Bowmans Poker – It’s not quite what you think

bowmansWhere do I even start with this one?  This campaign comes along with plenty of anecdotes that I absolutely won’t be including in this little case study.  I’d have to tell you in person.  Probably after a couple of drinks.

Bowmans Poker asked us to conceive and deliver a viral campaign that would sit alongside their above the line campaign.  A lot of online poker companies were using an educational approach offering to teach the ‘The Rules of Poker’ to target potential poker players and, in order to stand out, Bowmans elected to go a step further with the proposition of educating users on the ‘Unwritten Rules of Poker’ by producing a guidebook.

The Unwritten Rules are the stuff that nobody tells you.  The things that will stop you from being sharkbait when you enter a table of seasoned professionals.

The biggest of the unwritten rules is ‘Knowing Your Opponent’ and especially ‘The Tell’.  Scrutinising other player’s behaviour and reactions, learning to spot when they are bluffing and when they have a genuinely good hand.  We thought about how we could illustrate the importance of knowing your opponent as clearly and theatrically as possible in order to convince the user to click through to the client’s site and download their guide.

We came up with a concept that we expected to be a difficult sell.  Our pitch to Bowmans was with the knowledge that, contrary to what you’d expect, gaming companies are very conservative.  In a market where you can only sell your service to over 18’s it always seemed to us quite odd that a lot of companies consider this to be a drawback rather than something to embrace.  Their target demographic was very much lads age 18-40 who might be venturing into poker forums for the first time looking to find out how to get started.

With all this in mind we pitched them a version of strip poker with a Crying Game reveal as the finale.  And they loved it.

After the excitement of winning the pitch died down, the reality began to bite.  I spend three days putting out adverts and scouring the depths of the internet attempting to find a convincing female pre-op transexual  – who would be game enough to do it.  I saw things that to this day I cannot unsee and got email responses from people who had a very liberal definition of the word ‘convincing’.

In the end we hired Michelle, a transexual ‘model’ from Manchester and she, along with me, a stylist and a camera/lighting guy embarked on probably the oddest video shoot any of us will ever undertake.

At this point, if I knew you better, I would tell you a few anecdotes that would raise your eyebrows at the very least.  The only one fit for print is this.  Michelle was used to being paid in cash for her services.  Her fee was fairly generous – as you might expect given her unique look.  On the morning of the shoot I got a call from our CFO who told me that cash of that amount was out of the question and she would need to invoice and get paid by our usual terms and methods.  I didn’t pass on the news to her and carried on shooting regardless but asked him to start googling ‘convincing female transexual’ in order to find me a replacement.  Within 30 minutes he called to say he had green lit the payment.

The shoot contained what you might expect.  We didn’t water it down for the finale – Michelle went full monty as we assumed that the client would probably ask us to pixelate anyway (they didn’t).

We built a poker bot and plugged it into the video which ultimately created an interactive strip poker experience where the user got to see Michelle remove an item of clothing each time she needed more money.  We had to really dumb down the bot to a level where the user was guaranteed to win.  The location was very East End Gangster and a gruff cockney voiceover really added to the vibe as it encouraged the user through to the end.

On the reveal, the gangster admonished the player for not Knowing His Opponent well enough to realise he was ‘packing cock’.

We seeded the experience on poker forums and the result was beyond even our expectations.  Pages and pages and pages of people playing along with both the application and the secret, egging each other on but not spoiling the surprise.

The client was blown away.  They reported over 30 million hits in a press release they put out (I know – hits is not a real metric but we massively exceeded their acquisition KPI’s increasing their new accounts by 127% within 3 months).

There is a gaming industry article here:

This campaign genuinely helped raise the profile of Bowmans Poker who were acquired by Bet365 soon after.