Brand Health Check: Mecca Bingo

Players are abandoning the bingo house in their droves, and it's not all the fault of the smoking ban.

Much like an unfortunate player who repeatedly misses out on a full house by one number, Mecca Bingo is down on its luck.

The company has been hit hard by the ban on smoking in public places, which came into effect in England on 1 July, and the implementation of the Gambling Act in September, which excluded certain fruit machines from its clubs. Mecca Bingo admits that the knock-on effects have been worse than expected, so much so that last month it issued a profits warning attributed to a 'significant deterioration' in revenues.

However, while the smoking ban and Gambling Act have certainly taken their toll, the Rank-owned operator was already struggling to get punters through its doors. In recent years, Mecca Bingo has shed millions of players as it has struggled to move beyond its core market of working-class older women. This is despite deregulation of the industry in the 90s, which gave bingo clubs greater freedom to offer more substantial prizes, and the relaxation of membership criteria in 2005, which made it easier for people to join.

In a bid to turn around the decline in players, the operator hired branding agency Dave last year with a brief to dispel what Mecca Bingo claimed were outdated stereotypes of bingo and those who play the game.

Other drains on bingo clubs include gambling websites, which are undoubtedly having an impact on footfall, as younger players shirk gaming halls in favour of playing from the comfort of their homes. Poker, meanwhile, is growing in popularity, thanks in part to the relatively high profile of its professional players, who lend an air of 'coolness' to the game.

Mecca Bingo has admitted that it needs to come up with fresh ideas and has earmarked the theme of 'food and fun' as key to future growth, although details of activity around this have yet to be confirmed.

It has also embarked on a digital drive, rolling out an email marketing programme that allows club managers to create their own emails to send to local customers. But will this be enough to revive admissions numbers?

We asked Andy Mackenzie, executive creative director of 141 Worldwide/London, which works with Coral, and Simon Collins, commercial director of gaming marketing agency Cashcade where Mecca Bingo should go next.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - ANDY MACKENZIE EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, 141 WORLDWIDE/LONDON

The commercialisation of bingo has been going on for many years, turning it from an entertainment feature at British holiday camps into a multimillion-pound industry.

With the leisure sector expanding at breakneck speed, driven largely by technology, retaining an existing customer base is hard enough, let alone addressing failing revenues. So maybe Mecca Bingo should look into new income streams, or the way it delivers its product. It might also consider what else, from a leisure perspective, is attracting people.

I believe there will always be the hardcore bingo loyalist who will go to a club come-what-may, but perhaps radical promotions to try to draw in occasional players should be considered. This would mean Mecca Bingo trying to change whatever perceptions people have about bingo halls. Are there other leisure activities that could be accommodated in these often sizeable buildings to attract a different kind of customer? And could the Britishness of bingo be built on to deliver the pastime in a fresh and exciting way?

REMEDY

- Create Mecca Poker Clubs in premises.

- Consider bingo 'drive-ins' during the summer in the parks of major cities where there is an existing Mecca club.

- Tie in with the great British holiday and find a way to create 'Bingo on the Beach' at the nation's major summer resorts, offering prizes of nights out at Mecca Bingo venues.

- Create packages around hen and office parties.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - SIMON COLLINS COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR, CASHCADE

Despite a range of counter-measures, Mecca Bingo is suffering. It has been attempting to stave off drops in revenue, such as the 15% fall it suffered when Scotland implemented the smoking ban last year, but to little avail. Weatherproof gambling machines and a pared-down version of bingo appear to have fallen flat.

Plans such as smoking shelters were working in the short term, but recent results suggest the ban, which, of course, has now been implemented in England, has really started to bite with the passing of summer. Sitting in a smoking shelter seems too much to bear in autumn.

Mecca Bingo has said it is working on creating a 'bingo for the PlayStation generation' based on portable devices. This kind of offering is one way to deal with the problems, but misses the point of getting people into the warm environment of the club. Portable devices go against all that bingo stands for, leading to a loss of the sense of community. Such software might be better aimed at players only when they cease to turn up to the venue, rather than helping them to leave.

REMEDY

- Target young mothers. Look at the way cinemas operate special screenings for parents with young babies in tow. Facilities such as creches can help further.

- Expand the provision of food and drink to get people into the clubs.

- Target drinkers and diners in the evening with promotions and entertainment.

- Offer corporate events as one-offs.

- Remember bingo is becoming more mainstream with the onset of online versions.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message