit on the side of the road in small towns. This was my first business.

In the countless hours I spent selling fruit for a number of summers while going to university, I got an opportunity to really get inside the consumers head by selling products as basic as peaches and cherries. The reality is that all purchase decisions are basically handled the same. These same lessons, ingrained in my brain so many years ago, were pulled back out in designing our websites. I believe that the basic principles of design that we pioneered are a big reason for the success of the group today. Our websites are designed from start to finish with the end user experience in mind, and we have easy, and prompted (we ask for it), feedback systems in place to let the end users have direct input into the evolution of our web site.

This process is also driven by a philosophy that every person in our organization, and every point of contact (web, etc), are all inextricably part of the customer service we offer. By the end of the 1990’s we had a very good website design and were responsible for many of the innovations that are considered mainstays for any company in our industry. While sitting in my office one evening in Costa Rica I got to thinking about all we had learned over the years. I thought I would codify some of this knowledge to use as a training tool for our team.

Since I was sipping on an ice cold Bombay Gin Martini at the time, the document was somewhat imperially titled “The Bombay Manifesto”. This email was then forwarded to the entire company at the time. I got on with my affairs and forgot entirely about even doing this until talking to some of the developers at our spring Bodog bonus party and one of them mentioned The Bombay Manifesto. I got a bit of a laugh out of this since I clearly remember writing it. I asked if anyone had a copy of it and sure enough they all said they still did and still referred to it once in awhile.

The next day I got it forwarded to me in its original form with the date and time still attached. Though our thinking has certainly evolved since I did this up but here’s a copy of the original “Bombay Manifesto” as it appeared on our website, over 4 years after I originally wrote it. It’s in its original form, with all of the spelling and grammar mistakes included.

Here’s a copy of the original “Bombay Manifesto” as it appeared on our website, over 4 years after I originally wrote it.

The Bombay Manifesto

Saturday, December 23, 1997 7:08 PM

I am sitting here in the back of the call center, admiring how well things are running these days compared to the past… quietly sipping on an ice-cold Bombay martini (I cleaned out the one store that carries my favorite brand of gin a few days ago) and started thinking of our websites. I have been dumping a lot of advice over the last little bit due to changes in webdev and customer service and recently have been thinking of putting some basic principles down that are working well for us that everyone can take advantage of. Anyways…here is my opinion on why our website is so good in general principles (note this is customized for our industry and not in order cause I am too lazy now that I have most of my first drink polished off):

  1. End user psychological profiling drives everything. We need to be in their heads so we can simultaneously give them what they want while getting them to do what we want.
  2. Speed is always important.
  3. The less clicks the better…any way you can remove steps – do it. Lowest possible barrier to entry always.
  4. Never let the users be more than one click away from customer service. We have a customer service email link on every page in the same spot.
  5. Use graphics to excite the players to get them to do things we want, but once they start doing what we want… keep the process the definitive utilitarian maximization…clean and fast. When you do use graphics…use the right amount (see 2. above!).
  6. Do not make anyone think if you can design it so they do not have to…keep it simple.
  7. Outsource the management of any content you can since this is not our core business. Our embedded research links gives us the best info available to our players at almost no management cost to us.
  8. Use pop-ups properly…they can be a huge advantage for sophisticated users or a huge pain in the ass if not done properly. Avoid multiple replication of the same pages in different windows and make sure the pop-ups are named properly so users can manage them.
  9. Make sure the repeat users do not have to suffer through something just cause the newbies will like it.
  10. Do not collect useless information…just to “let” someone do business with us. Again…lowest possible barrier to entry.
  11. Put the “meat” of the site out front…let them drill for the insignificant stuff.
  12. No dead-ends…if there’s nothing there, don’t let them in.
  13. If you have a link on the site…make sure it works.
  14. If you change the site…make sure the site copy (the information) is still accurate.
  15. The first level of customer service is the web site (actually being able to easily and simply use the product is the ultimate customer service) itself… the users will only call in because the system or site design is not good enough. Improve the site using customer “advice”.

I gotta go refill my glass, so anyone else that can think of anything I didn’t touch on can add to this and someone can actually do up a more formal web site manifesto from this that can be used as a training aid for the entire team. Anyway…gotta go fill my glass. 🙂

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Educate kids about gambling and they won’t lose their marbles

Keeping kids ignorant is not the way to keep them safe. Calvin Ayre praises a YMCA-sponsored program in Ontario that educates 10 to 14-year old children about the dynamics of gambling, risks included. This article was originally published on on September 1, 2010.

I was quite impressed when I came across the story of a YMCA-sponsored program in Ontario designed to explain the dynamics of gambling (including the element of risk) to 10-14 year old kids. Personally, I think gambling education is the equivalent of sex education. Both are aspects of real world, grown-up life that kids will eventually encounter, and the better educated they are on either subject, the better prepared they’ll be to cope with the risks involved.

Naturally, there will be those who seek to eliminate such programs, just as there are those who pull their kids out of school rather than letting little Janie or Johnny’s delicate ears hear the word ‘condom’. My own belief is that keeping kids ignorant is not the way to keep them safe. Studies have shown that abstinence-only education programs do little to cut down teen pregnancies or rates of STD transmission – if anything, it increases the likelihood of both, because kids aren’t taught to ‘wrap that rascal’ before they (inevitably) abstain from their abstinence.

Apart from the invaluable knowledge transfer, I appreciate the hysteria-free manner in which this program is being conducted, i.e. no religious-inspired harrangues using apocalyptic “gambling = certain death” memes. Perhaps responsible authorities are finally starting to realize that when you demonize a product or activity, people will only want it more. If you doubt me, check out this 2008 World Health Organization study which showed that 20.2% of American kids had tried marijuana before the age of 15, whereas only 7% of teens in Holland (where pot laws and attitudes are infinitely more liberal) could say the same.

It’s common knowledge that it was the early 1990’s when I launched the tech companies that eventually grew into the Bodog juggernaut, but in truth, my first foray into running a casino came when I was just 12 years old. It was an impressive operation, consisting entirely of a piece of plywood, a few nails and some elastic bands. During lunch and/or recess of my Grade Six year, I’d prop this homemade ‘marble board’ up against the school’s brick wall and loudly proclaim that I was open for business.

This may be hard for younger generations to grasp, but back in my day, marbles were a kind of kid currency. Your parents would buy you a bag of the things down at the local department store, and with that stake, you could then engage in the endless rounds of head-to-head games with other kids at school or in your neighborhood. These games were played ‘for keeps’, and so was mine.

My marble board worked thusly: a kid would take one of his own marbles, place it at the top of my board, and let ‘er rip. As the marble rolled down the board, it would rebound off the stretched elastic bands much like a pinball off a bumper, and would ultimately come to rest in one of several ‘pockets’ at the bottom. Each of these pockets would be inscribed with a certain predetermined ‘payout’, and depending on where your marble landed, you could walk away several marbles richer, or the marble might end up in my own bag.

I was a pretty solid maths student growing up, and I spent HOURS calculating the specific odds of these payouts. My goal was to ensure that the players won enough that they’d continue to play, but let’s face it, every casino has a built-in house edge. My ‘house’ might have lacked three other walls, a roof and a door, but it still had an ‘edge’. In fact, by the end of ‘marble season’ I was the undisputed marble monarch. You know that scene in Scarface where Tony sees the Goodyear blimp go by with “the world is yours” message on the side?

My cornering of the marble market gave me the wherewithal to purchase treats from other kids’ lunch boxes every single day. Seriously, if you replace the yéyo piled up on Tony Montana’s desk with the sugar-powder from packages of Pixy Stix, that’s pretty much how I remember my elementary school days. (Perhaps that’s how I ended up playing a character in the Scarface video game.) Of even greater importance to a kid on the cusp of puberty, I also discovered that you could trade one marble for one kiss from a pretty girl. Trust me, if anything impressed upon me the potential rewards of business success, this was it.

None of the kids who lost their marbles to my board were ever given any formal education about the myths and realities of gambling. If they had, they might have chosen to avoid my board entirely, choosing instead to risk their marbles in the one-on-one pure skill games which all the kids played in our schoolyard. But despite the teachers being fully aware of my little entrepreneurial exercise, they never said anything, and so the kids never learned anything. Had the teachers said something, I might have ended up punching a time clock at a marble factory, instead of launching one of the sexiest gaming entertainment brands on the planet. But if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that it’s never too early to start teaching kids that life is a game that’s played for all the marbles.

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