FavBet’s Alex Hleb deal: “When contract is just a piece of paper”

Oleg Smityuk from FavBet reflects on his experience of building beneficial partnerships with brand ambassadors, citing Champions League winner Alex Hleb as a case study for the Belarus market.

More than a year ago now, I joined FavBet in a Head of International Markets role. I have since executed one of the top priorities for the company, which was relaunching in the Belarus market. 

This was a big but ambitious move to make, firstly because it is a highly regulated environment, but also considering that our key competitors have enjoyed such a long-term presence in the market and sportsbook players often need a serious reason to switch from one operator to another. 

As is often highlighted by top industry voices, you cannot overestimate the importance of finding the right marketing mix when entering a new market, and Belarus is no exception. For this case study, I’d like to share our experience about the other way to look at working with brand ambassadors.

It was clear that we needed to engage with ambassadors and sponsorship to rival the competition. Yet, more importantly, we needed to work with the right people who not only embody our internal vision for the new FavBet brand, but are also internationally iconic and recognisable in their own sport.

Our bet was on Hleb, Alex Hleb. The legendary Belarusian player, the midfielder who played in two Champions League finals and won the title in 2009 with FC Barcelona.

Without doubt, he left a big mark on the history of clubs such as FC Arsenal, VfB Stuttgart, FC BATE and, of course, the Belarus National Team – a true charismatic captain both on and off the pitch.

The usual approach with a new ambassador starts in quite a traditional way. Photoset? Sure! Video session? Yep, we are in! Memorable giveaways signed by the brand ambassador for operator clients? We’ll take 1000 pieces just to start! 

Yet, that was far from the limit of this deal. Working with Hleb, we found that the contract was just a piece of paper. He was committed to helping us bring about a rebirth for FavBet in Belarus through a 360-degree marketing campaign – to be created and activated in a very short lead time.

If we’re talking about the most memorable project for us in regards to this partnership, for sure we must speak about the movie we created. The point is that usually ambassadors are used in connection around big sporting or industry events, so we were excited to let things go the other way round and create the top market eventing via a story dedicated to our brand ambassador. 

It all started from the idea of sponsoring Hleb’s autobiography after he finished his amazing professional career and meeting inspirable Anna Eismont, Belarus #1 sports journalist and sports TV director. Just an hour later, the agreement to unite in the project was signed.

Taking this reverse approach, one of the major tasks for us as marketers was to integrate the FavBet brand into Alex’s story, making the brand visible and supportive to the movie but respecting the true hero of the piece. We believe we found this golden middle, and so the FavBet brand can be recognised in the movie through various amounts of product placement and creative interactive banners.

Work done by the ‘Our Hleb’ film crew and FavBet Team during eight months of video shooting and post production was truly remarkable. It took in five different countries, thousands and thousands of miles on the road and several hundred hours of interviews on the videotape, meeting unique players and managers like Henry, Lehmann, Pires, Kuranyi, Guardiola, Wenger. 

The second part of the project was the huge pre-premiere screening with a press event for the Belarus sports community, all the people involved in Hleb’s football career and, of course, pan Belarus coverage of the movie taking it across national channels TV and YouTube. The idea was to make this truly unique for Belarus, creating buzz through several marketing channels.

Integrated marketing campaign to support the movie was represented by OOH creative billboards and video teasers in public transport, while a quiz on Hleb’s career was rolled out on morning TV shows combined with direct ad placements on national TV.

Strong digital presence was also part of the game with a massive push on social media including lots of giveaways, promotions and a viral campaign that was supported by both Hleb’s friends and dramatis personae of the movie. 

Everything mentioned above helped the ‘Our Hleb’ movie and FavBet brand to gain a total of 3.5 million impressions through national TV and digital channels during the pre-launch teaser campaign. 

The audience of the movie during pan national premiere was close to 1 million people and this became one of the top viewed events in Belarus national TV history. 

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