The merits of a loyal customer base are well explored in consumer marketing. Some suggest that it is 6 to 7 times more expensive to attract a new customer than retain an existing one, whilst the impact of a longer term relationship on the bottom line is clear to see. Brands will fight tooth and nail to ensure that they retain their share of your wallet.
In the sporting world, rights holders are often guilty of assuming loyalty amongst their consumers – the fans. Sports fans are, on the whole, unique; few would defect to a ‘competitor’ if they felt that they were more successful, that ticket prices were lower or that the overall in stadium experience was of a higher quality. And with decreasing reliance on match-day revenues to generate cash due to the size of broadcast and sponsorship deals, there seems to be little incentive for the rights holder to nurture this relationship.
A ticket – or, more specifically, a season ticket – is an expensive and considered purchase which carries with it a significant opportunity cost. The price elasticity may be less sensitive than with other consumer goods, largely due to the tribal and passionate nature of the average sports fan, but it is still very much a key factor in decision making. No rights holder wants an empty stadium – it not only contributes to a decrease in overall revenue but begins to devalue their brand.
Step forward the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Sounders put the fans at the heart of everything that they do, and what they have created is one of the most sophisticated and well thought out fan engagement programmes that I have seen in any sport.
Now in its second season, the MatchPass programme is helping to create a closer relationship between the club and its 32,000 season ticket holders. Its primary function as a ticketless swipe card for entry into home games is nothing new. What makes it stand out is the rewards programme that it feeds. The card is swiped at each food, beverage and merchandise transaction to earn points and unlock exclusive rewards such as stadium tours, signed merchandise or a chance meet a player on the field after the match. In addition, members also receive exclusive discounts on the items they buy when using the pass. The card can be preloaded with credit for a completely cashless experience and can be used throughout their CenturyLink Field stadium.
MatchPass is also helping the club to shape positive behaviours, with fans encouraged to arrive 30 minutes or more before kick off for an early-bird points bonus.
The Sounders are not just improving their relationship with their supporters but also making themselves a more attractive proposition for sponsors. Data collected provides valuable customer insights into purchasing habits and match-day behaviour, whilst reward programmes can help to encourage product trial and generate loyalty – extending the relationship outside of the match-day environment.
Rights holders around the world should take note. You can’t assume loyalty. You need to earn it.
We remember them, we loved them, and now the Corinthians are back. The Capital One ‘Superstars’ social media campaign re-launched the famous big-head-little-body Corinthian models, by giving football fans the chance to be one of 1,000 to win a Corinthian in their own likeness. And who better to act as Head Of Quality Control than Craig Robinson, owner of Britain’s biggest Corinthians collection!
To launch his new role, Synergy set Craig up to speak with the media about his collection of over 5,000 of the little chaps and tell us how they came to feature so prominently in his life. As I entered Craig’s house, I was overwhelmed by all the little faces staring back at me from Craig’s purpose-built, football terrace style cabinet.
After instantly spotting Junichi Inamoto, the sole representative in the cabinet from my team, Fulham FC, Craig took me on a trip through retro football icons such as Temuri Ketsbaia, Marc Overmars and even Gabriel Batistuta. Craig then spoke with the media about the day in 1995 when he began his collection with an Alan Shearer model bought from Woolworth’s. Craig described it as a simple case of a young lad seeing something and saying “I have got to have that”.
When asked to name his favourite model, Craig unhesitatingly replied that this was of courseRuel Fox. Craig is not only a huge Corinthians fan but also an avid Newcastle United supporter, and Fox was his favourite player as a child. After meeting Ruel, Craig then introduced me to the most sought-after member of his collection, ex-Arsenal player Stefan Schwarz. The Swede may seem an odd choice for this accolade, but it turns out that the manufacturing of the player’s model was cancelled at an early stage, and only a handful were made. Craig in fact received him through the help of a Dutch collector, who knew that Craig needed Schwarz to complete his set. And as Craig continued to discuss the network of collectors around the world, I sensed a real community spirit. This is serious business however, and Craig’s collection is insured for £25,000.
After a final few minutes spent gawping at the likes of Faustino Asprilla and Stig Inge Bjornebye, we finally left Craig in peace, sure in the knowledge that Capital One had put his passion firmly back on the map. Coverage of the interview featured widely in the media, including this great piece in the Mail.
For as long as advertising has existed, leading practitioners have highlighted the importance of brand storytelling. Explaining where a brand has come from and why it exists is fundamental in emotionally connecting with a consumer. But what happens when a brand leaves the mood-rooms and storyboards of advertising and enters the world of sponsorship? A world where individual ambassadors carry the responsibility of a brand on their very human shoulders.
Lance Armstrong made one statement in his interview with Oprah Winfrey that epitomises the problem:
“This story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation and I look at it. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it’s just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”
Nike told this story like an advertiser would and they did it extremely well. The problem is, as we now know, they were selling an advertising concept, and one that a single individual couldn’t hope to live up to. Armstrong is not alone. Time and again athletes are put on pedestals which are, in truth, tight-ropes. Global superstars will always slip if they’re sold as something they’re not.
The alternative is to sell the stories of who people truly are. To continue the Nike example, the emergence of Andre Agassi in the ’90s as a Generation X ambassador was an opportunity for Nike to tell a real story about a real person who stood for the very same things Nike did at the time. Interestingly, when Agassi revealed he had taken shockingly illegal drugs during his playing career, there was a surprisingly repressed response from media and fans. People loved Agassi even more for the mistakes he made throughout his career and the person he became because of it. It’s a genuine story, not a marketing concept, and as a result the truth could never ‘come out’.
It’s easy to take two of the most famous sponsorship cases in the last 25 years and pin them at either ends of a spectrum of right and wrong, but there are lessons to be learnt. At Synergy we talk about the importance of ‘Authenticity’ in sponsorship. It is the first step of our Social Era ABCDE model, and this is a key example of why it is so vital.
Consumers have a desperate thirst to discover the often layered centre of their sporting heroes, not just the shining exterior we see in ghost-written autobiographies. Brands that can root their own story to that of an ambassador have much less to lose than those that become attached to a polished veneer.
All of which brings us to Tiger Woods – another Nike athlete with a perfect story that unravelled spectacularly. The major difference between Lance and Tiger being that whilst doping revelations have utterly compromised Armstrong’s performance credibility, it is sporting prowess alone that has brought about Woods’s redemption.
Perhaps this has helped Nike discover the real truth about sporting ambassadors: maybe, for a performance brand like them, the story doesn’t matter at all.
This is shaping up to be a bumper year for England Cricket (whether you agree with the scheduling or not). Our boys are set to face the Aussies home and away with two back-to-back Ashes series and 10 Test matches within four months.
The question is: what can we expect from sponsors during this cricketing feast?
There have been some great sponsorship campaigns in the UK over the years including Betfair, Adidas, Marstons and Buxtons, and in our view, the conditions are in place to take it to another level again to create something really ground-breaking.
Secondly, it will attract a big audience. This year’s Ashes are already looking to be a record-breaking sell-out across all five venues staging Tests, with a rush for tickets as soon as they went on sale. And across TV, radio, print and the web the crown jewel of cricket will as always pull in enormous audiences in England, Australia and beyond.
Thirdly, the appeal of England versus Australia goes way beyond the traditional Test cricket audiences and into the realms of the Casual Sport Fan. What’s more, The Ashes is a tournament that combines a strong mix of banter, patriotism and humour, which is the perfect platform for creating unique and amusing social content that celebrates one of the most famous of all sporting rivalries.
And finally, social media has reached a critical mass. The way that audiences engage with cricket is expanding beyond the traditional channels. Modern sports fans have embraced technology: it’s a core part of their increasingly fragmented media consumption diet plan. Nothing will replace TMS, but Twitter has made cricket easier than ever to follow and the variety of content is unmatched. Where else can you find out both the latest score and who on the team is having a bad hair day? This gives brands that want to use cricket to reach their audience far more exciting opportunities.
The campaign Synergy created for Betfair in 2009 was one of the earliest socially-centred campaigns in cricket. We used social channels to fuel the banter while Jason Gillespie and Phil Tufnell brought the Anglo-Aussie Ashes rivalry to life. Great content, big promotions and physical rewards (tickets and merchandise) attracted fans and kept them engaged throughout the summer of cricket. And that was in the early days of social media – imagine what is possible now.
We can see more great examples of cricket campaigns from around the world.
Coca-Cola provided a great example of what is possible in cricket when they built the ‘Coca-Cola Beach’ at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). Not only did Coca-Cola create a brilliantly orchestrated experiential zone within the venue, they also developed a fully-integrated campaign using Facebook, POS, online, PR and TV. By using Sydney residents Shane Watson, David Warner and captain Michael Clarke, Coke’s campaign encouraged consumers to buy a bottle and win a spot on the beach – the ultimate seat in the SCG.
A cricket tour, which can last for 3 months, gives a brand plenty of time to stage a slower-burn, wide-ranging campaign. In India, Nike capitalised on this by creating ‘Streets to the Stadium’. The campaign focused on a set of young Indian cricketers who were offered a chance to join the roster of the National Cricket Academy by winning the Nike Cup. Along the way, they engaged over 8,000 cricketers and 2.5m Facebook fans via the brilliant content they released on their social media channels.
Mobile is another rich area for cricket sponsors. Vodafone’s Live Cricket app currently offers fans the chance to chat to the commentators and get up-to-the-minute stats and scores – whilst this is all useful, it’s nothing ground-breaking. Brands could go so much further. With its rich tactical nuances, deep statistics and frequent breaks in play (between every ball), cricket is the perfect platform for a brilliant second screen experience.
Apps also have the opportunity enhance the in-stadium experience. Imagine the perfect cricket app that allowed you to order a pie and a pint from your seat, to rewind and watch replays, send messages to the big screen and switch to a front row seat camera view. All possible. The one thing holding all this back is the availability at Test match grounds of free WiFi. But things are starting to change, and Lord’s is leading the way by launching free public WiFi last summer in the media centre, hospitality and public areas, which will be rolled out across all stands in 2013.
There is no doubt that the conditions are right and the ingredients are there for a brand to shake up cricket sponsorship. And the even better news is that there is a property available: principal sponsor of the England Cricket Team.
Brit Insurance, the current sponsor, has already announced that they will not renew their deal at the end of their contract, citing a ‘strategic change in business objectives’. They have also made it clear that they are prepared to terminate their deal early if a new sponsor can be found. In many ways, it’s a surprised that no-one has stepped in already to take advantage of the Ashes double-header. In fact, the new sponsor could be looking at three high-profile series against Australia, a Champions Trophy and a World Cup, all in the next three years.
This type of opportunity is simply too good to miss. Let’s hope the next sponsor, whoever it might be, gets the delivery right and then smashes it out of the ground.
If you watched the BRITs last week, there would have been certain moments that would have grabbed your attention. It could have been Taylor’s Swift’s raunchy new look or perhaps James Cordon and Nick Grimshaw’s intimate moment, but what I was more interested in was witnessing the climax of MasterCard’s Priceless Remakes campaign, in which competition winners featured with artists in the sponsor’s TV idents.
MasterCard’s Priceless Remakes campaign was launched by Rita Ora, Conor Maynard and Delilah earlier this year. To celebrate its fifteenth year as BRIT Award Sponsors, MasterCard gave fans the chance to remake their ambassadors’ videos and experience how it feels like to be a star through professional make up, wardrobe, film crews and direction from Emil Nava.
The premise was simple: fans were invited to film themselves re-creating a video by Rita, Delilah or Conor and then upload it to a dedicated website: www.somethingforthefans.co.uk. Three winning videos were chosen by the artists and the winners went on to star in the Pricessless Remakes idents screened during the BRITS.
Why we love it
MasterCard have taken a standard but highly valuable sponsorship asset – their idents – and given it to the fans. An ad slot that most people would have probably ignored thus became a piece of engaging content that created a real talking point among viewers, with MasterCard at the heart of it. While the show was being aired there were hundreds of tweets by people discussing the idents, mostly with MasterCard mentions included. And the reach for the idents itself was huge by music standards – 6.5m viewers (peaking at 7.5m) – making it the most watched BRITs ceremony for 10 years.
The campaign has also secured plenty of editorial coverage and, by building a series of phases into it from the start of the year, extended MasterCard’s association with the BRITS beyond the event itself.
What made it all the more impressive was how it was used across a range of platforms – TV, print, outdoor, digital and especially social media – to gain attention and drive engagement. The Facebook page and website provided a larger draw to the campaign, with Twitter and YouTube used to get more people involved. The content created throughout the campaign was exploited and worked into various clips for different purposes including the winning videos, 60-second ads, bumpers, teaser films and ‘making of’ clips.
Lastly, the campaign has managed to take the brand to a younger audience. By utilising brand ambassadors such as Rita Ora, MasterCard have engaged credibly with the next generation. At the heart of the campaign is the ethos of giving back to consumers, and with the current zeitgeist for the younger generation being that of quick fame, the prize will have also bought some love for the brand. By allowing this younger audience to experience ‘Priceless’ in a way they appreciate, MasterCard seem to have struck a chord.
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.
“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:
Having played a vital role in London 2012, BMW unveiled its next major investment in British sport only a few days after the Closing Ceremony, in the shape of a new partnership with England Rugby. The partnership, conceived for BMW by Synergy, will develop the next generation of elite England Rugby talent through the newly-created BMW Performance Academy, as well as seeing BMW create a range of initiatives for England rugby fans at Twickenham and nationwide.
The launch event to unveil the partnership was led by England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster, backs coach Andy Farrell and Director of Operations Rob Andrew, and hosted at BMW Group UK’s Brand Academy and centre for excellence at Wokefield Park. the national rugby media heard the RFU and BMW present plans for the 30 players that have been selected by the England coaches for the BMW Performance Academy. Through BMW’s support, the players will receive tailored programmes to help them progress from the RFU coaching team, access to BMW mentors, advanced driver training and work experience. This combines BMW expertise with development needs of young players and will help develop the performance pathway.
The fan-focused element of the partnership got off to a flying start with two activations launched at the QBE Autumn Internationals.
BMW’s Sweet Chariot Twitter promotion gave BMW followers the chance to win a ride home after each International in a BMW X5, the perfect end to a day at the rugby.
And the BMW Lounge was unveiled in the West Car Park at Twickenham, giving fans a premium experience in a convivial atmosphere pre- and post- match and the chance to meet England players.
Keep an eye out during the RBS 6 Nations for more from BMW and the RFU on the road to 2015.
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?
Analysis of industry data suggests that the F1 ecosystem raises over £1b per year from sponsorship. This includes Team Sponsors and Suppliers (ranging from £100m for the big boys to £20m for the smaller teams), F1 Partners (around £25m per year in cash or Value in Kind from each of the 6 global partners) and Race Sponsorship (around £10m for each of the races with title sponsors plus trackside advertising).
To put that into context, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games raised around the same amount (£750m from domestic sponsors plus around £250m contribution from the IOC for TOP partners) – but that was for a 4-year cycle.
So here’s a question: Given how much is spent on it from some of the world’s leading brands, why is F1 Sponsorship not at the leading edge of sponsorship thinking and activation?
It’s fair to say that F1 is ahead of the game in virtually everything else it does. So surely F1 Sponsors should be cleaning up at the major sponsorship industry awards. In fact, over the past 5 years, an F1 sponsorship has won only once out of a possible 47 SIA awards (Vodafone’s Best Sponsorship of a Team or Individual in 2009). Case studies from F1 should be inspiring sponsors in other sports. Here at Synergy, we should regularly be showcasing examples from F1 in the ‘What We Love’ section of Synopsis. But this just isn’t the case – at least not to the extent that one would expect.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great pieces of activation in F1 (I’ll point out some of them later), but as a whole, F1 sponsorship is pretty uninspiring.
Having run the Reuters sponsorship of WilliamsF1 from 2000 – 2003 (yes – I agree – it was nowhere near ‘award-winning’!), I thought I would have a go at answering that question based on my own personal experiences.
1. Most Formula One sponsorships are B2B
Reuters primarily used F1 for B2B relationship building. A quick scan of F1 sponsors shows that over 40% have significant B2B businesses. There is little better than F1 if you have a relatively small number of high-value, global customers who you reach through targeted sales and marketing programmes. Travelling around the world to all the key markets, Formula One and Paddock Club™ are the absolute gold standard of corporate hospitality. With this being the focus of the brands’ activation programme, it is little wonder that it remains unseen by the mass audience, award panels and the Synopsis editors.
The activation challenge for the B2B partners, however, is to create the most compelling brand stories and event experiences to attract their audience. Because the fact is, especially in the small markets, most of the B2B sponsors are going after a very similar audience, in some cases exactly the same people.
2. There is too much focus on brand exposure and logos on cars and not enough on activation
Whenever brand exposure is such a critical part of the sponsorship package, it is easy to rely too heavily on it at the expense of all the other things you can do with the sponsorship. I absolutely hate the “media value” figures that are at the heart of so many F1 sponsorships. However, it is easy to measure and as long as the media value is bigger than the cost of the sponsorship, brands can be tempted to think “job done”. In comparison, Olympic sponsors can’t rely on any media value to justify their sponsorship. That’s why they have to work much harder and be far more creative with their activation.
A knock-on effect of this over-emphasis on media value is the fact that it can lead to an under-investment in activation. Typically, the rights fee is so high (because brands are paying for the exposure) that there isn’t enough left over for activation. I’m not a big believer in any rule-of-thumb ratios, but the proportion of rights fee to activation spend when I was at Reuters is definitely not going to make it into any how-to textbooks. I suspect this isn’t unusual for F1 sponsors up and down the Paddock
3. The calendar gives you no time to plan and develop great campaigns
The F1 season is relentless. The first race is in early March and the last race is in late November. In between is a never-ending cycle of travelling and managing the day-to-day execution of race weekends. Everyone goes on holiday during the 4-week summer break and at the end of the season, which then leads into Christmas. Trust me, if you want a year to fly past, get a job in F1.
Which basically just leaves January and February to do any sort of campaign development. But even those months tend to be dominated by tactical planning for the season ahead. There just isn’t the time to think about a season-long campaign or a brilliant piece of activation.
Another challenge is the global scale required by an activation campaign. Japan, Abu Dhabi, Britain, the US and Brazil have very little in common with each other from a marketing perspective. So as an F1 sponsor you are sort of in limbo between creating and delivering a global campaign that doesn’t quite work in loads of markets and developing local campaigns which feel a bit ‘small’ and short term.
4. The F1 community is too closed
There are some great people who work in F1. However, it needs more ‘churn’.
For example, when I needed a sponsorship agency, everyone I invited to pitch was effectively a specialist F1 agency. I understand why most sponsors do that, but it leads to a form of ‘groupthink’ where new ideas are thrown out in favour of “what we did last year” or “what we do with our other clients”.
This happens up and down the paddock. If an F1 team needs a new Account Manager, they are likely to hire someone from one of the other teams. If a brand needs an F1 Sponsorship Director, they are likely to hire someone who has done a similar job at another sponsor. If an F1 agency hires a new Account Director, they typically hire someone who already has F1 experience.
The danger of this ‘closed’ community is that it loses the fresh influences and perspectives that drive creativity.
I know it’s tough (I’ve been there myself) but I think F1 sponsors need to be braver and set the bar higher for their activation campaigns. The benchmark should not be: “we want to create the best F1 sponsorship campaign”, but rather “we want to create the best sponsorship campaign”. And to do that, I think that it is critical for sponsors to look for inspiration outside the very small world of F1.
The point of this blog is not to say that there are no good F1 activations – because clearly there are some great examples.
My point is simply that given the number of world-class brands who are sponsors in F1, the amount that they invest and the possibilities of F1 as a platform, there should be far more ground-breaking activation programmes than there are.
Some of our Favourite F1 Activation Case Studies:
Johnnie Walker – Step Inside the Circuit Series
Johnnie Walker extended this campaign with some experiential activity in Travel Retail environments but at its core was some great behind-the-scenes content, from Monte Carlo (below), India, Singapore and other races
Using a special online configurator, consumers in each country could create bespoke designs of the drivers’ race suits. The drivers wore the designs during qualifying for each race, while the best two designs as voted by the audience were worn on the Sunday during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Boss also did a good job of connecting this activation to their social media and retail channels:
In exchange for a donation to charity (which Red Bull matched), consumers could upload a photo which was then put on the car for the British Grand Prix.
Vodafone – Drive to the Big League
Vodafone introduced this initiative at the British Grand Prix in 2010 which offered one of their small business customers the chance to put their logo on the car for the British Grand Prix. Vodafone have taken it to a whole new level in India now, where they have combined it with a Dragons Den style TV programme to select the winner – watch it – it’s brilliant!!!
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