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An Interview With Cause Marketing Expert On Gambling Addiction: Part II

Welcome to part two of our conversation with Alessandro Ciaffoncini, President of Origo Branding and subject matter expert on gambling prevention. He discusses the development, success, and longevity of two key campaigns in Ohio: Change the Game and Get Set Before You Bet.

MCADAMHS: Let’s talk about the two campaigns Change the Game Ohio and Get Set Before You Bet. One is designed for youths and the latter for adults. What were the main components of the campaign?

Alessandro: We launched Change the Game Ohio in 2019, and we’ve gotten great responses since. We now have many organizations that co-brand the materials to utilize within their own networks. The campaign included posters, flyers, social media posts, PSAs, and animated videos. For this initiative, Origo will co-brand any of these assets for other organizations to use. By pushing the information into other networks, the key messages reach a greater audience, equating to a greater impact.

Furthermore, the campaign won the Best Public Awareness Campaign of 2020 and Best Website of 2020 by the National Conference on Problem Gambling. The awards are not why we do it, but it means that we were recognized for taking innovative and successful approaches to tackling these subjects at the forefront. The campaign was highly comprehensive and driven by valid research and expert insights. And since then, other states have even asked to repackage this with their own statistics and studies.

It’s really taken on a national presence due to the impact it’s made in communities.

MCADAMHS: Tell me more about the research that went into developing these two campaigns and the trends experts are seeing in problem gambling. 

Alessandro: We conduct research in several ways. For example, we perform research by going to national and statewide conferences [for problem gambling], in which many national experts discuss the trends that are happening. Right now, they are seeing three main trends in problem gambling. 

Youth gambling is one. Sports betting will probably be our next initiative because of Ohio’s current legislation. The third is online gaming, and not just for youth, but for adults as well. There is a huge rise in online gaming because it is so accessible and ingrained in everyday culture, especially when you get into social apps, online casinos, online slot machines, and online gaming with friends. Since everyone was kind of pulled into their homes due to the pandemic, they needed entertainment; they wanted access to gambling without going to a casino or club. 

Success Through Change

MCADAMHS: So how did you determine the success of the campaign, other than the awards of course? Do you have any data points that you measure?

Alessandro: Sure, so for Get Set Before You Bet, as well as Change The Game Ohio, we have online self-assessments and quizzes that people can take to understand if they are at risk of problem gambling, as well as have a healthy understanding of the issue. From the results, we then direct them to helpful resources through the campaign websites. By enticing the public to take this scientifically-proven questionnaire, similar to a screening questionnaire that you get if going in for addiction treatment or recovery, we are able to gauge our campaign’s success based on how many individuals are engaging in these online activities, as well as accessing our downloadable resources.

The campaigns are also a non-traditional, often unexpected, channel for people to reach out for help by giving them modes to connect with specialists, such as the online chat feature and our social media pages, which people can connect with our team through direct messaging. We also track helpline calls. However, the helpline phone number is also featured on every lottery ticket and other advertisements throughout the state for casinos, so we can’t base the success of helpline call increases on our outreach activities alone.

A question we sometimes get is “how is gambling addiction different from other addictions?” Gambling addiction is different because it’s often called the silent addiction. It is not like alcohol; you can’t smell gambling on someone’s breath. You can’t see the visual cues like that of drug addiction, although some addictions often go hand-in-hand with gambling addiction to sustain the other.

 People feel shame and guilt when they have a gambling problem and they feel like it’s a sign of weakness. For example, they lose money suddenly, and they start reaching out to friends for money. Usually, this behavior is not captured until it’s too far down the line. The word “addiction” might make people more reluctant to get help, as they feel it is unsolvable, or that they can win their way back. Even speaking the words, “I’m a gambling addict,” is hard for people. 

We’ve noticed that once the campaign launched, many people reached out anonymously through social media. Private messages that were very cryptic like, 

“You don’t know how hard it is.” 

“If only I could stop.”

Once someone reaches out to us with responses like that, we contact the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, so they can perform triage right away because you don’t know what could happen next. Something that people don’t realize about gambling addiction is that it has the highest suicide rate of any addiction. And it’s often accompanied by other issues such as mental health issues, drug addictions, and alcohol addictions. 

Mental illness is often found to be associated with problem gambling behaviors. Sometimes you drink because you gamble, or maybe you gamble because you drink. We conducted focus groups of people in recovery, and that was a common story. Some didn’t even find out that they were gambling addicts until they went to treatment for their alcohol addiction. 

change the game ohio gambling prevention

Anyways, back on track. Yes, that’s how we measure success in terms of those engagements and how we are getting individuals the help they need, as well as how we’re addressing the needs of our community and non-gamblers as well. We want others to be a part of the conversation. In terms of Change The Game Ohio, it’s about how many people are engaging in our resources and downloading our different tools. Since the Change The Game Ohio resources are directed to adults, we developed an online quiz to gather statistics and test our audience’s knowledge on different terminology and facts. These questions almost act as another form of education, letting people

realize that there is more to their children’s behavior than meets the eye.

Success ultimately is all about behavior change and determining how much we are bringing this problem into everyday conversation. Of course, you can’t fix a problem with just an awareness campaign, but our hope is to move the needle. We want to start hearing about more people who are considering and understanding the resources available.

People should understand there is hope for treatment and recovery. Or educate people who need help and guidance because they have someone – a child, a husband, someone they love – who has a problem and needs help.

Measuring The Impact

MCADAMHS: Have you gotten any feedback personally on the campaign and the effects that it’s had?

Alessandro: For Change The Game Ohio, we have heard about great successes on how our messaging has helped positively impact the local campaign efforts of our statewide partners. For the Get Set Before You Bet campaign, our measurement for success is to have individuals say – “Thank you. This helps. This was my tipping point to call and get help.”

Thinking about these sentiments brings me back to why we do what we do, or “our purpose”. We develop these efforts to drive positive change and advocate for healthy lifestyles. To create change for the better. So, when you hear about your campaign helping someone in need, that’s the best feedback you can get. 

Stay tuned for Part III of our series, “An Interview With Cause Marketing Expert: Alessandro Ciaffoncini.”