On a recent Monday morning, I made the questionable decision to buy myself some followers on Twitter.
Egged on by a colleague and a feeling of intrigue, I plugged in my details and purchased 1,000 followers for the princely sum of £8; the speed and ease of the exchange was astonishing and within 24 hours my numbers had broken the 1,300 barrier. However, as I watched my follower count rise, the novelty of the original idea began to wear off. “I sort of did it for a joke” was proving an inadequate answer to those enquiring after my suspicious follower count, and the mounting social pressure of carrying over a thousand false friends inevitably resulted in a torturous Sunday morning spent blocking my 1,100 new disciples.
The whole charade was not completely futile, however, as the brief foray introduced me to the business of purchasing followers, likes, friends and even YouTube views; a practice becoming increasingly commonplace for celebrities, brands and even regular folk like myself. I was totally unaware of the exercise, and was stunned at the number of ‘fakes’ flying around social media, and Twitter in particular. Allegedly, only 28% of people following the 20 most popular Twitter accounts are real, and it has been reported that only 15 million of Justin Bieber’s 38 million followers are authentic. This is likely to be through no fault of his own, as the Twitter-bots and inactive accounts who sell themselves for money attach themselves to real accounts as a way of avoiding detection by Twitter’s supposedly effective spam filter.
Indeed, a quick flick through my new followers unearthed a few dubious characters (Jarvis Wenger, Jason van Smith) and a few incomprehensible names that seemed to be a random combination of numbers, letters and punctuation (I’m looking at you, SL:17-cv7).
However, not all big-name characters with large social media influences are completely innocent when it comes to artificially inflating their social media profile. Mitt Romney fell under suspicion for impossibly immediate rises in followers during the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, whilst 50 Cent and Diddy are alleged to have shown that even the coolest cats are not averse to social media ego-massaging.
The pertinent question that arises from this is why people would bother with this practice in the first place. The answer for the most part is credibility. Nick Ashton, the creator of fake online guru Santiago Swallow, argues that on social media it is easy to confuse popularity with credibility. Much like a long line outside a restaurant, having a weighty Twitter following can be an easy way of enhancing reputation in the eyes of others. Even at my lowly level, this was exhibited by a friend receiving a text from a colleague asking ‘”Who is Rob Guppy and should I be following him?” Despite the predictable “definitely not” response, it is easy to see that a larger number of followers can make you stand out from the crowd.
However, beyond this initial mirage of credibility, is there any benefit to artificially augmenting follower counts? In other words, is there a correlation between number of followers and one’s social media influence? My personal score on Klout, a site that analyses social media behaviour, certainly suggested that this was (infuriatingly) not the case and, given that there was zero interaction between myself and my new mates, this was hardly surprising. The whole operation seemingly only served to improve the external aesthetic of my Twitter profile page.
This leads us to a more significant area of discussion for people and brands that chase social media love and focus purely on numbers of likes, views and followers they accrue. As recently expressed on the Synergy blog, pure figures are no longer sufficient and ‘participation’ is now crucial in any interaction between brand and consumer. The difference between an inactive follower and an interactive one is immeasurable. If connecting with the right people, this level of ‘participation’ can be incredibly valuable in introducing consumers to brands and influencing their behaviour.
The reasoning continues that it would be more valuable for a company to have 100 highly engaged consumers than tens of thousands of seemingly passive onlookers. Indeed, sponsorship is one way of sparking this conversation and increasing the engagement between brand and consumer.
In short, I believe my short-lived experience can be seen as a microcosm of a brand chasing Twitter followers: admittedly, my social media profile was slightly raised by my follower count increasing five-fold, but beyond that I gained nothing (not even a single re-tweet). The 200-odd followers I had previously earned legitimately tend to direct me towards content, interact with me and, to a degree, educate me, but the one-way process of me tweeting at the 1,000 Twitter-bots and inactive bods brought me nothing. The whole process underlined that whether real or not, purely chasing followers or likes for the sake of it is an out-dated concept. Level of participation will be the new measure of a brand’s social media influence, with those parties that successfully engage with consumers and catalyse conversation the ones that will benefit most.
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.
After racking up 11,734 miles over 48 days, the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Trophy Tour has come to an end…well nearly!
During this year’s tour the RBS 6 Nations trophy crammed in more activity than ever, visiting 96 events and posing next to 16 landmarks across the UK and Ireland. It checked in at 13 RBS offices, 9 local branches, 13 rugby clubs, 4 schools, 12 media houses, all 6 RBS 6 Nations stadiums on match days, 1 East London shopping centre and many more. This diverse range of activity provided multiple opportunities for RBS stakeholders including staff, clients and customers to snap, hold and even kiss the trophy, and feel that much closer to the RBS 6 Nations.
In total, over 7,770 people attended an event with the trophy and 4,136 pictures of people posing with the silverware were taken.
For 2013, we really wanted to increase the buzz around the trophy tour. As such, we encouraged people who interacted with the trophy to tweet about it using our #trophytour hashtag, which reached over 300,000 people. As well as using Twitter, this year we created a Tumblr blog, posting and uploading photos daily, to increase the reach and to enable followers to track the trophy on its travels. As you’ll see from the blog, we gave the trophy its own humorous tone and personality.
My beloved white transit van transported extra RBS branding for the trophy, and this ‘pop up gallery’ created an eye-catching area for the trophy to grab the attention of passers-by.
During the RBS 6 Nations, Ulster Bank made full use of their week with the trophy, packing in 17 events in 5 days. Each day followed a similar pattern, with an early start for a customer breakfast at a selected office, and even the Savoy Hotel one morning. Here the trophy would be joined with Ulster Bank ambassadors Alan Quinlan, John Hayes and host Adrian Logan for a Q&A session. From here the trophy would travel to local schools, hospitals, branches and finally a local rugby club for another Q&A session. During these appearances the trophy was on display with the Irish legends, and their presence made the photo opportunities even more popular. And of course, the Ulster Bank Mascot, Henry the Hippo, got involved with the trophy action.
When the trophy wasn’t scheduled in with one of the RBS divisions, we created a raft of PR activity. The trophy made appearances on ITV’s Daybreak, BBC Scotland, STV, talkSPORT, BBC’s The One Show and A Question of Sport, as well as visiting media houses in Manchester, Cardiff, London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, which drove further social media buzz by media titles and journalists.
My favourite visits were to local schools and RugbyForce clubs, where the children and club members greeted the trophy with incredible excitement and enthusiasm. It was a fantastic experience to take the trophy to true rugby fans and give them the chance to get up close and personal with it, which also secured great coverage in the regional press.
This is just a snippet of the trophy activity over the past couple of months and there is still more to come in the near future, once Wales have finished celebrating with it! Having covered over 6,500 miles of a near 12,000 mile journey, I can say that every step of the way was priceless, with the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Trophy Tour an overwhelming success by any measure.
A couple of weeks ago my brother and I set off for the Saracens vs. Harlequins match, safe in the knowledge that the game would definitely be going ahead (despite the freakish sub-zero weather conditions) due to the artificial pitch, and keen to experience the new Allianz Park. Saracens‘ vision is ‘to be the most innovative, hard-working and caring rugby organisation in the world’, so at this official opening of their new stadium I was interested to see how close they are to meeting this ambition.
Earlier in the week I had received an extremely clear and helpful email from Saracens detailing the match day itinerary, the travel options and any other info we might have needed. If one of the key objectives of a rights holder’s ECRM is to improve the customer experience, then this email certainly ticked that box. Whilst it was by no means ground-breaking, it is striking how often this is either absent or uninformative in the build-up to a big event.
Following our travel instructions, we were warmly greeted at Mill Hill East tube station by one of the Saracens Pioneers. These volunteers have been selected to help deliver the perfect match day experience, no doubt inspired by the widespread acclaim for the Olympic Gamesmakers and to position Saracens as a club for the community.
Then a free (and spacious) shuttle bus whisked us to the stadium and we collected our tickets without any fuss. Again, these are perhaps small things that a sports fan should expect on a match day, but which can so often be sorely lacking.
It must be said that we weren’t totally blown away by the Stadium: although the new East stand is impressive, the existing West Stand and temporary seats on the Barnet running track didn’t exactly scream out ‘new stadium’, but there was no lack of effort from the club to make their opening feel special. A Legends match (featuring among others Jason Leonard and Thomas Casteignede) took place before kick-off, adding further value to our £20 match ticket.
In the innovation stakes, (aside from the pitch), Saracens have installed two giant video screens which provided a fantastic picture throughout, and for this fixture they also took a 360 degree fan-pic at the game for fans to tag themselves on Facebook (I’m the one in the red hat in the middle!).
Whilst a fan-pic at an event is now familiar territory, Saracens added an interactive element by offering the chance to win a signed shirt for spotting Sarrie the Camel, and also gave fans who were unable to get a ticket (the match was sold out) the opportunity to add their profile picture to the shot. Perhaps Saracens could have done even more with this by promoting the picture on the big screens and asking fans to smile for the camera! I also think the big screens could have had a more interactive element to them – for example Saracens could look to add a Twitter ticker-tape running along the bottom of it so fans can add their thoughts on the action. As we saw at the Olympics, initiatives such as the kiss-cam and bongo-cam are great ways of getting the crowd involved in the action and these big screens offer this opportunity. If Saracens really want to become the most innovative rugby club around, then the most obvious first step for them will be to provide free wi-fi at the ground (a topic that we have discussed many times on this blog). A partner deal like the recently announced MLB and T- Mobile and Liverpool F.C and Xirrus initiatives would really allow fans to interact at the stadium, and Saracens already have a mobile app which could, in time, become the tool that gives supporters the ability to interact with the game in real time.
In terms of the sponsor activity on the day, there was a clear winner: despite Allianz’s naming rights deal, it was Domino’s Pizza who stood out. They have given fans the chance to get pizzas delivered to their seats at half-time (which seemed to be a popular option in the freezing cold) and their half-time catching challenge between Saracens and Harlequins fans also proved to be popular. It will be interesting to see if Allianz remain passive in their activation and apparently happy to rely on the media value driven from the stadium name and shirt sponsorship, although I have since spotted that they are running a reporter competition on Facebook for their next home game.
After the match, fans were encouraged to take to the pitch and kick a ball about (taking me back to the days of bringing my bat and a ball along to The Oval for some throw-downs on the outfield). As you can see this proved really popular with the kids (both big and small) and reinforced Saracens’ positioning as a community-friendly club. We went to de-frost with a few pints (with our souvenir cups – see below) in the longest match day bar in the UK, and there the Saracens band played and the Man of the Match (Mako Vunipola) was presented with his award. This was a really nice way of allowing the fans to get closer to their heroes in a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere after the game. On the way out of the ground, a large Pepperoni Passion pizza for a fiver capped off a really great fan experience for us!
It really seems that Saracens have considered the fans’ journey every step of the way, and we had a great debut experience at Allianz Park. On the day, their stars on the field didn’t disappoint and faster, better rugby was produced due to the 4G pitch. Whilst Saracens may still have a little way to go on the innovation front, they are certainly ahead of the game in terms of putting the fans and the community at the heart of everything they do; more rights holders should definitely take note.
As such, there is a real onus on sponsors to produce unique and engaging campaigns in order to stand out from the crowd and deliver a return on what would no doubt have been a sizeable investment.
At this year’s tournament, telecommunications provider AT&T have managed to do so by using the @MarchMadness feed to bring real-time video highlights to the fans.
While this may not seem like such an exciting development, drilling down deeper into the mechanics of the service reveals how this opportunity could lead to a revolution in how rights holders, broadcasters and sponsors can collaborate to leverage branded content on Twitter.
Turner, the official tournament broadcaster, have partnered with Twitter and quick-share video start-up SnappyTV to bring fans 15-second highlight clips of key plays via embedded video Tweets. Content is selected in real-time by Turner’s social media team, who use a combination of human judgement and SnappyTV’s social media monitoring software to track the most talked about moments in the game. In less than a minute, the relevant clip can be posted online for people to view and share with their friends. This example from Florida Gulf Coast’s improbable run to the round of sixteen shows the technology in action, and the ensuing Twitter conversation around highlight plays.
(Unfortunately, clips are geo-blocked to the US only but AT&T’s pre-roll can be viewed regardless of location. Refresh the page if you missed it!)
While this technology isn’t new (it was used in last year’s tournament by Turner), this year is the first time that sponsors have partnered with Twitter to bring these clips to fans via a short pre-roll ad with embedded video content.
Why we love it
In the past year, Twitter has invested significantly in figuring out the tricky task of how to make money from the social conversation around live TV. Snappy TV’s video highlight service has given sponsors, such as AT&T, the chance to emotionally link their brand with high-stakes knockout tournament basketball, and the thrills and spills that this entails.
AT&T have also understood the demand for fast, shareable content and utilised the technology available from SnappyTV and Twitter to create a seamless user experience, where video content can be accessed without the need to click on an external link. This ease of use has enabled users to easily retweet and share highlights with their friends, thus giving AT&T the additional benefit of being seen favourably by the consumer as the provider of their chosen video highlight.
For the broadcaster, advertising opportunities around sponsored video highlights can mean additional revenue streams as sponsors increasingly wise-up to the benefits of supplying eminently sharable content to an already engaged and passionate fanbase.
While this technology is still in its relative infancy, the growth potential in this medium is significant. Current reports project Twitter’s ad revenues will reach the $1bn mark by 2014, with the most significant growth projected to occur in the mobile sector. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how many brands will follow AT&T’s example and embrace the potential of second screen advertising.
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.
As the New Year dawned, everyone had their opinion on what would be the biggest trends of 2013, and the ‘Internet of Things’ was a common theme. As the name suggests, it’s all about connecting objects rather than people and points to a future when hundreds of billions of everyday objects are connected to the web and ‘talk’ to each other. That day is clearly still some way off, but brands are starting to explore the endless possibilities of connective technology. Nike have produced connected trainers that capture the data in our physical movements, and ‘Smart Homes’ from British Gas enables customers to remotely control their heating via mobile devices. However, Budweiser have used the technology in a way that has particularly caught my attention.
As Canadians huddled around their televisions on Super Bowl Sunday, they were introduced to Budweiser Red Lights in the product’s debut TV spot, and within an hour, they were sold out online. So what exactly are they? Budweiser have picked out one of the icons of ice hockey, the red flashing light synonymous with rinks throughout Canada, and offered fans a unique chance to have them installed in their living rooms. The lights work by connecting to WiFi and syncing to an app to discover the team you support, and react when they score. So when your team’s goals fly in, the light illuminates in all its flashing glory.
Since the initial ad, the story has evolved as Budweiser have introduced Ron Kovacs, the brand’s official spokesperson and installer, who is travelling around the country delivering the lights. He has his own twitter account, but with a mere 635 followers perhaps consumers have not bought into the character as much as the product.
Strategically it is clear to see that Budweiser, who recently lost a legal battle to sponsor the NHL, were keen to find another way in which to associate themselves with the sport and resonate with the fans. They have certainly achieved this, as the Budweiser Red Light is the ultimate home accessory for the avid goal-loving hockey fan. Budweiser have explained that ‘as a brand who loves ice hockey, they wanted to create an innovative experience to elevate those key moments during the game when celebration is at its peak’.
While the concept is enough to get any hockey fan interested, what impresses me most is the technology and how Budweiser have utilised the ‘Internet of Things’. The ways in which brands continue to connect devices and collect data will shape the future of how we all interact with the world. According to one estimate there will be 40 billion things online by 2020, whilst another suggests it will be closer a trillion. In truth, nobody really knows but as the ’Internet of Things’ continues to develop it will certainly be one to keep an eye on. However, for the time being it seems that Budweiser are leading the way, connecting the technology with a seriously fun innovation.
How much should you pay for a ticket to a football match or gig? In the past, the answer would have been simple: whatever the seller sees fit to charge you. However, the act of a company, brand or team selling access to their assets has developed substantially in recent years. Slapping a one size fits all price on an asset (and hoping for the best) is no longer an appropriate concept in this social era of consumer choice, and various companies, sports teams and bands are recognising this.
But the point isn’t just that ticketing is changing to absorb changes in consumer behaviour – it is fundamentally being driven by business priorities. In recent times, there has been a steady increase in pioneering pricing strategies, honesty payments and social media-influenced purchases, as parties in the sports and entertainment industries look for ways of maximising revenue through innovation. In industries such as live sport or music, with large fixed costs driving a high minimum cost per match or event, these innovative pricing strategies can represent a win-win for consumers and companies alike.
The Digonex pricing strategy is one approach that is spreading through American sport, and is beginning to be adopted by British sports teams. Described catchily as a ‘fan driven pricing system for event ticketing that scientifically changes prices based upon econometric and behavioural principles’, the system allows for ticket prices to be changed daily depending on market conditions. Similar to booking a flight or ticket to the theatre, the system allows for the flexibility to alter prices for every game dependent on demand.
Following a drop in attendances, brought on by collective belt tightening across their fanbase, Derby County were the first British sports team to test this pricing strategy. Having received special dispensation from the FA (usually clubs can only alter prices for four games per season), it is already proving a success, with attendances noticeably on the up. Tickets for all games are made available at the beginning of the season, meaning sensible Rams fans can book their tickets for big matches in advance to save them purchasing a more expensive ticket closer to the game. In order to appease season ticket holders, Derby have also ensured that ticket prices never drop to a price that would represent better value than a season ticket.
Cardiff have followed in Derby’s footsteps by adopting Digonex and Bristol City are soon to follow. Two Premiership rugby clubs are reported to be close to adoption of the system and the spread is expected to continue to major European sports teams. And why wouldn’t it? When fans can get cheaper tickets, and clubs can benefit from larger attendances and higher revenue on seats that would otherwise have been completely empty, everybody wins.
More recent examples are ‘pay what you want’ schemes for specific matches, dreamt up as a response to tricky economic circumstances and dropping attendances. Mansfield Town saw a doubling of their attendance when adopting the scheme for a game in 2010 and Brentford FC are running a similar promotion for a match against Stevenage in February. Supporters are able to pay whatever they want to for a ticket for the match (over £1) and 50% of any excess over £5 will be passed on to the ‘Sport Relief’ charity. In all these cases, the point is that the tickets would otherwise remain unsold – with no revenue to the club and no bums on seats. With minimal costs to the club involved in hosting an extra fan, this will boost club revenue and help fans out during tricky economic times – while also possibly introducing new fans to the club and generating goodwill through the donation to charity.
These innovative pricing schemes aren’t all just about direct impact on revenue though. Over recent years, there has also been an increase in one-off sales schemes by sports teams and bands as a way of reaching new audiences and/or showing themselves in a positive light. Most famously, Radiohead made a bold move by relying on ‘honesty payments’ for their ‘In Rainbows’ albums in 2007. Denounced and praised in equal measure, opinions differ on whether that move was a financial success. It is clear that money was not the primary driving force behind the idea, and similar moves have become increasingly prevalent around sports.
The evolution of social media is also having an effect on ticketing, with AEG, Malaysia Airlines and KLM examples of brands leading the way with inventive schemes. As an attempt to take on Ticketmaster, AEG have introduced their innovative ‘AXS’ ticketing service. As well as making life difficult for touts by seeking out automated servers purchasing large numbers of tickets, they have introduced a system that allows purchasers to reserve adjacent tickets for friends through Facebook for concerts, shows and other events. Alerted by Facebook, these friends have 48 hours to purchase these tickets knowing that they will be sat next to their mates. Again, it looks like everybody wins. Fans will have a better time sitting next to their mates (and not having to shell out on their friends’ tickets with the inevitable sluggish paying back process) and companies have a happier crowd. This may not directly impact on revenue, but it is likely to have an indirect effect on consumer morale.
Malaysia Airlines and KLM have gone one step further by attempting to socialise the art of booking and taking a flight. When booking a flight, users are reminded of friends who live close to their destination and informed of any friends who may be making a similar journey. Users also have the opportunity to share their itinerary, and through the seat selection process, are able to select seats next to Facebook friends. This clearly comes with a few privacy/stalking implications but the concept feels like a landmark step forward.
Why are these ideas on the increase? In each of these cases, the innovation behind the schemes opens doors to opportunities that benefit each of the stakeholders in the exchange. With Digonex, previously unsold tickets are more likely to be taken up, satisfying fans and helping the club put bums on seats. In a similar manner, the schemes by Malaysia Airlines and KLM give the airlines unique selling points, and the flying experience is enhanced for those making the journey. With the subject of rising ticket prices forcing itself towards the top of the sporting and entertainment agendas, this sort of innovative use of assets can help to maintain and develop healthy relationships between purchaser and seller.
Having been slightly underwhelmed by certain pop-up venues away from the official Olympic events, a visit to the Mizuno Performance Centre was met with a certain level of trepidation. On approach, the grubby windows of the building did little to attract passing footfall, and it was only through strained eyes that the extensive Mizuno window displays could be made out. This seemed a shame and a missed opportunity, yet we were greeted inside by friendly staff decked out in striking purple uniforms. They directed us up the Mizuno-adorned stairs to an exhibition room that was filled with staff but noticeably short on visitors.
The concept behind the ‘Mizuno experience’ was first hand consumer involvement with the brand. This was achieved through three sporting tests, each performed wearing a different set of Mizuno footwear from their new ‘Seiei Collection’. The football and handball challenges involved measurements of accuracy and speed; we were issued with a pair of boots for football and, perhaps slightly unnecessarily, a pair of trainers for the handball. Nevertheless, all the footwear received unanimous nods of approval for lightweight feel and comfort. The technology raised the challenges above other similar, simpler experiential events and it was the athletics experience that represented the most impressive area of the centre. We were each handed a pair of Mizuno spikes and invited to record our quickest times over 20 metres on the custom-made indoor track. Accurate times were recorded and replays of the sprints were shown on surrounding widescreen TVs.
Away from the challenges, an exhibition showcased Mizuno’s Japanese heritage, whilst the VIP rooms provided the brand’s athletes and corporate guests with a place to unwind, away from the Olympic hustle and bustle. Part of this included a Mizuno wall, where athletes had scrawled notes of thanks to the brand for their continued support. It seemed a nice touch and lent the lounges a more personal feel.
Due to Olympic regulations, Mizuno were unable to leverage any of their ambassador assets around the Centre, and instead cleverly relied on sketched sporting artwork on the walls. This presented a slight issue when it came to any of the Synergists naming a Mizuno athlete, which in turn reflected a bigger issue for Mizuno: as impressive as the centre was, do ventures like this provide real value for smaller sports brands when breaking into Western markets so dominated by the larger companies?
The Performance Centre represented a display of how a brand can showcase itself in a simple yet effective manner. The challenges allowed a level of immersion into the brand in a way that did not feel overly gimmicky, and the crisp and clean technological delivery was thoroughly impressive. It was a fine showing from Mizuno through a series of athletic experiences, which, when handled differently, can so often lead to indifference and disappointment.
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.