For many of Britain’s sport enthusiasts, the May Day bank holiday signals a weekend spent glued to the TV watching the World Snooker Championship final. For the players, a Crucible final is the pinnacle of their career – not only for the event’s history and tradition, the privilege of playing in the famous auditorium and the ranking points on offer, but also the financial reward (£250,000 to be exact) that now comes with lifting the trophy. Thanks to the leadership and entrepreneurial nous of World Snooker chairman and Matchroom Sport chief executive Barry Hearn, the financial boundaries in the sport have been stretched significantly over the past few years and the best players in the world are finally being suitably rewarded for their skill, professionalism and hard work.
Behind the scenes, the Synergy team were hard at work delivering the PR activity to amplify Betfair’s sponsorship of the World Championship. As Barry Hearn continues to raise the financial stakes, Synergy tapped into the snooker psyche to develop the ‘Betfair Golden Cue’. Inspired by the players’ James Bond-style attire, Betfair gave snooker’s biggest stars the chance to become the first ‘Man with the Golden Cue’. This unique prize and a £10,000 cheque were on offer for the highest individual break during the tournament.
Given that a golden cue is not something you’d be able to find down your local Argos, we were indebted to John Parris, founder of Parris Cues, for undertaking the painstaking process of coating the cue in 23 carat gold leaf and producing such a high-quality cue. Designed to add some extra sparkle (or as Ronnie would say, “pizzazz”) to snooker’s flagship event, the Betfair Golden Cue took pride of place on set and became part of the conversation throughout the tournament, with BBC’s Hazel Irvine making regular references to it. In the first week, there were two early contenders for the prize with Ricky Walden’s impressive break of 140 quickly followed by a 142 break from the flamboyant Judd Trump.
As the high breaks continued, Twitter came to life with speculation from fans and snooker bloggers alike on who would win the Betfair Golden Cue. The cue itself became an object of mystery throughout the tournament, with speculation over its origin and manufacture maintaining the social media conversation. Consequently, Synergy placed another order with Parris Cues for a cue to give away on Betfair’s social channels, giving the lucky winner the chance to get their own gold-leafed memento from the tournament. At the time of writing, the social media giveaway has proved to be Betfair’s most successful yet, across all sports.
As title sponsors, Betfair offered a market on the Golden Cue winner, giving punters the chance to place early bets on pre-tournament high-break favourites with O’Sullivan available at 8/1, Judd Trump at 9/1 and Mark Williams at 12/1. Despite the strong early showings from Ricky Walden and Judd Trump, neither could prevent the explosive Australian, Neil Robertson, from stealing the prize. Indeed, despite quality cue play on show throughout the tournament (in total 55 century breaks were recorded), no one could surpass Robertson’s break of 143.
Although the tournament did not see a magical 147 break, snooker fans were still treated to a masterclass from O’Sullivan, who performed at his mercurial best to claim a fifth World Championship title. Indeed, the Betfair Golden Cue may have gone to Robertson but there’s no doubt that the Betfair World Champion, the ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan, remains snooker’s ‘golden boy’.
Bringing together over 1,200 delegates and a stellar cast of keynote speakers, the annual IEG Conference is the place to go to get a feel for the US sponsorship industry and the latest trends emerging from that side of the pond.
Having experienced three full days of presentations and roundtables covering every topic under the sponsorship sun, we have enough thoughts, insights and observations to fill a whole series of blogs (which we’ll be publishing over the next few weeks). But in advance of that, it makes sense to start with a high-level view of the key themes to emerge from the conference as a whole, with a particular focus on the keynote speakers.
The New 4 Ps of Sponsorship
In her welcome address, Lesa Ukman (Chief Insights Officer at IEG) introduced “The New 4 Ps”, a simple framework which outlines the critical components of successful sponsorship.
So here it goes: a summary of the core themes from the keynote speakers in the context of “The New 4 Ps”.
Great sponsorship is far more than skin deep. It is about both the brand and the rights holder working together through all available channels to create win/win/win situations, where genuine value is added to the brand, property and audience.
This is not a new idea, and the debate about whether we should move away from the word “sponsorship” has been rumbling for years (decades even). Of course, it doesn’t really matter what we call it as long as brands realise that sponsorship is not a one-way value transfer.
This sense of partnership is at the centre of Pepsi’s new deal with Beyonce. Frank Cooper, Pepsi’s CMO, acknowledged that on the surface it looked like exactly the same sort of deal that Pepsi has been doing since the ‘80s with Michael Jackson (a thought that we have already discussed in the past). However, he assured us that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Evidently, it is a deep collaboration that will redefine how music is created and distributed, deliver innovative episodic content, while also resulting in new Women’s Empowerment projects that come from Beyonce’s personal social conscience. We’ll be watching with great interest.
Miller Light has taken things far deeper than simple product placement in its partnership with The Internship (a new comedy re-uniting Wedding Crashers Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson). The brand is providing large-scale marketing support on-pack and through a high-profile competition to win the ultimate internship with Miller Light. This will, in turn, deliver great content and social currency for Miller, in addition to strong product placement within the movie.
Deborah Dugan, the CEO of (RED), showed another great example of brands working together to create win/win/win scenarios. For those of you not familiar with (RED), it partners with world-leading brands including Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Beats by Dr. Dre and Bugaboo to create limited edition (RED) products. A percentage of the profits from these products go to The Global Fund which fights for an AIDS-free generation. This is a great example of a win/win/win scenario: The Global Fund raises much-needed money; brands drive revenue through new products while demonstrating what they stand for; and customers can support the cause simply by buying great, new, limited edition products from the brands they already love.
Clearly, what all these examples have in common is that actively working together creates more value for all parties, while also establishing a concrete role for the brand – all of which deliver the authenticity that is critical to being accepted by an audience.
Of all the New 4 Ps, the idea that a brand needs a purpose (beyond making money for the sake of making money), is probably the one that came through most clearly. Consumers don’t just want to know who a brand is, they need to know what it stands for. A really powerful element of sponsorship is that it can provide a highly visible symbol of a brand’s purpose.
Jim Stengler is so committed to the idea that doing good and doing well are two sides of the same coin that he left his role as CMO of P&G to write a book, Grow, showing that companies with a strong purpose outperformed the market. His view is that a company’s culture – what it believes in and how it behaves – is the only truly sustainable source of differentiation.
He showed how the turning point in the Pampers business was this ad – when it stopped telling people about the product and started showing that “Pampers get babies. Pampers loves babies”. Andy England from MillerCoors used a nice turn of phrase to capture this idea: we need to move from brand campaigns to campaigning for our brand.
For Frank Cooper, the CMO of Pepsi, it’s a case of “The King is dead; long live the King”. Specifically, Content isn’t King. Intent is King. Consumers are no longer happy to just know what you do and how you do it, they want to know why you do it. A brand’s intent is now as important as the product itself.
Ironically, Frank Cooper didn’t manage to articulate the specifics of Pepsi’s “intent”, but he did refer to the Pepsi Refresh Project, describing it as “one of the most important experiments” Pepsi (or any other brand, for that matter) had undertaken in the past decade. It was undeniably brave – but the fact that it was ditched after just one year might indicate that it was a brave failure.
Jim Trebilcock from Dr. Pepper Snapple, provided one of my favourite case studies from the event. The Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway uses its sponsorship of NCAA Football to run a promotion giving college students the chance to win their tuition fees ($100,000) by uploading a video which described how they would use their college education to create a better future. I like this because it really brings to life Dr. Pepper’s intent to encourage everyone to tread their own path to become one of a kind.
Synergy have covered this trend extensively over the past year as part of our discussions on the Social Era of Sponsorship – so it was nice to see it reinforced in Chicago.
Brands that simply badge content might get awareness but they don’t necessarily get any credit. Anyone can get awareness by slapping a logo on something – but producing content, events and experiences that resonate with the audience and enhance their experiences is the best way to truly connect.
All the keynote speakers emphasised the importance of being Creator Brands and took the opportunity to showcase some of the great content they had developed. From TV spots to earned media and user-generated content, no presentation was complete without a few examples of the engaging content they had created.
A couple of examples deserve special mention. The first is the deep, multi-channel engagement which Coors Light created around its sponsorship of Liga MX (the Mexican Football League) for the US audience. The sponsorship started with standard on-pack and in-store activity, but the brand took it further to create a website called ‘Fanaticos del Frio’, providing exclusive fan content about Liga MX. It then extended it into mobile apps, social media engagement and experiential activity, before finally partnering with Univision (the major Spanish Language TV Channel) to turn Fanaticos del Frio into a prime-time weekly TV programme. Creating and curating this content means that Coors Light owns the Liga MX fan experience in the US.
Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Nestle’s digital marketing and social media, shared a very clever new interactive film with us called Perrier’s Secret Place. You are in control as you switch characters to navigate your way through the ultimate Secret Party, trying to find clues that will lead you to the Golden Perrier Bottle. Finding the golden bottle gives you a chance to win trips to “the ultimate parties around the world”. The idea that you should be drinking Perrier at parties to make sure you don’t miss any details of the experience is interesting – and the film is great.
Again, there is nothing new about the idea of content being at the centre of the sponsorship experience – we have written about it many times (here and chapter 6 of our 2013 Trends Report, here) – but it is important that the point is reinforced at every possible occasion.
The stories that a brand can tell about itself are dwarfed by the potential stories that others can tell about it. That’s why sponsors should be finding ways to create movements that everyone can participate and share in.
Adam Garone, co-founder of Movember, really brought to life how a simple idea can harness the power of the audience to spread the word and drive the storyline. Every man that grows a moustache sparks hundreds of different conversations during the month of November – with friends, colleagues and even strangers on the Tube. And that, rather than simply raising money, is the whole point.
However, it is worth raising a couple of words of caution at this point. Firstly, don’t expect customers to participate in something which they don’t really care about (and they’ll be the judge of that), or which doesn’t fit into and improve their existing ‘rituals’. Hundreds of activations fall flat because the consumer just thinks: “why bother?”. Secondly, the whole point of ‘Participation’ is to create some form of legacy – a deeper connection with the consumer that lasts longer and means more than simply viewing an ad. With that in mind, it’s worth remembering that not all content is shareable. As Pablo Ganguli, founder of Liberatum, which creates cultural festivals in countries around the world said: “I would prefer 200 highly motivated, energised, intelligent people to experience my content directly rather than 2 billion people watching my YouTube video because they are bored.”
Sponsorship gives brands the ability to show that they have something in common with the audience. Brands that use sponsorship well are seen by fans to be “one of us”, and that makes them willing to tell their story.
So those are the new 4 Ps. If you have read the Synergy blog and our 2013 Trends Report, you will recognise many of the same themes in our ABCDE framework: for Beyond your Brand (B), read Purpose; for Content (C), read Production; and for Dialogue (D), read Participation. The New 4 P framework doesn’t explicitly reference Authenticity (A) and Emotion (E), but there is no doubt that both those elements need to be at the heart of all of the Ps. Conversely, ABCDE doesn’t explicitly mention Partnership – but that’s simply because the whole framework is about partnerships and the vital ingredients required to create great ones.
So when it comes to great sponsorship it doesn’t really matter what side of the Atlantic you might find yourself on: what the IEG Conference really demonstrated – as the ABCDE and the 4Ps frameworks make clear – is that the rules for outstanding sponsorship are universal.
A relaxing Easter weekend, a sleepy Bank Holiday Monday – the perfect time to catch people off-guard. April Fools’ Day rolled around and, as in previous years, punters had their collective wits tested by brands and news outlets looking to have a bit of fun. This year there were three distinct types of April Fool, making it all the more difficult to gauge what was veritable truth and what was strange enough to be fiction.
The first of these were the brand-led April Fools that, if executed well, generate great exposure for the brands involved. Virgin Atlantic’s story, featured in the Daily Mirror, proclaimed that pioneering bosses at the airline were introducing jets with glass floors to create a ‘walking on air’ experience, enabling passengers to see the world below them. The Fool even went so far as to suggest that permission had been secured to divert the planes’ flight path north over Loch Ness.
Hotels.com plumped for a royally Foolish prank, claiming that the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace was now available for hire at the princely sum of £10,000 a night. The Fool overplayed itself somewhat by offering the chance to ‘breakfast with the Royals’, but secured Hotels.com a good spread in the Daily Express. The award for the oddest brand-led Fool however should certainly go to Asda, who announced the launch of their Fifty Shades of Grey toilet paper. This bizarre claim featured in the Daily Mail and detailed that each shade of the new range had been named after one of the eponymous hero Christian Grey’s traits.
And BMW, pioneers of the April Fool ad, unveiled the P.R.A.M. (Postnatal Royal Auto Mobile), a new model to appeal to all those yummy mummies out there, with an email address for enquiries to one Joe King.
To much acclaim, however, the winner has to be Google, which announced their ‘Google Nose’ innovation. The alleged new function invited viewers to smell what they saw on screen, creating the first ‘emanation experience’. Some even petitioned Google to make this dream a reality after realising they’d been had.
The second variety of April Fools dared to dream a little less but focused more on creating a Fool that was genuinely believable: the journalist-concocted ‘fake’ news story. The team at the Daily Telegraph exemplified this, putting forward a Coalition plan to introduce door-to-door teams to monitor light usage and ensure Britain switches off to save energy in these times of austerity. The Fool even featured the creation of a new role of ‘Light Tsar’ to enforce the project on a national level.
More light-hearted still was The Guardian’s suggestion that they would be distributing ‘Guardian goggles’ that give people a more liberal outlook when reading – proving that even the most morally upstanding of newspapers can still laugh at themselves. Channel 4 News got in on the action too, announcing that Boris Johnson had mixed up his dates and would be entering the by-election triggered by David Miliband’s resignation as an MP. Twitter added their idea to the pile, claiming that they were to begin charging Tweeters for using vowels.
The third style of Fool were those that were in fact not April Fools’ Day stunts at all, but instead weird and wacky stories designed to throw the reader off track – a dummy pass if you will.
The most convincing of these featured in The Times. This stated that NASA was hatching a plan to put $2.6bn into a robotic system that would harness an asteroid and drag it to the moon for scientific research. This was in fact TRUE. Indeed, many thought that reports that Prime Minister David Cameron had clambered into a brook to rescue a trapped sheep were too ridiculous to be valid but this story was also confirmed to be FACT.
Our own sponsorship sector saw fewer Fools than usual this year with the Synergy offering of Extendable Goal Posts for Extra Time in the Capital One Cup 2013/14 leading the way. Featuring on the back page and a full page inside The Sun on Monday, the prank alleged that due to the demands of American executives at sponsors Capital One, a rule change would see bigger goals used in Cup games next season after 90 minutes to avoid stalemates and make the periods more exciting. Talksport also put together a football themed Fool. This one centred on the managerial farce at Chelsea this season and alleged that Roman Abramovich would be taking charge of his Chelsea team as Head Coach from next season.
After so much mischief in the press in one day, readers will have returned to work casting a critical eye over stories making the headlines. But one thing is for sure…that cynical edge will have worn off by this time next year.
Synergy has been with Capital One every step of the way, from creating the sponsorship strategy to identifying the League Cup as the best property and activating it during the first season – and what a first season it has been!
League Two side Bradford City created the story of the competition, knocking out Premier League sides Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa to reach the Final. However, on the day it was Swansea City who finally overcame the underdogs, with the Swans beating the Bantams 5-0 to win their first major cup in the club’s Centenary year. Despite the match being a rather one-sided affair, the atmosphere in Wembley Stadium and enthusiasm of all the fans was electric up to and beyond the final whistle, when Fabrice Muamba, Capital One’s chief guest, handed the Trophy to Swansea City skipper Ashley Williams.
The Football League has always described the climax of The League Cup as being ‘The Fans’ Final’, and this statement was truly brought to life in 2012/13, not only by the uniqueness of the Final line-up, but also by Capital One as the title sponsor, who fully embraced this philosophy, to surprise, delight and reward the fans every step of the way, from Round 1 right through to Wembley.
Throughout the season, Synergy helped Capital One deliver fan experiences at Swansea, Bradford, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. These experiences ranged from attending team training to interviewing players, watching a match with the commentary team or even being pitchside during a game.
But Capital One and Synergy didn’t stop there, because the Final was to act as the biggest Thank You the fans had seen yet.
Sunday 24th February saw every single one of the 70,000 fans at Wembley Stadium receive a free club-branded flag when they reached their seat, which were waved with pride throughout the match.
2,000 Fans – 1,000 from each club – were transported to the Final free of charge on the ‘Capital One Convoy’, activity which was again amplified through PR via Synergy’s use of Bantams’ coach Steve Parkin with the ‘Parkin the Coach Challenge’.
Additionally, 20,000 Capital One branded giveaways, including headphones, mobile phone covers and signed shirts and balls were given away as instant gifts to match-going fans on Wembley Way.
In our 30 years’ experience working on title sponsorships, we’ve never seen more media engagement with the sponsorship. One Sky Sports presenter described the day as “the most talked about Cup Final in years”. Not bad for Year 1!
The big question is how do Capital One make Year 2 even bigger and better. We’re on the case – after a well-earned beer or two, of course.
Who knew London fashion week was first held in 1984? Well I for one didn’t…I thought it started in 1964. Despite getting this question wrong, I still received the Guardian fashion seal of approval: ‘You’ve won a seat on the front row of fashion week wisdom. Mwah. You look fabulous!’
YES fashion quiz, take that! What a sigh of relief I passed. What did this mean? Absolutely nothing, it turned out. Instead, I experienced AW13 London Fashion Week on the FROW of social media.
Established designer Matthew Williamson collaborated with esteemed photographer Sean Cunningham, who exclusively shot the designers collection using Vine and posted his own six-second clips just before the ensemble hit the catwalk. The idea was to give Williamson fans the ultimate FROW experience, focusing on the intricate craftsmanship and detail of each garment in the collection – often overlooked by regular FROWers. Fans were able to follow the Vines on Twitter through #MatthewMagnifield and on Facebook. Like Burberry, Williamson also released his catwalk soundtrack on Spotify.
Fashion socialite and acclaimed designer Henry Holland (of House of Holland) developed a capsule collection exclusively for eBay.co.uk with all proceeds from items sold on the auction site during London Fashion Week going to Cancer Research UK.
Sponsor of London Fashion Week, American Express launched ‘Fashion Insiders’ based at Somerset House. Their purpose was to assist, navigate and advise fashion week guests when needed. Sporting the latest colour block trend, American Express exclusively partnered with new gen designer Jonathan Saunders to ensure the ‘Fashion Insiders’ were suitably dressed for the occasion. The brand also partnered with fashion blogger, Disney Roll, who created a series of sponsored posts for the brand.
The British Fashion Council (BCF) made a strong statement that 2013 would be the start of the digital revolution for fashion in this country and London Fashion Week AW13 would be the starting place. For the first time ever the BFC partnered with You Tube to live-stream 21 of the on-schedule catwalk shows through the LFW channel. The BFC continues to lead British Fashion in the right direction, showing our fashion counterparts that pioneering new technologies need to be integrated into Fashion Week and remain at the forefront of the global fashion industry for the future.
Which brand wouldn’t want her as the face of their campaign? #modelbehaviour
Noticeably this season, London Fashion Week was dominated by the designers’ innovative desire to give their fans and customers the most intimate experience possible. Where traditionally big sponsors of the event may have capitalised on their dominant position, designers and models have re-emerged, laying claim on digital innovation and consumer engagement.
So, whether you want to dress up, invite your friends over or even don a pair of sunglasses for the occasion, fashion has a new set of FROWers, the ‘Socialistas.’
Advertising spend within the public sector is a contentious issue, particularly in the current economic environment. Prior to 2009, the Central Office of Information (COI) was regularly listed as one of the UK’s largest advertisers – in 2009/10 estimates put that spend at over £530m. Rightly or wrongly, depending on your standpoint, the COI has been scrapped and this figure has been cut significantly as the Government searches for efficiencies. According to Cabinet Office figures, spend for 2013 will stand at £285m – although this is still a notable increase on the £168m spent in 2012.
Experience says that this will be largely spent on traditional channels – TV, print and outdoor, with a sprinkling of digital. Perhaps it is time to challenge this status quo.
In a sponsorship deal largely overlooked, or simply missed by most, New Zealand-based football club Wellington Phoenix agreed a sponsorship deal with the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), whereby the club receives financial contributions to include alcohol moderation messaging on their signage at all home games. The deal is also thought to include image rights and player appearances, which will be used to promote the scheme across the community.
There are also a handful of examples where clubs have taken on partners from the public sector without the exchange of funds. The most recent and high profile of which is ‘Quit Smoking with Barça’, a smoking cessation campaign run by The European Commission in collaboration with Barçelona. In a similar vein, Worcester Warriors have teamed up with the Worcester City Council to launch a hard-hitting anti-smoking campaign aimed at educating children regarding the dangers and the impact on others of passive smoking. Do these examples point the way for public marketing spend in the UK?
UK Government Departments have dipped their toe in the water before. In 2004 the Department for Transport signed up as a sponsor for the British Superbike Championship to promote their Think! road safety campaign with the aim of reducing deaths and serious road injuries. The deal was renewed in 2007, before concluding at the end of 2008. In spite of this few other departments have followed their lead.
Sponsorship has a proven pedigree within the private sector, delivering against a broad range of objectives, and despite the economic downturn, the industry has continued to flourish. If you engage people around their passions, they are generally more likely to be receptive to your message – whether that message relates to a soft drink or teacher recruitment.
In Britain, we are lucky enough to have some of the most celebrated sporting, musical and cultural properties in the world, which could well provide the perfect platforms for Government communications. There are several examples that instantly spring to mind: professional football, and more specifically the FA, has the credibility and the reach to deliver a message of anti-obesity from a grassroots level upwards, while rugby union has clear shared values with the Ministry of Defence to land recruitment messaging. How better to showcase Britain as a destination than with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Glastonbury Festival or the Commonwealth Games?
This is not to say that traditional channels do not still have their place. In fact, there is a strong argument to the contrary. Empirical studies have shown that integrating sponsorship with other elements of the communications mix creates as synergistic effect, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, sponsorship has the potential to deliver truly unique content that can be distributed through traditional broadcast and digital channels to engage an audience that previously may have been considered hard to reach. In the private sector, many brands such as Red Bull (below), O2, and BMW have used their sponsorship assets in their ATL communications to great effect, creating truly memorable and engaging campaigns.
A regular supply of quality content will ensure that the audience remains engaged; an essential component for long term behavioural change. There are, of course, also instances where messaging needs to be released urgently, such as public health announcements when only broadcast channels will be effective and sponsorship is of little relevance. For longer term campaigns which have behavioural change as their core objective, I firmly believe that sponsorship has a role to play.
There could be cynicism towards the Government entering into sponsorship, however, it’s important not to forget that the funds from sponsorship have the power to contribute positively at a grassroots and community level. At a time where there are widespread funding cuts across the arts and sports – maybe, just maybe sponsorship could provide the answer.
Marketing is moving fast. Everything is changing – virtually in front of our eyes – with new rules written even before the ink has dried on the old ones.
A perfect storm of factors are converging to drive this pace of change. Social media is having a profound effect on what consumers expect from brands and how they want to interact with them.
New devices, unlimited bandwidth and the ability to be constantly connected all combine to give brands a range of new opportunities to engage with their audiences. This is leading to the convergence of the real and the digital worlds and a deep interconnection between all marketing channels and touchpoints.
But even when everything else is changing, the things that people love stay the same. That’s why sponsorship, as a route into people’s passions, is more important than ever.
As 2013 moves into full swing, we are delighted to share our perspective on the big trends that will be driving the sponsorship industry – we hope that you find them interesting and thought-provoking. Most importantly, we hope that you will use them to help create brilliant sponsorship campaigns.
“It’s good to talk,” a wise man once said. Whilst the ways in which we communicate have evolved dramatically since the days of Bob Hoskins’ well-loved ad campaign for BT, the fundamental ethos remains the same: interaction with others is a positive thing.
The options have since widened from talk to text, short messages have become instant, online statuses are there to be critiqued, commented upon and shared, and with the conglomeration of social sentiment or lines of enquiry under a single @username or hashtag, this communication has never been quite so publicly personal.
Heavyweight oxymoron perhaps, but the Zuckerbergian philosophy of perpetually open dialogue has changed the way in which many people treat their day-to-day interaction with peers. From the mundane daily blow-by-blows through to the occasional comedy gold of an acerbic internal monologue, Facebook’s ‘pedestal for your thoughts’ has profoundly altered its users’ perceptions of personal disclosure.
Though Twitter may have taken up the baton in the running commentary stakes, extending the bounds of our influence beyond merely an invited circle of friends, it’s unlikely that it would ever have found the same reception without the training wheels of Facebook’s closed circuit test-bed. Only now you’re not just broadcasting to your friends but the world at large…or whatever proportion of it hasn’t already blocked you. Whether you use the medium as a creator, commentator or simply an interested spectator, one of the most fundamental functionalities of the platform is the access it gives to each of our own individual influencers.
At one end of the Twitter spectrum, for example, you’ll find award-winning comic and unabashed atheist, Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais), whose 3.8 million acolytes can follow and engage in, amongst other things, his regular Humanist musings. At the same time, just a few clicks away there’s His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (@Pontifex). B16 (as he’s universally not known) may only have tweeted 23 times since setting up his username in December 2012 (I wonder whether he’s linked it to his Lockerz account…?), but has already attracted almost 1.5 million disciples. In what other universe could you anticipate such completely divergent personalities sharing real estate – and, without doubt, followers?
The ability of social networks to help ‘ordinary people’ connect with their idols is something that has not been lost on brands or self-promoters alike, with the most ubiquitous activation of the fan-hero interaction being the ‘Twitter Q&A with…’ – generally using a single hashtag to collate user questions for whomever happens to be responding. With the burgeoning popularity of Google+, yet another dimension has been brought to the table, as invited fans have the opportunity to video conference with the talent in question. Footballers Beckham, Bojan and Barton have all participated – and you can watch Joey/Joe/Joseph’s OM+Vous tchat here.
Whilst this certainly alleviates any worries over whether your questions are in fact being answered by a svengali agent or on-message PR – it’s doubtless to raise a new raft of potential issues for those involved.
You need only look at some of the recent Twitter meet-and-greets involving footballers to understand how certain wags (no, not those WAGs) have managed to divert the focus of these sessions away from their original objectives with the odd well-placed barb.
Which led on to my favourite enquiry for a striker with time on his hands, @greglarmouth asking, “I’m expecting a parcel on Thursday, would you be able to sit in for me while I’m out? I have Racing UK & ATR & my sofa’s leather?”
I’m not suggesting that the adi moderators actually let these questions slip through to Stevie, but the important thing to remember is that anyone following the aforementioned hashtag would have been able to read (and possibly be inspired by) these not-quite-so-serious Qs for Mr G to A.
One of the most interesting exchanges I’ve recently followed involved film director Duncan Jones (son of David Jones, otherwise known as David Bowie), whose debut feature Moon screened on the BBC over Christmas. Both a critical success and a personal story (Jones tweets prolifically under @ManMadeMoon), the film explores themes of loneliness, identity and self-discovery – amidst a lunar setting and with an appropriately stellar lead performance from actor Sam Rockwell.
Undoubtedly proud that his work was showing on the Beeb, Jones – who is based in LA – conducted a live conversation on Twitter whilst the movie played. This was perhaps the ultimate director’s commentary, with Jones candidly responding to followers’ questions and revealing some genuinely fascinating insights into the film-making process throughout.
The conversation developed further, with Clint Mansell, the composer of the film’s haunting soundtrack, chipping in on particular subjects. If that wasn’t enough @iamclintmansell also brought prolific tweeter Irvine Welsh (@WelshIrvine) into the wider fray, given he is currently scoring the the movie adaptation of the Scottish writer’s novel Filth.
As with any foray into social media, you need to know what you’re getting into – both for an individual or a brand. It’s not just your voice, opinions or frequency of communication that matter – it’s also your audience. As a footballer you will inevitably divide opinion amongst rival fans (even tweeting for the National Team, I’d wager), whereas expressing defined views on politics or religion will undeniably generate a counter-point.
You’ve just built a wall on which the bored, dissatisfied or just plain witty will inevitably scrawl. Moderation and filtering will only get a brand or individual so far before the main unanswered consumer Q becomes “Why am I following them?” @RickyGervais will happily laugh, debate with or block such contributors, whereas His Holiness doesn’t have the same freedom as a figurehead to interact when #AskPontifex delivers questions such as:
We have WiFi on our trains, our buses, in our cafés and bars and even across the underground network– but why is it still not commonplace across our sports stadia?
Most clubs and sporting bodies will boldly claim the importance of social media as a platform with which to engage their fans and will often boast record numbers of ‘Followers’ and ‘Likes’, along with gains in emerging markets. Yet strangely, very few have recognised the potential commercial value of having a ‘connected’ stadium to improve the match day experience for both those attending and, perhaps more significantly, for those that are not through the sharing of content that this enables.
I recently attended a seminar on the changing habits of sports viewing where one of the panel, a senior marketing figure at a Premier League club, claimed that there was no need for WiFi in a football stadium, as he didn’t feel that fans had the dwell time within a match to update social media sites or consume additional content. I couldn’t disagree more.
On a matchday, 3G networks are over-burdened with people trying to access the internet via a mobile devices, making progress painfully slow- the modern digital-savvy customer neither expects nor is willing to wait. Like it or not, we live in a world where people share almost every facet of their lives in real-time and expect content to be available to them – free of charge – whenever they want it. Conversations, both online and offline, are driven by people’s passion…and there are few more passionate than your average sports fan.
These people want to share photos, videos and opinions and they want to do it as the action unfolds. This wealth of crowd-sourced content is not constrained by the confines of the stadium – it is consumed by fans in all corners of the globe. Its power lies in the affinity that exists between fans: it is the reason we read sports blogs and the reason that we follow complete strangers on Twitter – we often value its honesty more than any communication by a club via more formal channels.
For the club and its sponsors this opens up a world of opportunities – limited only by the imagination of the marketer. Think digital programmes, live match stats, pre-match press conferences, competitions, live betting offers and more. Want to pre-order and pay for your half time beer? It’s all possible.
At its most basic, increasing the quality and frequency of your social media output will increase your reach, which (putting a commercial hat on) can only make you a more commercially attractive entity. Monetising your fanbase is no longer just about selling season tickets and shirts, it’s about growing your reach within a given market to demonstrate your standing and influence to potential commercial partners.
This is not to say that there is not a handful of players out there that are doing it well. The Rugby Football Union has recently signed a partnership to make Twickenham the most digitally advanced stadium in Europe. This is starting with the installation of an ‘LED fan-engagement and advertising system’ which will “boost interaction and engagement with the crowd” by displaying fan messages of support. Meanwhile, Real Madrid and Barcelona have signed deals with Cisco Systems and Telefonica respectively, in order to provide hi-density WiFi networks – two deals which are likely to be largely value in kind.
While the pace of uptake has been somewhat surprising, I have little doubt that it will eventually play a significant role in the way that we interact with live sport. The question is how will sponsors take advantage?
A sponsorship opportunity outside of sport is something few brands consider. Sport is considered a safe environment for a brand to begin a sponsorship as it can reach the masses quickly, its assets are measurable and it has a proven track record of success.
Fashion, on the other hand is far more complex and its assets appear less obvious, resulting in many brands staying away. However, 2012 has seen a shift in emphasis as more and more brands are targeting consumers through fashion. Don’t just think of this as a female market though; the first Men’s Fashion Week, London Collections: Men launched earlier this year, putting the male influencers firmly on the fashion map and changing the way men are perceived in the industry.
Fashion has always been part of the British DNA. The industry has developed into a £21bn business, with its spending influence on other industries standing at over £37 billion. It is little wonder that brands are now waking up to the opportunities that this represents.
Through their partnership with Benefit make-up, Diet Coke has also connected to a socially-savvy female audience. Their Facebook app has created a dialogue that enriches consumers’ lives, whilst going beyond the brand and giving consumers a credible reason as to why they are in this space. The brand has also successfully integrated its above the line ‘Puppet’ campaign with its digital offering, once again making fashion accessible to all. Diet Coke has stepped into the new era of sponsorship known as the ‘Social Era’, which has enabled them to engage with the female market on a scale and depth that has never been possible. It has created a sense of higher purpose, allowing the brand to create a sponsorship programme that truly resonates with its target audience. Since embarking on their 3-year strategy to implement their fashion objectives, Diet Coke claims sales have increased 4.9% year on year.
Mercedes-Benz is a luxury brand that has built-up its fashion portfolio over the last few years as a sponsor of Fashion Weeks around the globe. Staying ahead of the game, they quickly recognised the importance of bloggers within the fashion industry and signed the most decorated fashion blogger in the world, Liberty London Girl to bring the latest news from the front row at Fashion Week. Changing perceptions of the typical Mercedes-Benz driver remains key for the brand, and associating themselves with the fashion-set has helped shift this change in attitude. They’ve also been quick to identify male growth in this area and recently sponsored GQ magazine’s Best Dressed List, which this year saw the brand working with the magazine on an exclusive photo shoot featuring three of the brand’s elite performance cars. Mercedes-Benz was also a sponsor of the first ‘London Collections: Men’, which the British Fashion Council (BFC) ran in June.
An unexpected brand that hit the runway during NYC Fashion Week this season was Google+, which showed off its rather fetching £1.5k augmented reality glasses in an exclusive tie-up with designer Diane Von Furstenberg. If Luke Skywalker were to make mobile phones, this is how he would have done it. However, despite how they look, Google are not risking the product flopping next year when they launch ‘Project Glass’, and have made a clear move to market this product as a fashion accessory. Turning geek into chic? I’ll let you decide.
It almost seems rude not to mention Vodafone when talking about fashion these days, as the brand has rapidly become the service provider for the fashion set. Last year they introduced mobile phone chargers under the seats at London Fashion Week; a move which quickly became the talk of Twitter, and was picked up by the majority of fashion blogs. The brand also gives customers once in a lifetime VIP experiences, with exclusive backstage access and tickets to London Fashion Weekend. Similar to Diet Coke, this makes high-end fashion accessible for the everyday consumer. Vodafone have never tried to be something they’re not and in entering the fashion world they’ve found a space in which very few brands are active.
Danielle Crook, Vodafone’s UK director of brand marketing, argues that Vodafone are “helping people to do the job they’re there to do”. She says Vodafone has heeded the warnings of fashion industry insiders, who point out that brands have failed in their marketing objectives when they have come in and tried to take over the space.
Sponsorship in this industry isn’t as straightforward as sticking a badge on London Fashion Week and hoping for the best. Brands need to look beyond and think strategically, offering a deeper engagement and an insightful brand experience that genuinely enriches the customer’s experience. The UK fashion industry is dominated by many rights holders, including retailers on the high street that are driven through touch points such as magazines, TV, film, radio, social media and amplified through events, awards, designers, stylists, retailers…all held together by just one governing body, The British Fashion Council.
There are no obvious restrictions to this creative industry and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a wide open space ready to be challenged and moved by brands that want to make a meaningful contribution and enrich the lives of females, and increasingly males, through content, dialogue, and entertainment. We should all be aware of the fashion industry that follows us round on a daily basis; fashion is all-inclusive and no brand should claim that they don’t ‘do’ fashion. If they delve below the surface, these brands may just discover more than they first realised.
Synergy Sponsorship is a trading division of Engine Partners UK LLP, a limited liability partnership. Registered in England & Wales No. OC365821. Registered office 60 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7RT, United Kingdom. List of members’ names open for inspection at registered office.