Saturday, July 02, 2022

Asia affiliates begin to come of age

The Asian igaming sector continues to attract high levels of interest from betting and casino operators targeting markets such as Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia and, of course, China; which remains by far the biggest of them all.

The focus is very much on operators, especially from the mainstream business press in the UK, which frequently questions the sponsorship and marketing activities of brands that have no market share in the UK or speculates about the amount of betting business a behemoth like Bet365 generates from China.

Less discussed, but no less important, is the role affiliates play in the region. There are obvious reasons for this. The affiliate sector is less developed in Asia, customer habits are different than in Europe and acquisition strategies have catered to them accordingly.

However, for all the talk of scale and, for some, vast profits, it’s important to point out that getting the basics right when doing affiliate work in Asia is just as vital as if one is an operator. This means having the right marketing contacts on the ground and online, acquiring quality traffic and offering value in the form of strong content and offers.

Affiliates working in the region told Asia Gaming Brief that the sector had modernised considerably in the past few years and that although China remained the biggest market by some distance, countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan were being heavily targeted.

When it comes to revenue models, “Asian affiliates work across all formats: cost per acquisition (CPA), flat fee, revenue share or hybrid”, says Dov Allin, founder of Marketing Cross Media Asia.

“The affiliate sector in Asia is less developed than in Europe, but it is developing gaming and editorial content for sports betting. Casino continues to be the key and most profitable vertical, but there has been a move away from table games and live casino, which have always been a must for operators in the region and China specifically, to online slots in recent years.”

This makes sense as slots generate higher margins and operating costs are lower than those of live casino, which also focuses on VIP Chinese players. Allin adds that the operators he works with are currently focused on China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand, with South Korea also coming up strong and the Asian affiliate sector is also getting more sophisticated.

“It is clear Asian countries enjoy igaming across the key verticals and the affiliates who are catering to those markets with a long-term view are building up strong SEO profiles, backlinks and referencing options. The traffic is also improving, whereas in the past much of it came from unreliable sources such as black hat or adult and sports streaming websites; it is improving constantly and now offers good options for players,” he says.

When it comes to generating traffic, Allin says there is very little pay-per-click advertising and that SEO strategies depend largely on individual country strategies and regulations.

However, “there is a lot of activity on social media networks, where brands reach out to players in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and others with content, promotions and special offers. It’s the most effective way to make contact and generate activity and volume,” he says.

Operators and affiliates targeting players in those countries can reach them fairly easily through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even Snap Chat and communicate with them. In a country like China, however, the size of the market and its specificities, notably the tightly controlled online environment, mean social media revolves around networks like WeChat, QQ and Weibo, which are nothing like Facebook or Twitter.

This means player acquisition there “is not done through affiliates as we understand them in Europe or the US”, says one industry contact who agreed to speak to AGB off the record.

“All player recruitment and retention is done one-to-one via WeChat and the Chinese don't use email much and you can't send an SMS with a link that includes gaming language, so it's laborious and repetitive one-on-one marketing, sales and player management.”

This is compounded by the regulatory hurdles new brands encounter when trying to launch in China. For one start up that up until recently was shirt sponsor of a Premier League club football and planned to use China-based marketing and sponsorship agencies to drum up interest from sports fans; it meant any mention of online betting or casino was not possible in any of its marketing. All football references had to be strictly limited to sporting and fan-related topics and promotions.

“In other words, all China traffic had to be driven to the gaming website ‘organically’, with consumers being curious about the brand on the shirt and visiting the site. Calls to action, promotions, bonuses or free bets weren’t possible,” says the industry contact, “so you can imagine how difficult it was to drive traffic.” And with the hefty retainer that was paid out to the agency every month it was not long before the site cut its losses.

The Chinese authorities also recently vowed to increase and widen their efforts to combat online gambling in the country, which will only make things harder for the igaming sector there. For affiliates across the region it will be a case of developing their skills and growing traffic, but operators will also have a big part to play.

“Some operators see the traffic and money that affiliates generate for them and see the benefit of working with them. Others are not that interested and just want to keep doing what they think is best for them,” says Dov Allin. “But I don’t think there will be a major event that will change things dramatically, it will be a case of the sector evolving and modernising as it moves forward.”



Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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