On the one hand, you’ve got poker players, very few of which have been able to translate success on the felt to any real world or mainstream celebrity status. As a result, the number of mainstream celebrity endorsement or ad deals signed by poker players has been few and far between.
Of course, poker players are the top celebrities when it comes to endorsing things like online poker sites. However, outside of the very niche and relatively small poker market, few players have done anything more than that.
Poker’s mainstream ads
Poker Hall of Famer Phil Hellmuth was able to cross over and appear on the side of a Milwaukee’s Best beer can. He also took a big bite of a Carl’s Jr. burger for one TV ad.
Hellmuth also joined Daniel Negreanu and Scotty Nguyen to play poker against a Pepsi can for one ad in the early poker boom years.
Phil Ivey drove the Chrysler 300 in another ad. This despite the fact real poker fans know he probably prefers his Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren.
In the meantime, Vanessa Rousso inked a celebrity endorsement deal with GoDaddy back in 2009. However, she’s since left that, and the poker world behind.
There may be others I failed to mention, but not many. Being a well-known celebrity in the poker world just isn’t the same thing as being a well-known celebrity. Plus, a number of mainstream advertisers have shied away from poker in the past. Conventional thinking was a connection to the world of casinos and gambling might tarnish their carefully cultivated image.
Those same fears have likely prevented several mainstream celebrities from endorsing poker related products in the past.
A sin worse than a Madison Avenue shunning
However, a number of poker sites, particularly PokerStars, have been guilty of a sin much worse than Madison Avenue’s shunning of the poker celebrity. They’ve actually been spending money getting big mainstream celebrities to endorse their products. Whether they have a connection to it or not.
Instead of honoring its commitments to it’s highest volume players, pouring big money into further software development, or creating an ad campaign that might actually draw new players into the game, PokerStars spent untold millions getting celebrity athletes like Rafael Nadal, Neymar Jr., and Cristiano Ronaldo to endorse its product.
They can be forgiven for signing Neymar Jr., since he may actually play the game. However, one look at Nadal or Ronaldo playing poker made their connection to the game look completely contrived.
An endorsement deal done strictly for the cash stinks like week-old fish in a composter. In fact, in today’s marketing savvy world, having a celebrity who doesn’t really use your product step up to endorse it, will probably do it more harm than good. People are simply too smart for that.
Loyal is as loyal does
The company has since walked away from these ill-conceived endorsement deals, only to enter even more. Actor Kevin Hart might really play poker, but sprinter Usain Bolt doesn’t. The video campaign featuring the two may be somewhat entertaining in spots, but it still leaves most with the feeling PokerStars would have been better off using the money to give back Supernova Elite players the rug they pulled out from underneath them in 2016.
It certainly would have been a better move from a public relations standpoint. They’ve argued that a rake raise would be good for players over the long run. Now it looks like they upped the rake to be able to afford these big-name endorsement deals that offer little if any value to poker players at all.
Most savvy consumers, including those in the poker community, will be loyal to the companies that are loyal to them. What they won’t do is follow along like sheep and flock to sites endorsed by their favorite athletes. Particularly if those athletes are clearly just in it for the money. Their money.
This kind of celebrity endorsement deal was popularized in the previous millennium. It just doesn’t work today.
News also hit this week that boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. has signed on to endorse the Hero Digital Entertainment and Playtrex social casino adventure game Wild Poker.
Mayweather swears that soon as he saw Wild Poker, he knew he wanted to become part of it. They claim the world’s greatest pound-for-pound boxer really plays a mobile poker game featuring cartoon animals and power-ups.
If you’re buying that, I’ve got some swampland for sale down south.