Free-to-Play Online Casino Brand Bets on Mobile

DoubleDown Broadens Advertising as Users Shift From Desktop

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DoubleDown Interactive, the company behind the popular app game DoubleDown Casino, placed its early marketing and media bets on Facebook. It's worked. But as its players shift to mobile from desktops, in sync with consumers' migration to mobile devices for all sorts of daily activities, DoubleDown is looking to broaden its media-buying strategy with a new agency and additional publishing partners.

"We want to show up in places that might be unexpected for players and potential players," said John Clelland, VP-global marketing at DoubleDown, a Seattle subsidiary of Las Vegas gambling-machine manufacturer International Game Technology. "The digital landscape is changing rapidly. People are carrying increasingly sophisticated devices with bigger screens."

Three years ago, every DoubleDown player was using a desktop computer, Mr. Clelland said. Now players are split down the middle, and mobile use is growing at double the pace of desktop. The company says it has over 1.7 million average daily users.

The shift is driving DoubleDown to advertise more broadly and try new formats that might work better on mobile, such as video and sponsored posts. "Facebook has really been our bread and butter from an acquisition-and-retention spend perspective," Mr. Clelland said. "The beauty of digital is the data one gets back to determine how effective campaigns are. We'll continue to test and learn."

The company hired Essence Digital after a review process it began in December to help it expand its advertising presence and experiment with new ad formats. Thus far, it has seen success on a lot of different sites, ranging from the Reuters of the world, "which kind of surprised me," to BuzzFeed and everything in between, said Mr. Clelland.

Essence is also helping the company advertise new products, like a "Wheel of Fortune" game, and target audiences beyond its core of women 35 years old or older. Creature handles creative duties for the company's advertising.

Mr. Clelland wouldn't disclose upcoming media or marketing spend, which he said could change throughout the year depending on findings and results. He said that Essence's flexibility -- its ability to "scale up or down and shift money around" -- was appealing. But if spending by parent International Game Technology is any indication, with ad costs at least doubling each year for the past few years, DoubleDown is not likely to scale back.

International Game Technology ad costs, including DoubleDown, totaled $68.2 million in 2013, up from $34.3 million in 2012 and $10.8 million in 2011, the company said in a 10K filing for fiscal 2013 ending Sept. 28. The increases are in line with DoubleDown user growth. Average daily active users increased 20% in the quarter ending Sept. 28 from the quarter a year prior, according to the filing.

The move to hire Essence and broaden its reach comes as states begin to legalize online gambling -- simultaneously increasing competition for traditional casinos and offering them some new avenues to find customers.

DoubleDown has a growing business-to-business program encouraging physical casinos to embed its free games on their websites, in an effort to "increase floor traffic and reach a new generation of players," according to the language in an annual report on the International Game Technology website. It wouldn't hurt International Game Technology to send more gamblers to the businesses that buy its machines.

Mr. Clelland said that there's no direct correlation between DoubleDown's efforts and International Game Technology's machine sales.

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