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.
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.
Despite appearing to be just a regular advert, as usual Nike brings in another dimension, this time including ‘hidden content’ within the video. Nike gives viewers the chance to engage and interact in a variety of ways by entering different ‘tunnels’, whether it’s viewing the biogs of some of the lesser known players or the chance to explore some unique content – such as this recently released viral video featuring Mario Balotelli.
Nike utilises its individual sponsorships, bringing big names such as Ronaldo and Iniesta to the forefront of the campaign. However, in keeping with the ‘hidden content’ theme of this ad, Nike not only uses its ambassadors’ faces to capture the world’s attention, the brand also offer viewers a further insight into its major stars, by revealing relevant and exciting content about each one.
Nike cleverly combines the excitement of both engaging and unexpected content making you want to watch the advert over and over again to be sure you don’t miss anything.
‘My Time Is Now’ was released on May 18th, and as of the end of the month had 14 million views…clearly I’m not the only one who loves this ad!!
Recent web buzz research commissioned by our social media partners at Jam has shown that Nike is far out-performing its rival and Olympic sponsor Adidas as the brand most associated with the London 2012 Olympic Games. Nike is dominating the social media conversation, with a staggering 7.7% of Olympic mentions being linked to Nike compared to only 0.49% for Adidas. This contrast is particularly stark when one considers that Adidas committed a reported £100m to buy exclusive category rights to London 2012.
So what’s been resonating with consumers and causing this buzz…? In last month’s edition of Synopsis, Lisa Parfitt highlighted Nike’s #makeitcount campaign as a brilliant example of an integrated campaign which connects above the line, digital, social and experiential. The campaign features a number of the UK’s top athletes, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Mark Cavendish and Mo Farah, showing them at their most intense moments during training and making personal pledges for 2012.
Nike has now seeded a series of online films which feature various sports stars including Mo Farah and Rio Ferdinand to build on the theme.
But the campaign really comes to life in the way that it connects the public to the core insight that “If you have a body, you are an athlete”. This quote by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was the tweet to launch the campaign and provide the call to action for everyone to get involved. The in-store element at both the Oxford Circus and Westfield Nike outlets allows you to be professionally photographed alongside your own handwritten pledges: the images and pledges are displayed around the stores and of course shared via social media.
Later this year we will see the launch of the Nike product this campaign is paving the way for, FuelBand. Already launched in the US, FuelBand tracks your physical activity through a sport-tested accelerometer, which then translates your activity into ‘NikeFuel’. So whether you are walking, running, dancing, playing football, tennis or golf, Nike allows you to collect, analyse and (most importantly) share your performance. The idea is that you set a goal for every day, then go out and beat it. It’s the gamefication of fitness. Life is a sport. Make it count.
The Nike marketing machine has been in overdrive. Both pre-sale windows sold out in less than three minutes in the States and you can expect the same in the UK before it goes on sale on May 1st. Look out for Nike’s standard combination of iconic sports stars, great on-line video content and tightly integrated social media activity.
Why we love it
This of course isn’t the first time we’ve seen Nike launch into either a fully-integrated campaign or demonstrate effective ambush marketing during an Olympic year.
But the most amazing thing is how Nike continue to set the marketing pace. As Nike’s marketing spend approaches $2.4bn, less than 15% of that is now spent on traditional media (there has been a 40% decline in spend on TV, Outdoor, Radio and Print over the past 3 years). As the biggest sports brand in the world, they shouldn’t be good at this – younger, edgier, more nimble competitors should be the subject of blogs like this.
And it is working. Thanks to this digital focus, if it wanted to, Nike could reach 200 million people every day via its various social network platforms. #makeitcount indeed.
[Note: some stats and insight for this article came from this great piece in Fortune Magazine.]
Football, gaming and music became one in a brilliant piece of cross branded content from Umbro, the official kit supplier to the England football team. In conjunction with the Sony Xperia Play smartphone, the brand helped to facilitate a groundbreaking test into whether a football video game can actually be played out in real life.
Two 5-a-side teams were kitted out in Umbro branded strips and footwear, and led respectively by England striker Darren Bent, and Kasabian lead singer Tom Meighan. Darren and Tom controlled their teams using specially modified Sony Xperia Play handsets, to send commands to their players to run, pass, tackle or shoot. Check out the video yourself to see who came out on top.
Why We Love It
In the busy world of sports marketing and sponsorship, the battle is always on to deliver content that really affects the target audience. Successful sponsorship strategies are typically based around putting the consumer at the very heart of the campaign. How can we demonstrate true relevance for our customers? What can we give them to truly engage with our brand? Above all, how can we help them to actually care about our brand at all?
In previous editions of Synopsis, authors including Carsten Thode and Tom Gladstone have touched on how brands can use their audience’s passion points to really establish a compelling conversation. The rationale behind this strategy is robust. Delivering content that is of genuine emotional interest to your target consumer will make them more receptive to absorbing your brand’s preferred messaging. It is a tactic employed by many a brand, but very few execute this as compellingly as kit manufacturer Umbro.
Unlike brands from other industries and sectors, clothing manufacturers don’t have to take quite the same leap to establish relevance in their chosen sponsorship market. Umbro, in common with Nike, Adidas and Reebok, are quite literally part of the fabric of sport. Fascinatingly, instead of resting on the laurels of those sporting credentials, Umbro repeatedly choose to go one step further by associating the brand with another major passion point – music. In this instance, they added a third layer through immersion with the video gaming world.
The history between Umbro and music runs deep, particularly over recent years. In 2010 the brand teamed up with British rock giants Kasabian once more, in an innovative launch of the new official England change strip, set to be worn in the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Appearing back onstage for an encore at their gig in Paris, the band emerged clad in the brand new strip, which doubled as the official unveiling of the shirt. It marked the first time Umbro had departed from a traditional football player based launch, and emphasised the positioning of the shirt as part of the culture of football fandom.
Forget the standard 3D projection, this was an ‘Explosive Water Projection’ and a crowd of more than 2,500 people gathered around the Hudson River to watch a three-storey-tall Melo dribbling, dunking and walking on water. Of course, they were also treated to DJs, a light show and plenty of interactive experiences. Anyone who couldn’t attend in person could watch the explosive show live at a special Nike site.
Why we love it
It is wonderfully inventive and creates the ‘wow factor’ for the audience. The water gives another dimension to the graphics as they appear and disappear into the surface.
The originality of the artistic show celebrates Anthony’s vibrant, fresh skills and signals the emergence of a new era in New York for both its hallowed basketball team and the regenerated city as a whole. With Anthony as a figurehead for Nike, it shows that they are still at the forefront of player endorsement and remain as fresh as ever.
The projection itself was the first to use water as a canvas. As usual, Nike have raised the bar and moved away from the typical projections onto buildings such as AC/DC vs Iron Man on Rochester Castle or the 4D experience that Ralph Lauren produced in New York. The live stream and Nike’s always-clever use of social media harnessed the power of digital content to ensure that the campaign touched a global audience.
Anthony, Nike and New York are a brilliant combination. He represents the next generation for Basketball, with New York as his new playground. You can bet that Nike will be right in the middle of it.
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.
With the hot topic of getting more people of all ages active in the UK, a campaign produced by Nike in Amsterdam recently caught my eye that really injected ‘fun’ into running.
At the end of last year, Nike began its Take Mokum campaign (Mokum being the nickname for Amsterdam). This campaign was launched in conjunction with the Nike Run House in Amsterdam and looked to blend running with creativity in a way that encouraged people to run. To emphasise this desired relationship between creativity and running, Nike, as the world’s leading running brand, bravely used the concept that ‘running is boring’ as the big idea to this campaign.
Now I agree with this concept that running is boring. I say this because running is an activity that the majority of people take up in order to achieve a desired goal, usually weight loss, improved fitness or improved health. It is very seldom that someone speaks of the fun they have when pounding the pavements of their city. The Take Mokum campaign therefore looked to create a different reason, away from health, for society to get running.
Nike identified the creative segment of society, the segment usually associated with self-expression through music (hip-hop), design and art (graffiti), as a segment that would be receptive to the idea of a new, fun ulterior motive to run. Nike decided to appeal to this segments passion of self-expression and sense of underground culture while encouraging them to get out on the streets running. This is how Take Mokum was born.
Take Mokum gave people the chance to create a graffiti image of a running route around Amsterdam. These images ranged from a butterfly to a skull and could be constructed and shared with friends across various social media platforms, including Facebook. Allow this video to explain Take Mokum to you.
Why we like it
We like Nike’s Take Mokum campaign due to its creative approach in appealing to the passion points of Amsterdam’s youth in order to encourage them to get running. Nike has successfully incorporated a fun and creative solution to a campaign that’s primary goal is to increase youth participation in inner city running. In doing so it has brought authenticity to the perception that Nike is not just a running brand, but rather a lifestyle brand that allows you to express the individual you are – all while sharing it with your friends on Facebook.
Over the six-week period that the campaign ran, 9,000 people signed up and the app achieved 14,500 Likes on Facebook. This may not sound that impressive initially but when considering that Amsterdam’s population is relatively small (767,000), and that the 9000 Take Mokum runners would have acted as Nike ambassadors, it creates, by immersing itself in the consumer’s world, engaging conversations both on and off line around the Nike brand.
During a 5-hour traffic delay on the way to the Ryder Cup, two Synergists entered into a debate about the greatest Sports Marketing Innovation of the last 50 years. What started in the back of the car, turned into our own private mission to find the answer. We invited suggestions from the public, debated the merits of each suggestion, invited guest bloggers to put their case forward and finally put the resulting short-list to a vote. And according to you, the biggest Sports Marketing Innovation of all time was Nike’s deal with Michael Jordan.
The deal went beyond mere endorsement and created a product line purely around the player, whilst defining the relationship between corporate organisations and sports stars. According to Charlie Brooks, the communications director of Nike “…It has helped define the way the Nike brand, and the industry overall, has behaved ever since in terms of sports marketing and creating athlete signature products…”
It’s staggering, if the stories are to be believed, that Jordan originally didn’t even want to meet with Nike execs to cut a deal. The company’s association with MJ created a brand in Air Jordan that generated some of the most memorable advertising creative in recent years, with ‘Wings’ still one of the most popular posters ever printed. Almost a decade since he last played, the Jordan brand has grossed over $1 billion in sales, representing around 5% of Nike’s total revenue, with the “Jumpman” adorning the shoes of kids for whom Jordan has only ever been a YouTube myth. Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?
So, there is no doubt that we found a worthy winner…but at Synergy, that just triggered the next question. What next for superstar endorsements? Is this still a winning sponsorship strategy?
From the earliest days of advertising, the stars of the day have been employed to strengthen the promise of a brand. Whether it’s the testimonial of actress Lillie Langtry for Pears Soap, or that of US President William McKinley for his Waterman pen – both before the turn of the 20th century – we’re not talking about a new art, just one that has evolved over time.
That said, apparently, using a celebrity doesn’t guarantee success. According to research carried out by US-based firm Ace Metrix, in 2010 almost 15% of advertising in the US involved celebrities, at an estimated cost of $50 billion. And of that number, nearly 20% of commercials indexed negatively versus the advertising norm. With four out of the top five culprits from the world of sport, several UK publications suggested this as sounding the death-knell of deals for major sporting names like David Beckham.
Of course, this is partly explained by the fact that two sporting superstars for whom 2010 had hardly been a year to remember, featured heavily in this list: Lance Armstrong was accused by his former team-mate Floyd Landis of taking performance-enhancing drugs, whereas Tiger Woods, well, you don’t need me to tell you about his 2010. What this demonstrates is the height from which an icon has to fall, even if, in the case of Armstrong, the pedestal is still structurally intact.
The fact is that consumers are now a savvier bunch and it is easy to pick out where a celebrity is simply a hired hand lending stardust to a brand.
Looking at the advertising that best resonated with US consumers last year, we can see that celebrities need to bring an authenticity that is impossible to manufacture. Oprah Winfrey’s traffic safety campaign represented three out of the top four strongest performing creatives. A very ‘Oprah’ endorsement. George Clooney, another celebrity with integrity, unquestionably plays his own smooth self in Nescafe’s commercials, although it’s definitely more than just an address to camera. Turning this on its head, Kevin Bacon’s commercial for Logitech (where he brilliantly plays a Kevin Bacon-obsessed superfan) is in no way a Bacon endorsement of their specific product, but a means of connecting the brand with humour and charm often missing from the category.
This is where sponsorship begins to play a greater role for companies looking to connect with a consumer, a market or a movement. It’s about a brand in alignment with an individual. What develops is a symbiotic relationship where brands have as much to gain as they have to lose…arguably more.
Nike, of course, has since repeated the trick with Tiger Woods. Why didn’t Nike cut Tiger loose last year? Well, whilst his behaviour disappointed fans and sponsors alike, there’s no denying that he represented a longer game to the sporting giant. And his relationship with Nike is deep and authentic. Prior to Woods’ endorsement of Nike’s golf range in 2000, Nike owned approximately 1% of the global golf market. Following Woods’ signing, Nike Golf acquired approximately 4.5 million customers and in 2008 posted revenues of $648 million – a direct result of the Tiger who came to tee. Estimates suggest that even the 100,000 or so consumers that left the brand in the wake of his extensive indiscretions never actually defected to a competitor, impacting instead a net loss on the golf industry as a whole.
So, authenticity is key. In an attempt to find it, a new avenue has been explored by brands over the past couple of years: offering the celebrity more than just cold hard cash, but a job.
Arguably the most successful proponent of this is adidas with their appointment of designer Stella McCartney as its creative director in advance of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. An appropriate relationship that, suitably leveraged, will provide adidas ample reward in 2012, but, critically, one based on her skillset and day job. Need to demonstrate an ability to actively shape their employer’s brand and bottom line, whilst still connecting with the target consumers. Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s, Kate Moss and Topshop, Dr Dre and Monster headphones – all examples of motivated individuals working to deliver tangible value back to their paymasters.
In a slightly more worrying turn of events, the role (or rather title) of creative director provides an opportunity for companies to steal genius (or perhaps more realistically, borrow talent) from a heavily focus-grouped ‘next best thing’.
Intel has shown the world that it likes (black eyed) peas with its chips, having signed up the ubiquitous Will.i.am as their own ‘director of creative innovation’, where he plans to work with scientists and researchers to “collaborate and co-develop new ways to communicate, create, inform and entertain”. Well, if it keeps him out of the recording studio, I’m all for it.
Mr i.am’s work placement comes hot on the heels of icône du jour Lady Gaga, who in 2010 announced she had bagged a role at Polaroid as the brand’s creative director. Here she was “fairly involved” in merging the company’s two mainstays, cameras and sunglasses into (wait for it) a pair of camera sunglasses. One might suggest Ms Gaga was chosen by Polaroid as a 1980s throwback with the ability to deliver an instant reaction, but there’s a definite risk that they have instead simply secured a cheap imitation that fades after prolonged exposure.
It is clear that giving a celebrity a job is no guarantee of authenticity. In a world permeated by the insidious creep of celebrity wannabes and casually eroded by salacious A-Z list gossip, ambivalence is a perfectly understandable reaction from consumers to all-star overkill. Similarly, people believe in sports stars – they are heroes to fans young and old, and as such have a duty of responsibility that for many is beyond their reach.
Celebrity endorsement can still be a winning strategy. But the rules are very clear: without authenticity a brand will simply shed its celebrity skin.
Synergy: So, Mihir, having looked at our initial list, what do you think is the greatest sports marketing innovation of the modern era?
Mihir Bose: Well, it’s a very impressive list, starting with 1960 when Arnold Palmer and Mark McCormack shook hands. Is that the greatest? That’s a bit hard to say. It’s an innovator, but the first is not necessarily the best.
Certainly, the Horst Dassler and Patrick Nally one, of creating a sponsor (for a shoe really, in effect) and a world event. As a result of that, and the effect it’s had on football, is very impressive. Also, I would say very, very impressive is the Nike creation of the shoe for Michael Jordan. And that is impressive on two counts: firstly creating a shoe for a sportsman, but also for the first time in America, making a black player an iconic television star, which hadn’t been done. It sort of broke through – if you like, it’s the Barack Obama moment of sport – it broke through that barrier there.
Synergy: Do you think we’ve missed any that deserve a place on the final shortlist?
MB: The only one that’s missed out on this list, I would say, is the Indian Premier League, which started in 2008. I think that took cricket – domestic cricket – to a different height. Domestic cricket nowhere in the world pays money, it’s international cricket that brings in the money, and I think the Indian Premier League, combining Bollywood with money, large dollops of cash, is an innovator.
Synergy: Conversely, and possibly controversially, do you think we have included any which don’t deserve to be there?
MB: I would say that the ECB one, of introducing Twenty20. The ECB did introduce Twenty20 but it actually didn’t make the most of the marketing; it allowed the Indians to make the most of it. Maybe partly it reflected the English market and so on… but that’s the one I would say I wouldn’t bring in.
And also perhaps 1981, the boxing match, where sports viewing of that kind was born. I’m not sure that pay-per-view works – it works in America, but it doesn’t work [in the same way] around the world. It’s an important concept, but if you’re talking of the ten best events, or right at the top, I would say that has had a limited appeal.
Synergy: So, returning to our main question, what game-changer has had the biggest effect on the industry to date?
MB: The biggest? That is always very difficult to say. But probably television. I think this list shows that there has been, since the 70s certainly (round about ’78 or ’79 – Ecclestone came in ’79) an incremental awareness, and a steady increase of the awareness of what television can do.
Sports and sponsorship is not a new entity – ever since sport started there has been some sort of sponsorship – but television has added a completely new dimension, and the use of television to increase revenues and highlight sportsmen and women; I think that has been the big factor.
And I suppose if one looks at it, perhaps in some ways the biggest moment, was not merely the creation of the The Olympic Partner (TOP) sponsorship program – but the marriage of television and money that enabled the production of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, following the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics when the Olympic Games looked like it was going to collapse. The Olympics, the ultimate amateur thing (where you play not for money, you can’t advertise on kit, winners don’t receive money, just medals) was transformed: perhaps that marks the single moment when world sport realised the importance of marketing and the importance of sport.
Synergy: So can we conclude that TOP program would be your choice for the greatest modern sports marketing innovation?
MB: I’d say yes. That is the ultimate one, where you retain the outer crust of the amateur ethos (the athletes stay in an Olympic village, they don’t earn any money, there’s no advertising in the stadium) and yet it brings in a lot of money.
And the IOC, the way it’s run, the sort of ambush marketing it has, and that sort of thing, it’s run like a corporation – in fact, it’s run like a McDonald’s franchise. It comes to London and it has told London what exactly the London bid committee can or cannot do. It showcases the ultimate marriage of man and sport; the idea that sport is for everyone, anyone can pick up a running shoe and just run and win the 100m. That’s not quite the case, but that simplicity of sport that makes it so appealing, combined with the fact that if you win the 100m, you could become a very, very rich man – or a rich woman if you win the women’s race! - that concept I think makes it the single most important sports marketing moment.
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