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.
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.
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!!!
2012 brings one of the best summer of sport line-ups ever on the Sky platform. As the pre-eminent sports broadcaster in the UK, it was only natural that Sky chose to showcase its glorious HD offering of these events in style.
Sky Creative Director Barry Skolnick, alongside directors Ivan Bird and Mark Harris, devised a concept for a campaign that was to focus on the blood, sweat, tears and hugely demanding preparation that go hand-in-hand with being an elite athlete. Off the back of two highly engaging campaigns created by Brothers and Sisters for the 2011-12 Football season and 2012 F1 launch – the HD Summer of Sport campaign was born.
As part of the planning, management and execution of the campaign, Synergy was enlisted to consult on the use of elite athletes and IP, and to manage the entire athlete management process for all the Sky Sports Scholarships athletes involved. This included management and scheduling of appearance time, liaison with agents and governing bodies, management of contractual rights, on-site management of athletes, content gathering, image approval, and finally, athlete promotion via social media channels upon the ad’s launch.
Each athlete was shot in a non-intrusive fly-on-the-wall style piece of filming usually only accessible to coaches. All footage was captured in three weeks with shoots in several locations including Ireland, Spain, Portugal, London, Peterborough, Loughborough and Manchester.
Overall it was a truly insightful and inspiring to spend time with these athletes in this most intimate of settings; whether hard at work in a 50m pool, tucked away in a boxing gym or half-way up a mountain. The effort, devotion and natural ability displayed by each athlete brought to life some incredible footage which will no doubt inspire and engage people to show their support for the best that Britain and Ireland have to offer in what is set to be an incredible Summer of Sport.
Cadbury is well known for its fun and games when it comes to creative advertising, and haven’t disappointed with the new campaign to promote the new Dairy Milk Bubbly. Welcome to ‘Joyville’ – an imaginary magical land where chocolate is made.
The ad includes chocolate helpers appearing from hidden places in a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired setting of bubbly, melting chocolate. Launched on Google +, the campaign also came with a real-world component, a musical chocolate fountain in London’s Westfield Shopping Centre in White City.
This year the Cadbury brand has also presented us with the Blippar-powered augmented reality digital game ‘Quaksmack’ for smartphones. Chocoholics can point their smart phone at a packet of Cadbury goodies to start playing, while of course being exposed to multiple brand messages. The game forms part of Cadbury’s Spots v. Stripes London 2012 campaign.
Why we love it
Cadbury Dairy Milk has been championed as the nation’s favourite chocolate since its launch back in 1905. Their association with the expression of Joy, introduced in their late ’70s advertising and reinvigorated in 2007 by the infamous Cadbury Gorilla ad, has created a sense of magic around the brand, with the latest campaign creating a space that captures the imagination and curiosity whilst tapping into youth, fun, happiness and enjoyment.
We love the approach, the unique positioning for an Olympic sponsor, and that they chose to transform a physical space into a chocolate-flavoured factory full of life. Alongside the tangible live element to the Joyville campaign, the use of innovative digital technology within the ‘Stars and Stripes campaign’ shows an appreciation that immersive brand experiences can be as much virtual as real-life. The association of fun and games with a serious competition such as the Olympics is an interesting angle which ties in perfectly to Cadbury’s principles and brand messaging. After all, games are great – they get people playing, they bring people together and sometimes they even reveal an undiscovered talent.
With brands like Cadbury embracing such a creative approach, it is not hard to imagine a world of the future, full of fun and games, where your experience begins the moment you step outside your front door; where your smartphone becomes a vessel of endless possibilities, a seamless integration of digital and live, creating vastly enriching experiences. Imagine trying on that suit or dress you have just spotted in the latest film at the cinema in a matter of minutes, or downloading a recipe for your favourite dish whilst watching someone cook it in front of your eyes.
To promote its sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sainsbury’s created a short video of David Beckham being put through his paces by David Clarke, team GB’s Blind Football legend. Widely seeded online, on TV and in cinemas, the video raises awareness of the Sainsbury’s 1 Million Kids Challenge, which aims to get a million children to try a Paralympic sport, and its sponsorship of the Paralympic Games overall.
Why we love it
Sainsbury’s ‘Paralympic Games-only’ sponsorship is an exciting innovation in itself. This is the first time that the rights for the Paralympic Games have been carved out and sold separately to those for the Olympics (although Olympic sponsorship still includes the Paralympic Games as well). Sainsbury’s can use this differentiated position to derive some key benefits.
Firstly, unlike Olympic venues, the London 2012 Paralympic Games’ venues and athletes can be branded. With 150 hours of Paralympic Games footage to be broadcast on Channel 4, it will deliver plenty of ‘natural’ brand exposure for Sainsbury’s. In addition, the Paralympic Games provide some truly emotive stories of excellence, inspiration and dedication that resonate with the consumers and, critically, are different to the Olympic stories that will be told by the other sponsors. As Sainsbury’s Head of Sponsorship, Jat Sahota, said: “There are amazing individual stories, but it is important not to overplay the adversity angle – they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things; they are elite athletes. There is a richness to those stories that I think the British public will respond to more than some of the Olympian stories.”
Using David Beckham as a Paralympic Games Ambassador is an interesting choice. Whilst it is unusual to have an ambassador for an event who has never participated in it, Beckham’s involvement is a good way to deliver its messages to the widest possible audience. It is obvious, though perhaps slightly regrettable, that a star of mainstream sport is a great candidate to help convey the Paralympic Games’ message.
Signing up the much-loved Beckham is unlikely to be a step in the wrong direction for any brand, but it’s what Sainsbury’s did with him that made this use of an ambassador so successful. The ABCDE model tells us that content is a vital part of excellent sponsorship, and the combination of a fascinating insight into blind football, combined with the allure of Beckham’s talent and good looks (sorry!) makes for compelling viewing. Football is the best loved sport in the UK, and so provides a good route into the discovery of Paralympic activities for those with little prior knowledge.
The last time blind football caught the public’s attention to such an extent was probably when Paddy Power released this controversial advert in 2010 and Sainsbury’s approach to blind football, naturally, could not be more different. It evokes the skill required for the sport, provoking exactly those feelings of inspiration and patriotism that the best sponsorships should.
The 1 Million Kids challenge is an ambitious programme to promote Paralympic sport to the mainstream, and using Beckham as its Paralympic Games ambassador shows that Sainsbury’s is serious about trying to make this happen.
Sainsbury’s core asset might be the London 2012 Paralympic Games, but by creating content that combines this sponsorship with a superstar ambassador from outside the Paralympic world, they are truly maximising its impact.
In order to celebrate 100 years since the creation of the Spirit of Ecstasy, our fellow ‘Engineers’‘Partners Andrews Aldridge’ and Rolls-Royce commissioned the British photographer Rankin to capture 100 contemporary images of the female form that are inspired by Rolls-Royce’s renowned symbol, including her power, speed and beauty. In his own words, this was “one of the biggest projects (he) has ever taken on”. The stunning collection of prints were shot over the course of the year and hosted exclusively at Rolls-Royce Motor Car events and dealerships throughout the world including London, LA, Beijing and Sydney, finishing in Cologne this month.
Why we love it
Firstly, we feel the partnership between Rankin, a modern British style-icon, and Rolls-Royce, a brand that represents both classic British craftsmanship and contemporary engineering, is spot on. A brand like Rolls-Royce needs to strike the balance between reinforcing its heritage without overly relying on it, and this modern celebration of the centenary of its ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ strikes this balance very nicely.
By teaming up with Rankin, Rolls-Royce have also created a fantastic platform to create original and stunning content for their upmarket target audience, who are likely to be passionate about the arts and the work of the ‘in vogue’ photographer. Most importantly, going forward, these images have also given Rolls-Royce the opportunity to create some unique DM material to send on to their customers, a nice way to get into the hearts and homes of their most valued clients. Ultimately, one of the most important roles of a succesful partnership is to give the comms of a brand a lift; and these amazing photos most certainly do that.
The recent 100th edition of my beloved Stylist magazine got me thinking about the changing face of content on the streets of London. Commuters now have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose when it comes to free reading matter: Stylist on a Wednesday is followed by Shortlist and Sport on Thursdays and Fridays respectively, with Metro and City AM free every weekday morning - and, of course, the Evening Standard for the journey home. The fact that none of these cost a penny is great, but more important than that is the high editorial quality – they contain things that people actually want to read.
The free paper phenomenon started with News International’s The London Paper and Associated Newspaper-produced London Lite in 2006. Both were criticised for lightweight content and ceased publication in late 2009 – a result both of slipping circulation numbers and the Evening Standard becoming free. Critically, the ES has since maintained its editorial quality, a fact recognised with its 2010 victory in the Media Week awards, at which it won two of the most prestigious accolades in publishing – Media Brand of the Year and the Grand Prix Gold.
Since then however, there have been some new faces at the party – Stylist and Shortlist, published by Shortlist Media, as well as a revitalised Sport magazine. These magazines are free yet premium, self-consciously branding themselves…’freemium’. The idea is simple: lure customers in with free, high-quality content, and make money from advertising, a concept surely validated by its inclusion as a task on this year’s Apprentice!
It’s certainly not just about being free, as the quality of the content is vital – in the words of Karl Marsden, Managing Director of Shortlist Media, “no-one does the ‘thousand-yard stare’ like a British commuter intent on reaching their destination.” The combination of a free, desirable, high-quality magazine with reliable distribution channels is built to lure customers in and ultimately generate revenue from advertising.
Some, however, doubt the sustainability of this revenue stream, suggesting that as competition increases as free content proliferates, the money raised from advertising will diminish, raising doubts in turn about the sustainability of the whole model. There is no doubt that the world of written content is in a huge state of flux. Indeed, Mike Soutar, founder of Shortlist Media, attributes the rise of the ‘freemium’ magazine to the evolution of online content and customers’ subsequent expectations that they can access high quality journalism for free. And yet the basis of this assumption is already changing, as certain publications erect paywalls around some of their online content.
I know that as an avid Stylist reader I’m not going to stop eagerly taking my copy outside Goodge Street station every Wednesday morning. For now, I hope that the virtuous circle of a free magazine with high-quality content and money raised solely from advertising continues. The only worry is that one of these things will slip and we will move from virtuous circle to vicious cycle.
As mentioned above, a key concern is the ongoing viability of revenue from advertising. This could mean one of many things. Perhaps certain magazines will disappear altogether as their business model becomes less valid, or less drastically, their editorial standards will slip as they are forced to lay off staff. Might certain ‘freemium’ magazines start charging, gambling on the loyalty of their readership? This seems unlikely in a cluttered market, though the establishment of paywalls around previously free online content suggests that it shouldn’t be totally ruled out.
However, I believe that the answer, at least for the near future, might lie in this week’s subtle change to the Metro newspaper: more advertising. But for levels of quality to stay the same as advertising becomes less valuable, the hope has to be that revenue from increased volume sales offsets the lower price at which it can be sold.
Whilst I don’t know the answer, my fear is that the ‘freemium’ market as it stands isn’t stable in the long-term and a higher proportion of free magazine space will soon be taken up by advertising. I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but at the moment I’d advise you to watch this space.
Synergy, working as part of a cross agency team, has developed a rugby campaign this autumn to activate the GUINNESS brand’s rugby partnerships with the RFU, WRU, Scottish Rugby and the IRFU. Synergy contracted GUINNESS rugby ambassadors Lewis Moody, Lee Byrne and Sean Lamont (alongside Irish winger Tommy Bowe) to create an integrated campaign across TV, print, digital and PR targeting international rugby fans.
The ambassadors featured in print ads showing them flying the GUINNESS flag and giving their all for their country, in doing so proving that they themselves are made of more. Point-of-sale creative was rolled out in pubs and supermarkets across the country offering fans the chance to win tickets to the RBS 6 Nations (of which GUINNESS are Official Beer Partner).
Synergy secured national and regional press, broadcast and online coverage across England, Scotland and Wales through interviews with the players. Dynamic action shots of the players accompanied the interviews linking their national flag with the flag featuring in the TV ad campaign and reinforcing the brand’s support of the home nations.
To get fans closer to the action, we sponsored the Lewis Moody app to deliver an exclusive blog. GUINNESS fans who left messages of support for both Lewis and Lee on the brands Facebook page had the chance to receive personalised messages back from the players.
For those fans that haven’t been able to follow their team out to New Zealand, our man “Hutch” has been supplying a weekly video diary of his travels and meeting the home nations’ supporters.
To engage fans offline we took England pace man Ugo Monye to Asda in Gloucester to meet fans and staff at the supermarket, allowing them to have their photo taken with the rugby star and take part in the GUINNESS Rugby Reflex game.
Finally, the campaign’s TV ad, directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper and produced by ad agency AMV, sees our intrepid hero overcome an army to prove that he and his team are made of more. Check it out below.
You name it, someone out there will probably try to buy it, sell it, or, in the case of OJ Simpson, nick it. Allegedly. So what’s the fascination with collectibles, and why will ordinarily sane people part with extraordinarily daft amounts of money to own them? To me it’s about either possessing a tangible part of your hero, a slice of sporting history…or, and this is where the big bucks come into play, both.
In terms of sporting collectibles, baseball rules the roost; from the $10,000 spent by chewing gum maker Curt Mueller on a piece of spent gum from Arizona Diamondbacks Luis Gonzalez, to the ball struck by Mark McGwire for his record-breaking 70th home run in 1998 – bought by comic book creator Todd McFarlane for a staggering $3.05m. Especially staggering when you consider the record was subsequently tainted by McGwire’s admission of steroid abuse during that season…the baseball shedding two-thirds of its auction value. Less home run, more own goal.
But if you think that sports fans have the market cornered (as well as signed, framed and independently authenticated) – think again. It’s the movie buffs that really know how to splash the cash to get their hands on a piece of Hollywood heroes or history.
In 2008, a miniature TIE Fighter model spaceship from the original Star Wars movie sold for over $400,000 and Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber made almost a quarter of a million dollars. Surprisingly though, in the memorabilia stakes, chic overcomes geek, with Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s selling for just under $1million and James Bond’s gadget-filled Aston Martin DB5 going for $4.1million.
What, might you ask, has any of this got to do with marketing, per se? Well, if you need to ask, then you obviously haven’t seen the recent Nike Mag campaign.
For those of you not aware, Nike Mags were the futuristic sneakers worn in Back to the Future II by hero Marty McFly when visiting Hill Valley, year 2015. For a quick reminder…
The self-lacing, self-illuminating hi-tops went on to become the most sought-after movie footwear since Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers, whilst creating veritable product placement lore for their creators, Nike.
Many have crudely tried to repeat the trick, most notably Will Smith’s Converse-obsessed lead in I, Robot and, subsequently, the Puma-wearing inhabitants of The Island. Given that each member of the latter’s identically-shod population is, in fact, an irretrievably doomed clone of a corporate paymaster, you have to think that Puma really should have read the script before involving themselves.
What sets Nike apart from the aforementioned brands is that the trainers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character were simply an ‘ain’t-it-cool’ vision of the future for the movie’s teenaged audience, appropriate to Nike’s own brand trajectory; they weren’t linked to part of a specific marketing campaign, and were categorically not made available for purchase by their makers.
Hot on the heels of Total Film’s 2010 ‘Future Day’ hoax, forums were buzzing earlier this year with the rumour that Nike had taken out a patent on an ‘automatic lacing system’. Nike sneakers with power laces on their way? Not quite, but an ingeniously timely tease nonetheless.
In fact, the Oregon-based sporting superpower had finally chosen to make film buff dreams a reality, by producing a limited run of 1,500 pairs of ‘2011 Nike Mags’.
With illuminated LEDs that can be recharged after a long day switched on in their display cabinet (as though anyone is actually planning on wearing these) the 2011 models are, in fact, not of the self-lacing variety. This is rather unsubtly explained courtesy of the movie’s co-star, Christopher Lloyd – AKA Doc Brown – in the video below, where it becomes clear that said technology will only be available in 2015 (the year he and Marty visited in BTTF2), and that the DeLorean time machine has erroneously brought him to a point four years too early.
So, after all the hype and fervour, how can I get hold of a pair, you ask? Well, unfortunately you’ve already missed the boat: the entire lot were auctioned off over a 10-day period on eBay in early September. Although bidding started at $0.99, over-excited demand amongst collectors and scalpers alike saw standard prices kick off at around $4,000. Who pays $4k for a pair of slightly ugly-looking trainers? Well, no one, it would seem. The first pair actually sold for the princely sum of $37,000 to one Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu – that’s Tinie Tempah to you and me. His PR or Nike’s…it’s hard to tell.
But never fear: Nike’s ruse was all in a very good cause (besides fleecing a few overpaid musicians). It turns out that the brand had partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, all profits from the auctions going direct to the organisation.
Nike (with a little help from eBay) capitalised on the perfect storm of memorabilia-hungry Back to the Future fanboys, obsessive boxfresh sneakerheads and understandably fervent supporters of the Parkinson’s research projects – raising $5.7million in a mere 10 days. This was doubled to $11million by the ubiquitous Google, whose co-founder Sergey Brin has pledged to match donations to Fox’s foundation until 2012 to the tune of up to $50million.
Nike has demonstrated just how far ahead its thinking is from its competitors’ in respect of memorabilia, limited edition wares and product placement (even retrospectively). And who’s to say that the ‘2015 Nike Mags’ won’t be released to the general public in four years’ time anyway?
They’ve hit the sweet spot between collectible and commodity, and through the nostalgic lens of one of the most popular movie franchises of all time, have delivered a lesson in slow-burn brand marketing.
But coming back to the crux of the argument, people will do anything for their own part of an image, an icon, a moment or a man – heart over head, irrational and absurd. As Huey Lewis once put it: that’s the power of love.
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