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Innovative AB&C gambling addiction campaign earns top award

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The Don Ciccanowski campaign by AB&C for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems featured the character played by local DJ and actor Allen Hite. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DCGP

WILMINGTON – The Delaware Council on Gambling Problems (DCGP) has an unenviable task of promoting gambling addiction resources in a modern era where sports betting, casinos and fantasy sports spend billions annually to promote their offerings.

In contrast, the nonprofit organization funded by the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has less than $2 million in annual revenue.

That’s what prompted the council to get creative in its approach to reaching the masses and how its advertising agency, Aloysious Butler & Clark (AB&C) in Wilmington, recently scored a major coup in a successful marketing campaign.

“We wanted something a little different and we put it out to Steve and the team, and he came back and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to like this. It’s a little bit of a stretch.’ And I flipped over it. I loved every second of it,” Arlene Simon, executive director of the DCGP, told Delaware Business Times.

What, or better yet who, she loved was the so-called Don Ciccanowski campaign.

Featuring a fictional sports betting guru “Don Ciccanowski,” the over-the-top campaign promoted betting info that turned out to be a bait-and-switch, questioning visitors whether they may have a gambling problem if willing to entertain the advice of such a character.

The DCGP has worked with AB&C for more than seven years on its marketing campaigns, but this was the most out-of-box idea they had ever attempted. The 10-month campaign, which was featured on streaming TV, social media and in print, won the Best in Show award at the recent Healthcare Advertising Awards, besting more than 4,400 other entries nationwide in one of the 10 largest annual advertising contests.

“Someone on our team suggested that in this gambling space right now there are so many players, and everybody is spending a lot of money to have the celebrity face. So, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we created our own character who was kind of a little bit of a sleaze ball?” recalled Steve Merino, managing partner and chief creative officer at AB&C.

In casting the eponymous role of “Don Ciccanowski” – Merino said the name is a throwback to a kid he knew growing up – AB&C went through a casting call and selected local Delaware DJ Allen Hite, who could play the requisite slapstick routine but also lean into a more serious tone for when gambling addiction was finally discussed.

AB&C created ads focused on a variety of sports betting scenarios from horse racing to basketball to football and timed their releases around periods of interest, like Triple Crown races, the Super Bowl and March Madness. Viewers were directed to a special website, DonKnowsBets.com, where the ruse was revealed, and resources could be imparted.

According to the DCPG, the advertisement drove more than 20,000 visits to the website and nearly 160 call/text inquiries and interactions with the organization’s live chat helpline. It also logged nearly 3 million web impressions and more than 1 million views of the Don Ciccanowski videos.

“They’re fighting against so many people and you have to do something different to get attention,” Merino said, crediting the council for embracing an idea that is very different from what most of the health care industry is used to.

As online sports betting and fantasy sports betting grows precipitously in America following the landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling, those seeking assistance for gambling addiction are increasingly getting younger, Simon said. It’s one reason why the Ciccanowski campaign, which played heavily on streaming and social media platforms, was so effective.

The DCPG was thrilled to learn that the campaign created by AB&C was getting national recognition, and Simon hoped that it helped similar organizations across the country to reach people in need. The work is far from done, however, and she is already thinking about a new campaign.

“Video gaming is the next big thing as far as leading into gambling problems. The American Pediatric Academy has now officially said that this is a precursor to a serious gambling problem,” Simon said, noting that teachers and parents have contacted the DCPG worried about children playing video games for extended periods of time – a concern worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing use of microtransactions in games.

“The past two years kids have sat in front of their screens because there’s nothing else really for them to do. It’s become a problem, and we’d really like to work on a campaign to address that,” she added.

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