In her opening session of the IEG Conference, Laren Ukman said something which really jumped out at me. She said that the biggest advantage sponsorship has over other forms of marketing is the power to generate ‘gratitude’ amongst an audience.
On the face of it, that argument certainly makes some sense. There is no doubt that consumers have very little reason to thank a brand when they are interrupted by advertising or direct mail. On the other hand, sponsors clearly play a vital role in supporting and financing the things that people care passionately about, which I guess is worthy of some form of gratitude.
Gratitude leads to ‘reciprocity‘, which is proven by social psychology to be a powerful force in influencing behaviour. So earning the audience’s gratitude is probably a good way to get them to change their behaviour towards buying your products and services.
But something about that just doesn’t feel right to me. Is gratitude really the central emotion that sponsors want to stimulate in their audience, no matter how subconsciously?
For me, the power of sponsorship is not about creating an unequal relationship, where the audience is somehow indebted to the sponsor; rather, it should be about creating the most equal of relationships, where the sponsor shows exactly how much they have in common with their audience.
Sponsorship has revealed its true power if the audience thinks about the sponsor: “They get my passion and they love it as much as I do”. That’s not gratitude, that’s having something in common. No other form of marketing can demonstrate that better than sponsorship.
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.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will no doubt have seen the photos of Boris Johnson mounting a horse to launch the London leg of the Global Champions Tour. The photo appeared in the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and The Times, plus an array of onlines with Metro, Guardian, Daily Express, MSN and BBC Online to name a few. The launch also featured on BBC London TV (twice) and LBC.
Global Champions Tour (GCT), a new Synergy client, is coming to the capital for the first time thanks to Peter Phillips. Taking place adjacent to the Olympic Park in early June, the horse-jumping event aims to bring back the atmosphere and festive spirit we saw at Greenwich last summer.
Synergy’s role was to launch the event. We had the event venue confirmed at the Olympic Park (but not yet built) and support from the Mayor’s office, which meant around 10 minutes with Boris.
Ah ha, you may say, but surely getting Boris is guaranteed coverage? Not on a day when he already had two photo calls and around ten the previous week – he’s no stranger to the publicity trail. However, the GCT team at Synergy had a firm strategy in place to ensure that the launch event would guarantee coverage.
1. It’s all in the timing
You can never guarantee a news-free day, or always ensure your event isn’t clashing with another big launch, but you can be smart with the timing. We chose a Tuesday post Bank Holiday, with PR offices shut down over the weekend, events and launches would be few and far between. Being a month out from our event and conversation turning towards the Olympic Park re-opening in the summer also gave us a fighting chance.
2. Location, location, location
Let me tell you, dear reader, getting access to what is essentially a building site is not easy. But we knew that being on the site where the event will take place and having the Olympic Stadium as the backdrop was key to putting our story and London into context. So, after some serious Health & Safety documentation, we secured our ideal location for the shoot.
3. Having a Plan B
Never put all your eggs in one basket. Probably the best PR advice out there. Alongside Boris (and, of course, the horse), we ensured we had a variety of spokespeople at hand to support the launch and provide sound bites, including Peter Phillips himself and Team GB Olympic Gold medal winner Nick Skelton. Pre-arranged interviews ensured guaranteed coverage was lined-up before the event itself.
4. Doing what PR’s do best – jumping on an opportunity (or a horse)
Finally, a PR’s best tools are common sense, fearlessness and the power of persuasion, all of which came to play at our photo call. With a firm plan in place, we knew we’d have a successful launch: however, not ones to rest on our laurels, the team jumped on every opportunity on the day. Boris didn’t end up on the horse by accident: the team worked hard to orchestrate the moment we knew would be photo gold. Being bold and spotting the right opportunity for our request (the cycle helmet acted as our prop of choice), we managed to get Boris on the horse less than a minute before he was whisked away by ‘his people’.
Disclaimer: No horses were harmed in the making of this photo. Same can’t be said for Boris.
The air above the hot barbeque wavers and wobbles, the smoke drifts across the garden and gradually dissipates. Satisfied, you and your friends lounge on the warm grass and revel in the sensation that winter has passed and summertime is around the corner. A light breeze ruffles the grass and you feel the blades brush subtly against your calf. You look down…
… and there they are. Two bright white sticks protruding awkwardly from a pair of shorts. The knees knobbly. The skin almost translucent. It is that time of the year again – May Bank Holiday – time to crack out the legs. For months they have been comfortably lying dormant hidden under thick trouser material, but now, at the first sight of a patch of blue sky, they stand obstinately naked to the world. Surely there is no sight more symbolic of a sunny day in Britain than an assortment of pasty men’s legs, so white that the intense light reflecting off them creates an almost angelic glow.
Unattractive as they might be perceived, I see our lacklustre limbs as a massive untapped resource for brands wishing to sponsor something more real and universal than an event or asset that may only be experienced by a certain demographic. What could be more human than a pair of legs – we all have them and millions of us, whether we like it or not, sport ones of a rather pale complexion. Thus, I propose that a brand steps forward to become the first official sponsor of Britain’s pathetically pale legs.
A brand sponsoring the human body is not unheard of. In the media recently there have been stories about people who have sold advertising space on their bodies, with the result that they are branded for life with a company’s logo – which is sometimes a move they come to regret as in the case of Billy Gibby – aka “Hostgator Dotcom” who transformed his face into breathing billboard for various companies including online adult sites. Other companies have been known to market their brand on physical attributes; for example L’Oréal employ Cheryl Cole and her much celebrated locks to promote their hair products. Famously Subway told the story of Jared Fogle, an American who lost 107kg through exercise and a strict diet of subs, in a number of PR stunts and advertisements. Closer to home in London, anyone familiar to Oxford Street will have come across the especially tall man who hands out leaflets for the chain.
Like Jared Fogle our leggy campaign would need a front man and with some fear of appearing self obsessed I wish to put myself forward. Being a 6ft 2’’ ginger haired chap my long, spindly legs are exemplary. Sure, they are not insured for £90 million like Ronaldo’s but my pasty credentials are strong; for instance, if I stand against a white background it appears as though my shorts are merely hovering above a pair of shoes. Being the pins of such a campaign would be a tall order, but it is a challenge I am willing to accept.
It is my belief that sponsorship of the nation’s legs is an opportunity for three distinct types of brand:
1) Fake tan / tanning moisturiser brand
We all know that exposing our skin to too much sun can be dangerous and awareness of the risks has increased in recent years. This has consequently led to an increase in the sales of fake tan and tanning moisturisers that provide a golden glow/ orange hew (depending on taste) without the potential cancerous after effects. I propose that a brand could sponsor the upkeep of my legs, transforming them into the sun kissed legs of a Grecian god. I’d be willing to let them leave the shape of their logo untanned, on my calf perhaps, to serve as a visual advertisement of before and after. I am not quite sure how the tanning of a lanky young man will help target the majority female demographic, but these are only initial ideas. We will leave the finer details for the moment.
2) Sun cream
Way back in the olden days, a pale complexion used to be all the rage. Queen Elizabeth I loved nothing more than pasting her face with ghostly lead-based make-up and till the 19th century a tan was seen as an unattractive quality associated the poorer classes who had to work outdoors. There are signs that this historic admiration of pale skin is having a resurgence; take, for instance, Dainty Doll – the makeup range created by Nicola Roberts for those of a lighter complexion (or the vampiresque cast of the Twilight films). I believe we should look after our skin and celebrate our milky complexion. Whether the damage is salmon pink or lobster red, sunburn is never a good look – I should know having written a large part of this blog post outside and protected only one side of my face, leaving me looking like a red and white version of Braveheart. Thus, why doesn’t someone sponsor our pallid legs to encourage us to take care of our skin and thereby celebrate our natural form? This is currently in vogue; Dove for the last few years has celebrated natural beauty. The art of protecting this untarnished beauty could find a champion in my two unequivocally natural limbs.
3) A British summertime brand
As mentioned, the re-emergence of men’s legs from their winter hibernation truly marks the start of British summer. An eccentric time; meetings are held outdoors, ice creams are handed out around the office, people skip excitedly to supermarkets to purchase sausages, obligatory salad and inexplicably small bottles of beer. Like the emergence of Pimm’s, 99 Flakes and disposable BBQs, pale legs are symbolic of the British summer. Thus, I propose that my legs are sponsored by one of these famous British brands that we associate with the start of the season. Top of the list would be Pimm’s – the ultimate summery drink that is arguably a necessary component at any good BBQ.
So how would the sponsorship work? For starters, there would be a marketing campaign that trumpets their designation, “Pimm’s: The Official Sponsor of Britain’s Pasty Pins”. Next I am thinking branded shorts (which would look incredibly fetching modelled by myself in various PR shoots) and flip flops. Clearly there would be leg-shaped jugs (inspired by the boot-shaped beer glasses – Bierstiefeln – found in Germany) and limb-like stirring sticks. Concerning events, what about the national competition to find the most pathetic pegs in Britain – the winner of which could win the ultimate summertime BBQ. We could even indulge in guerrilla marketing at large summertime events – music festivals, sporting fixtures etc. – where branded transfers could be stuck on exposed legs in return for a free drink.
Of course, these are only initial ideas and any good brainstorm would come up with a multitude of better and funnier concepts that would far surpass that of a blogger enjoying yet another refreshing summertime beverage.
To conclude, I am rather proud of our nation’s pale pins and hope that I have gone some way to convincing you that they are a valuable asset for sponsorship – whether it is for a sun cream, tanning or British summertime brand. Personally I believe that the latter is the most viable; especially as I, rather than a gorgeous woman, can be a credible option to front it. It is just a thought – maybe a good one? Then again, I do feel a touch of sun stroke coming on.
Disclaimer: The author is aware that since the time of writing it has in fact turned out that the May Bank Holiday was a false dawn for this year’s summer. Rest assured he is currently shaking his fist at the sky.
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.
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.
In the debate about how to best enjoy watching sport, most would agree that those at the stadium have it best. The proximity of the live action amplified by the collective reactions of the crowd combine to generate a priceless “I was there” experience that most people dream about experiencing even a few times in their lifetime, let alone week in, week out.
Celebrating with strangers in the away end at a football match, waving Union Jacks at the Olympic Stadium, seeing the sweat drip off a boxer as he slaves towards the end of another punishing round, or relaxing with a drink while watching the cricket at Lord’s on a summer’s evening – all unique experiences to which sitting in front of the television can hardly compare.
That said, there has been some significant press attention of late focusing on the escalating price of watching live football. Rising ticket prices, along with the additional associated costs of the matchday experience (travel, food, etc.), all add up to create an expensive day out. And it’s not just the prices that can make sitting in front of the TV seem a bit more appealing; a better view of the action, replays, punditry (even if of often dubious quality) and the ability to go online and join a community of others watching the same event all contribute too. While recent focus has emphasised the plight of match-going football fans, many of these issues are common to all those who watch live sport.
Up until now, any complaints expressed by those lucky enough to regularly attend live top-level sport would have been dismissed as spoilt whinging from people who don’t know how lucky they are; however, the extent of ticket price rises, especially in football, and the simultaneous observation about the importance of fans to the health of live sport have started to make people sit up and take notice. Sport not only unites and inspires, but also represents big business. If fans stay away, clubs and stadia lose out on income, the atmosphere flattens (with potential impact on both the players and the excitement conveyed in the broadcast), and fans miss out on a potentially fantastic experience; in other words, everyone suffers.
And while the message is still filtering through to clubs and venue owners (though as a previous blog reported, innovative pricing schemes are becoming increasingly common), smart brands have already been stepping in redress the balance. With live events a central asset in many sponsorship platforms, focusing on those who attend is a vital pillar of a strong activation plan.
For example, to reward fans of Capital One Cup finalists Swansea and Bradford – travelling hundreds of miles to Wembley with fuel prices notoriously high – Synergy created the Capital One Convoy, thanking fans for their loyalty by providing them with free transport, another cost contributing to the high price of following a football team.
And recognising that the actual viewing experience at live sport events can often be compromised, with key incidents happening in a flash and without the benefit of televised action replays, Barclays, title sponsor of the Barclays Center in New York – home of the Brooklyn Nets – created an app that gives users a live stream and instant replays: the best of the live and televised experiences rolled into one.
Of course, one thing compromising the live sport experience (well, depending on your point of view) is the lack of internet in many stadiums, something else we’ve passionately questioned on this very blog. This is something that obviously distinguishes the live and televised experiences quite considerably, with TV audiences able to follow punditry on Twitter, interact socially with their mates, and engage with a whole host of branded content as they watch sport. Were WiFi to become widely available in stadiums, the opportunities for brands to step in with apps that improve the live viewing experience for fans would be manifold.
Indeed, some forward-thinking brands have already started to step in to fill this gap. At the Betfair World Matchplay Darts and the Betfair Masters for example, Synergy worked with title sponsor Betfair to install wireless internet in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and Alexandra Palace respectively – allowing event attendees to bet online and interact socially in just the same way television viewers. A bonus for the brand – after all, they want as many people as possible to be betting on the action – and fans alike. And given the existing online inventory of many sponsor brands, be it content, websites or apps, it is surely in the brand’s interest to allow fans at the venue to make use of them (as well as boasting about their attendance!).
No doubt, the smartest brands will be those that enhance the sporting experience for those watching any touchpoint – be it at the ground, on the sofa or in the pub. With the size of the televised audience for major sporting events, only a very naïve sponsor would forget about the legions of fans in front of the TV. Hence the success of the RBS 6 Nations Live Challenge app, for example, which capitalises on the second screen phenomenon.
The atmosphere is ripe for rewarding those who attend live sport, and the message is clear: wherever they may be, don’t forget the fans.
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.
A relaxing Easter weekend, a sleepy Bank Holiday Monday – the perfect time to catch people off-guard. April Fools’ Day rolled around and, as in previous years, punters had their collective wits tested by brands and news outlets looking to have a bit of fun. This year there were three distinct types of April Fool, making it all the more difficult to gauge what was veritable truth and what was strange enough to be fiction.
The first of these were the brand-led April Fools that, if executed well, generate great exposure for the brands involved. Virgin Atlantic’s story, featured in the Daily Mirror, proclaimed that pioneering bosses at the airline were introducing jets with glass floors to create a ‘walking on air’ experience, enabling passengers to see the world below them. The Fool even went so far as to suggest that permission had been secured to divert the planes’ flight path north over Loch Ness.
Hotels.com plumped for a royally Foolish prank, claiming that the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace was now available for hire at the princely sum of £10,000 a night. The Fool overplayed itself somewhat by offering the chance to ‘breakfast with the Royals’, but secured Hotels.com a good spread in the Daily Express. The award for the oddest brand-led Fool however should certainly go to Asda, who announced the launch of their Fifty Shades of Grey toilet paper. This bizarre claim featured in the Daily Mail and detailed that each shade of the new range had been named after one of the eponymous hero Christian Grey’s traits.
And BMW, pioneers of the April Fool ad, unveiled the P.R.A.M. (Postnatal Royal Auto Mobile), a new model to appeal to all those yummy mummies out there, with an email address for enquiries to one Joe King.
To much acclaim, however, the winner has to be Google, which announced their ‘Google Nose’ innovation. The alleged new function invited viewers to smell what they saw on screen, creating the first ‘emanation experience’. Some even petitioned Google to make this dream a reality after realising they’d been had.
The second variety of April Fools dared to dream a little less but focused more on creating a Fool that was genuinely believable: the journalist-concocted ‘fake’ news story. The team at the Daily Telegraph exemplified this, putting forward a Coalition plan to introduce door-to-door teams to monitor light usage and ensure Britain switches off to save energy in these times of austerity. The Fool even featured the creation of a new role of ‘Light Tsar’ to enforce the project on a national level.
More light-hearted still was The Guardian’s suggestion that they would be distributing ‘Guardian goggles’ that give people a more liberal outlook when reading – proving that even the most morally upstanding of newspapers can still laugh at themselves. Channel 4 News got in on the action too, announcing that Boris Johnson had mixed up his dates and would be entering the by-election triggered by David Miliband’s resignation as an MP. Twitter added their idea to the pile, claiming that they were to begin charging Tweeters for using vowels.
The third style of Fool were those that were in fact not April Fools’ Day stunts at all, but instead weird and wacky stories designed to throw the reader off track – a dummy pass if you will.
The most convincing of these featured in The Times. This stated that NASA was hatching a plan to put $2.6bn into a robotic system that would harness an asteroid and drag it to the moon for scientific research. This was in fact TRUE. Indeed, many thought that reports that Prime Minister David Cameron had clambered into a brook to rescue a trapped sheep were too ridiculous to be valid but this story was also confirmed to be FACT.
Our own sponsorship sector saw fewer Fools than usual this year with the Synergy offering of Extendable Goal Posts for Extra Time in the Capital One Cup 2013/14 leading the way. Featuring on the back page and a full page inside The Sun on Monday, the prank alleged that due to the demands of American executives at sponsors Capital One, a rule change would see bigger goals used in Cup games next season after 90 minutes to avoid stalemates and make the periods more exciting. Talksport also put together a football themed Fool. This one centred on the managerial farce at Chelsea this season and alleged that Roman Abramovich would be taking charge of his Chelsea team as Head Coach from next season.
After so much mischief in the press in one day, readers will have returned to work casting a critical eye over stories making the headlines. But one thing is for sure…that cynical edge will have worn off by this time next year.
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.
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.