Why Eni Aluko’s Under Armour Deal Is Bigger Than You Think

“Aluko’s unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike takes Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers”

Last week marked another welcome breakthrough for women’s sport. Under Armour announced a long term sponsorship deal with Eni Aluko, the first of its kind for a WSL player, making the England international the first UK based female footballer to join #TeamUA.

But while we celebrate another positive step forward for women’s sport, we must also take a minute to applaud Under Armour. In signing Eni Aluko they have taken themselves into a new space. Forget Lionel Messi. Ignore Neymar. They both have their (obvious) merits. Eni Aluko is the secret weapon.

So why is this partnership so special?

As a female athlete (who, by the way, has been instrumental in raising the profile of the women’s game here in the UK), Aluko has the power to transcend football. Her impact will be bigger than selling a pair of football boots. With over 100 England caps to her name, Aluko has arguably been the most high profile advocate of women’s football over the past five years and is hugely respected within the game. After becoming the first female footballer to appear as a pundit on Match of the Day, Aluko headed to the European Championship’s in France this summer as part of ITV’s broadcast team. Suddenly we have an athlete that is not only inspiring girls to play football, but inspiring women within the wider confines of sport. She is famous for her determination and drive to succeed both on and off of the football pitch.

And guess what? Under Armour share these values. A match made in heaven may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s pretty special. The brand are no strangers to addressing stereotypes that exist in sport. In fact they are proud of leading the way in this field. In 2014 they made headlines with their (literally) hard-hitting ‘I WILL WHAT I WANT’ campaign alongside Gisele Bündchen. The point of the campaign? To inspire. To break down barriers. To overcome.

So, this is where the next 12 months will be interesting. Under Armour must now activate this sponsorship in a way that is only possible with a female athlete in Aluko’s position. Her unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike will take Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers. Challenges that women and girls face in sport can be addressed and the next generation of young aspiring female footballers can be inspired. Eni Aluko is the only athlete on Under Armour’s UK roster that can tell this story in a truly credible way.

Will other brands follow suit?

Although they are the first sports brand to strike a long term partnership of this kind with a WSL player, it would be naïve to view Under Armour’s investment in women’s football as a risk. While a recent SSE campaign proved that Aluko is already a massive inspiration for girls around the country, the potential value for brands working in women’s sport is great.

According to Sport England, there are over 7 million women engaging with health and fitness in the UK today. 75% of women want to get into sport and those participating is increasing at a faster rate than men. Couple this with the fact that women’s buying power combined with increasing influence now drives 70-80% of all consumer purchasing in the household (Ernst & Young) and you have a marketing formula that is going to work.

As Synergy’s recent ‘This Girl Does’ event uncovered, brands must connect to their audiences in an authentic way in order to engage. When you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be.

So, what next?

In Eni Aluko, Under Armour now have the opportunity to engage with women and girls in a unique way. Let’s hope they do it. We can’t wait.

Brands, Bands, Fans: What Music & Sport Can Learn From Each Other

Sport is way ahead of music when it comes to brand investment. It’s at least ten times bigger worldwide and the gap is growing. From a niche play only 40 years ago, sports marketing has boomed.This hasn’t happened by accident.

Sport set out to make it happen, and has done so brilliantly. With the fall in revenues from traditional sources, in particular record sales, the music industry has never needed brands more than today, not just as replacement income but also for marketing support. So what can music learn from how sport has so successfully attracted brand partners and budgets – and what can sport learn from music?

What Music Can Learn From Sport?

1. Sport has made brands a fundamental part of how it presents itself – broadcasts, events, leagues, teams, stadiums, players. This has done many things, but in particular it has normalised sport’s relationship with brands, in a way that is still evolving in music, and made sports fans more accepting of brands in sports than they are in music – although this is now changing for millennials who accept brands operating in the music space.

2. Sport has used the media to make itself and its brand partners impossible to miss. Globally, sport is ‘always on’ – and always on screen. Music, by contrast, rarely gets a look in and has nowhere near the exposure.

3. Sport has made itself easy to buy. Although, like music, sport is a complex ecosystem of rights, it’s alleviated the problem by commercialising its assets specifically with brands in mind, bundling rights and minimising buying points. Music is still wrestling with the problem of being much more complex, and much more difficult for brands to buy.

4. Sport thinks long term. Most big brand partnerships in sport are built around multi-year agreements – usually over a minimum of three years, although even longer deals are not uncommon – enabling brands to plan long term strategies with all the benefits that brings to both sport and the brand. In contrast, music deals tend to generally be short-term tactical hit and runs which scratch the surface of what is possible and often result in low ROI and poor experiences.

5. Sport can be a powerful ally: when sport and music come together, the results are often amazing. Adidas’s collaboration with Run-DMC. The Super Bowl halftime show. Coke’s 2010 World Cup collaboration with K’naan. And – as our recent #TalkinRevolution music marketing panel event at Spotify demonstrated - the natural synergies which happen when brands bring artists and sports stars together. The potential is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Sport Can Learn From Music?

1. Although sports marketing budgets dwarf those in music, music offers brands the same mass reach and arguably even greater emotion. This emotion is what drives the relationship between brands, bands and fans, inspiring product demand and marketing pull. Sport gets this, but can take lessons from music’s much greater focus on creating credible brand partnerships and avoiding over-commercialisation, which we also talked about at our #TalkinRevolution event.

2. Music can be a powerful ally for sport, generating both connectivity and emotional engagement. Think of the Three Tenors and Italia 90, and probably most effectively of all, the Three Lions, which became the soundtrack of Euro 96 and still resonates today.

3. Music is brilliant at marketing to the young, as Engine’s Cassandra Report consistently demonstrates. Millennials, for whom music is a bigger passion than sport, embrace brands who provide them with music experiences, especially online. In contrast, the audience for most major sports, which are heavily reliant on TV, is ageing. Music is inherently viral online, fuelling many of the biggest social platforms. By leaning into music, sport can dramatically increase its reach and engagement – especially with the young.

4. Music is still under-exploited by sport. Traditionally the music industry has led talent and content decisions, often with poor results – most recently UEFA agreeing to use Alicia Keys for the Champions League Final. Wrong act, wrong demographic. Sport should get on the front foot and insist on better, insight-driven choices.

5. Sport is terrified of risk. Music embraces it. Yes, risk needs to be minimised, but risk can be good. No risk usually results in less or no interest. Building on this ‘edge’ creates stand out and differentiation. Look no further than Nike and Red Bull, for both of whom risk has been central to their sports strategies for years.

In summary, music clearly has much to learn from sport’s advanced commercial strategies. But conversely sport can learn from the edginess, risk and social glue that music creates. More joint ventures, and better execution, can create huge synergies for brands, bands and fans. Sport and music just need to lean in to each other more. The only limit is the power of our imagination. Let’s make it happen!

This is an enlarged version of a piece originally written by Arnon Woolfson and Tim Crow for Music Week.

Pogba + United + adidas – The perfect marketing match?

An announcement under the hashtag #Pogback at 12.30am signalled Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United after four years at Juventus. The boy who left England with bags of potential has come back as a man to finish what he started with his first senior club.Whilst Jose Mourinho has signed Pogba for purely footballing reasons, it’s clear the club, adidas and the player himself will all benefit commercially from this new partnership. From a marketing perspective it seems to be the perfect match.One of the biggest personalities and most exciting young players in the game has joined the biggest club in the world, which is just starting its second season with kit supplier adidas, for whom Pogba is already a key ambassador.

Signing up Pogba on a £31m 10-year deal earlier this year has helped adidas create a fresh, new look that capitalises on the Frenchman’s unique style, individualism, flamboyant nature and flashy personality. He has been the figurehead of the brand’s #FirstNeverFollows campaign, a brand position that builds on the previous #ThereWillBeHaters activation and mixes football, fashion and music. The aim of this is to appeal to the younger audience, the next wave of potential adidas consumers, and win them over from newer brands like Under Armour and New Balance, who are challenging the more established giants.

Pogba gives adidas a point of difference over its rivals, such as Nike, who were also competing for his signature. He wasn’t signed just as a face to shift trainers, but as a catalyst to help change the nature of adidas’ football marketing…to make his mark on the brand itself.

From United’s viewpoint, Pogba and adidas also help the club reach a younger audience, an audience that may be swaying towards supporting Manchester City, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or another of Europe’s big clubs.

Pogba will be the face of both United and adidas for years to come. He hasn’t returned to Old Trafford for just one or two seasons; he will surely be there for a significant proportion of his career. He represents the new United, forging a new identity in the post Sir Alex Ferguson, era under the leadership of Mourinho.

Adidas, like other sponsors, do not get a say in the club’s transfer activity (although they may have had a quiet word in Ed Woodward’s ear), but for them shirt sales are clearly critical. Aligning one of their big ambassadors with one of their biggest clubs (alongside Real Madrid) will have been music to the ears of adidas, as the ‘POGBA 6’ United shirts start flying off racks around the world.

One of the reasons adidas teamed up with United in the first place is because the club has a huge fan base in the US and Asia, both target markets for the German sports brand. Pogba will help to gain cut-through in those markets.The French midfielder’s social channels have more than 13m followers. For United, this offers an opportunity a reach a new audience; whilst for Pogba, joining the Red Devils will no doubt see this figure grow and grow, as has happened with other recent arrivals to the club – a win-win. And adidas can utilise this massive reach to push out branded content and messaging to his adoring fans.This branded content played a role in the announcement of Pogba’s capture. Adidas teamed up with UK grime artist Stormzy to record a short piece of music-focused film featuring Pogba that matches the #FirstNeverFollows theme, announcing the player’s arrival at United. We are likely to see more dual-branded content like this appear as adidas and United push Pogba to the front of their marketing activity and his global appeal spirals skyward.

Climbing Reaching New Heights With Olympic Spot

Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Matt Cousins and Nathan Phillips. Four names you’re probably not familiar with, but it might not be long before you are. All four are climbers and not just the best in Britain but some of the best in the world. With yesterday’s announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that climbing is to be one of five new sports added to the Olympic programme, they could be set to take Tokyo 2020 by storm.
The progression of climbing from a sport regarded for eccentrics and adventurers to one on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has been swift. Yet the reasons behind its incredible growth are as diverse as the sport itself and the IOC’s decision could be another leap forward.

Entering the Mainstream

Arguably it was two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pushed climbing into the spotlight like never before, with their historic free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year. Their epic 19 day ascent of the 3,000 metre Dawn Wall, drew media attention from around the world and made stars (if only reluctantly) of Caldwell and Jorgeson. Whilst the media’s gaze was only fleeting, it gave a unique look at a sport that has slowly been taking off around the world, particularly in the UK.According to the British Mountaineering Council the number of climbing walls in the UK has risen by over 100 in the last five years alone, with 350 public access walls listed in the BMC wall directory. The increase in walls is driven largely by an uptake of young people joining the sport, with the number of people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series rising by 50% over the same period.

Technology, Technology, Technology

So the sport is a clearly a growing force but why and how has it become so, and more interestingly, how far can it go? The simple answer is technology. As with so many extreme sports new technology has allowed climbing to grow through improved equipment, providing a safer and more complete experience of a sport that inherently carries risk – without removing the thrill. Sport climbing is itself a descendant of the introduction of technology. Permanent anchors are secured to the rock face from which climbers can place protection to ensure survival from even the most eye watering falls.

The shift may appear to be a natural progression from the days of Royal Robbins placing steel pitons into the Yosemite cliffs, but the effect has been more wide-ranging. The improvements in rope, harnesses and other climbing gear has allowed the very best climbers to push the limits of what’s possible. The dynamic and occasionally terrifying nature of these new challenges has opened up the sport of climbing to a new thrill seeking audience, one that is looking to not only participate but create and consume as much content about the sport itself as possible.

Climbing Content

In 2006 film makers Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer created the first Reel Rock film tour, taking a collection of short climbing films to live audiences all around the world. Now in its 11th year the tour has been a huge success and attracts sponsors such as The North Face, National Geographic and Petzl, highlighting the growing appetite for climbing content. It appears the sport has become as much about capturing the ascent, as the ascent itself. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It’s a question that a number of companies and brands are already looking to answer. Epic TV has been quick to provide a channel for the new band of climbers wishing to share their latest exploits, earning them not just an audience but an opportunity to create their own brand with which to attract sponsorship and turn professional. Climbers such as Alex Honnold and Sean McColl regularly share not just their climbing achievements, but their training regimes and other aspects of their lifestyle that hold as much interest to fans as the climbing.

So the sport is growing, with new stars, increasing brand presence and a highly engaged audience mostly made up of Generation Z and Millennials - surely then a place in the Olympics would be a positive next step for a sport on the rise? Yet there remain concerns, including those from professional climbers such as Adam Ondra, who feels the expected format of the competition may need to be amended to reward the more aesthetic aspects of the sport. It’s a concern that isn’t exclusive to climbing, with the much publicised trouble surrounding golf at this summer’s games proving that format is a difficult area to get right for even the biggest of mainstream sports.

Where Next?

Regardless of the concerns around format, it’s clear that climbing is entering another stage of its development and a place in the Olympics will act as validation to the thousands who compete in and watch the sport worldwide. It won’t be long before brands outside the outdoor and adventure space take notice and names such as Coxsey, Hayes, Cousins and Phillips move from the unknown to the everyday.

TV Ads Are Not A Music Strategy

I found myself talking to a brand marketer today, who proudly told me that he was “doing things in the music business”…After asking some basic questions, I discovered that what he meant by this statement was that he had simply instructed his advertising agency to use some commercial music in a series of forthcoming ads…

Having run through what I’d considered simple questions about the choice of genre, artists, songs, lyrical content, pace of the songs etc. – simply trying to understand the thinking and what plans there were around the campaign in terms of activation and amplification – I realised I was opening up a can of worms.

I continued in my search for answers and asked whether there were any plans to work further with the artists, any plans for live activation, special releases or any social media support in the pipeline etc., I was met by a barrage of apologetic excuses and an explanation that his advertising agency were running the campaign and just focused on the TV ad. A wasted opportunity, for sure.

After asking myself who is the custodian of the brand (client or agency?), I proceeded to probe further in an attempt to understand the process this marketer had experienced in greater detail. To no surprise at all I discovered (and this involved the marketer digging into some emails from his agency) that in fact the music had been chosen by what appears to be a junior creative, who I would imagine had no connection with the audience the campaign was aimed at. My guess is that the choice of music was simply down to personal taste (of the creative) and, in fact, I would argue that what was chosen was probably not the right music nor genre for the demographic being targeted.

I was asked what I would expect to pay for the particular track which was used. The amount of money spent on the music appeared to be above market rate, meaning the ROI is likely to therefore be low (because of all the above) – all bad news, not just for the marketer, but actually for a music industry keen to attract brand investment in the future.

To get to my point, using music should be approached in the same way as any ‘properly’ strategically led campaign. I would always suggest (as a bare minimum) where possible to use insight to help plan before applying any creative thinking around the music. Then consider amplification (i.e. what can be done around the asset beyond just usage in a TV campaign) and be smart with the purchasing of the music, making sure you get ALL of the rights you need at the best possible price (which might not necessarily be what you are told it is going to cost). There are a few independent professionals out there specialising in music procurement.

The contact I met today didn’t only get his choice of music wrong for his audience, but is aiming at an audience who are not major consumers of TV. The budget spent on production and media could have enabled his brand to put on a really impactful live event (concert), which would have been shared by his own consumers, with additional amplification via online channels that his audience interact with daily (whether Snapchat, Facebook Live, YouTube, Spotify etc.).

To conclude: music strategies are not just about syncing music for TV advertising. There is so much more that can be done which is more engaging, has higher impact and enables marketers to track and measure ROI.

On top of this, do not assume an advertising agency can put together a music-based strategy for you. This is often not their forte (of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule).

The above may be basic to some but clearly not to some. There are so many opportunities for brands to innovate in the music space (i.e. beyond making yet another TV ad). Do get in touch if you are a marketer uncertain of how to break the mould. It’s not difficult working with the right team…

Bands, Brands & Fans – It’s all about getting closer…

A few years ago, we witnessed the start of some major changes in the music industry, with traditional revenues from record sales taking a big blow due to an increase in piracy. This coincided with the general public’s perceived value of music diminishing with the record labels continuing to exploit their assets with very short term targets in mind, licensing music for the likes of cover-mounts to the media industry, earning income, spiking sales for newspapers and magazines but further reducing the consumer’s perception around the value of music (which was ultimately being offered to them for free).

Some high profile artists benefited from this at the time, including the likes of Prince who released his ‘Planet Earth’ album exclusively via The Mail on Sunday. This earned Prince substantial revenues. It provided marketing for his 21-night performance at The O2, London and sold a lot of newspapers, so many would argue was a big success. It did, however, contribute towards the longer-term psychological perception amongst the consumer that music has been devalued.

It was at this point that I started to understand the fact that it was the job of both artists and the labels surrounding them to start re-thinking about how to add value back to the album format and demonstrate a reason for the consumer to continue purchasing in the future. It feels natural for artists and their labels to start packaging all of their assets into one deliverable (an app) with the aim of connecting with their fans on a deeper level, owning a bigger part of the relationship with them. The depth of relationship between artists and fans for me has always been the key to success.The rise of Spotify, followed by the multitude of other streaming businesses then created a distraction, tackled piracy and actually incentivised consumer spend, albeit reduced. The real value in music today, however, is primarily in the live business (concerts), but there are various attempts taking place to breathe life back into music beyond just experiential.

It seems the subject matter of how artists and their labels should be pumping value back into their product is heating up. Clearly, deepening the relationship with their fans seems to be becoming more understood amongst artists, with a number of technology players now moving into this space. Until now there has been little focus in the media about this, with most still focused on the battle of the streaming businesses (Spotify, Apple, Google, Deezer, Amazon etc).

If a fan wants to know what Beyoncé wore last night, they check Instagram. If a fan wants to know where Ed Sheeran is performing next, they check Twitter (as long as he’s not decided to take a ‘time out’). If a fan wants to know what Ariana Grande has been up to today, they are likely to watch her Snapchat story. Social Media has brought artists and fans closer together than ever before. It has solidified the artist and fan relationship, offering access never previously seen before. These relationships via social networks offer the ability for artists (and their partners) to promote themselves, sell music, tickets and merchandise. It also provides instant feedback whether it be about newly released music or any other promotional activities. Importantly, it is this relationship, combined with artist-generated content (music, film, games, etc) that can be extremely attractive and powerful.

When Björk launched ‘Biophilia’ a few years ago, she offered her fans an entire suite of content – much more than just music. She successfully continued to build that ever-so-important connection with her fans, giving them much more than they expected, with lots to talk about and engage with.

Since then, a number of artists have attempted to enter this space. A few businesses from the tech world have also moved into the ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship space – their approach being to enhance the overall fan experience, whilst providing insight and learnings about their fans back to the artists and their representatives.

These start-ups include the likes of: Gigrev, Lionshare Media and Disciple Media. BuddyBounce was another great business very much in this space, recently selling to Crowdmix which was due for launch later this year but unfortunately went into administration earlier this month, prior to its official launch. Additionally, Supapass is a new multi-artist platform that has recently come onto the scene, offering not just single artist relationships but the opportunity for fans to engage with a multitude of their favourite artists. An interesting one to watch…

The idea is that fans subscribe to an artist/label channel (costing approx £1 per month). The artists and their rightsholders then earn a substantial % of the revenue share from their fan subscriptions. One generally finds with fan-based marketing that there is always a top-tier core fan who will traditionally spend on artist product and this will specifically appeal to those. By offering multi-artist content, SupaPass are spreading the risk and potentially offering greater impact for the platform. It feels like it makes sense.

It is these artist-to-consumer platforms that will not only ensure continued growth and depth of relationship between artists and their fans, but could also potentially offer a very interesting space for brands to engage. According to the Cassandra Report, Millennials, in particular, expect brands to offer more than just their product or service, and if a brand can be seen to be offering a closer relationship between fans and an artist, the credibility and love for that brand could very easily dramatically improve. Additionally, the learnings and data available could really help not only the artist, but also brands, understand how to interact and behave with these fans, potentially offering a three-way win-win(-win) symbiotic relationship for band, brand and fan.

To conclude, the music industry is continuing to change rapidly. There are no rules and an array of interesting opportunities for brands (as well as artists) to tap into, offering previously impossible access to potentially long-term relationships with fans. The ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship is the ‘Holy Grail’ within the music industry. For a brand to be a critical part of that could be an extremely powerful space to occupy.

The Future for Women’s Sport: Learnings from our This Girl Does Event

Women’s sport is a really good investment. We have proof. It is time that brands understand what the opportunity is. Expertly hosted by Jacqui Oatley, MBE, Sport Presenter and Journalist, Synergy’s This Girl Does panel consisted of Tanya Joseph, Director of Business Partnerships at Sport England; Colin Banks, Head of Sponsorship and Reward, SSE; Ruth Holdaway, CEO Women in Sport; and Carly Telford, England and Notts County Footballer.Watch the video in full here.

Here are our 7 top takeaways from the day:

Untapped potential

Tanya Joseph, who orchestrated the widely successful campaign #ThisGirlCan, shared that the work was built on research revealing 2 million fewer women do recreational sport than men, but 75% of women say that they would like to do a lot more sport. As Joseph suggests, when women make up over half the population and are responsible for the majority of purchasing decisions made in the home, that’s a lot of untapped potential. Joseph claims that the campaign was so successful due to an acute understanding of the underlying fear of judgement that goes hand in hand with exercise for many women. Being able to liberate women from this fear of not being comfortable in their own bodies in a tone that is not patronising or preachy, has so far inspired 2.8 million women to get active.

Increase in role models

Carly Telford acknowledged that 2012 was when women’s football really got put on the map in this country. According to Telford, what the nation saw was the same as the men with regards to the passion they felt and the honour with which they represented the Three Lions. This, combined with the media putting them on a pedestal, encouraged record audiences. Before 2012 there were no female sports role models and in the past five years the nation has been inspired by the success of the Lionesses, Olympic and Paralympic athletes and our talented rugby union team (among many others).

The Opportunity

The figures show that a vast receptive audience exists. Women’s sport makes up less than half a percent of sponsorship going into sport, so “whatever you are looking at there will be an opportunity” says Ruth Holdaway. In the next three years the women’s Cricket World Cup (2017), the Hockey World Cup (2018) and the Netball World Cup (2019) are all being hosted in this country. According to Holdaway, the plan is to offer all three of these sports to every single school girl across the country which presents a real opportunity for brands to inspire our nation’s girls and reach their parents. It is also a great example of how innovative the rights holders are being working together to strengthen the offering.

Accessibility & Storytelling

Not only are our female role models so much more accessible they have really powerful stories for brands to tell. Superstars in men’s sport are shut off to their fans; they are a step removed by the PR teams managing their channels. Telford explained that female sports stars are far more accessible and more likely to engage personally with their audience. Their stories can connect, because ultimately they are women ‘like you’. As Tanya Joseph so aptly put it, ‘Women want to see themselves reflected in marketing.’

Chicken & Egg

The barriers to investment were brought up by Oatley asking “do you need success first before investment comes, or do you invest early and be part of that success from the start”? It was fascinating to hear from Colin Banks at SSE about how they reached their decision to sponsor the Women’s FA Cup. He started off by stating that when developing their sponsorship strategy women’s sport rose to the top in terms of value for money, and meeting core brand and business marketing objectives. From a brand perspective, Banks pointed out that “commercial ventures need return”. For SSE women’s sport was a no-brainer and they have seen real, tangible return on their investment. Banks also said that when meeting with the rights holders there was true willingness to bring partners into the fold; “exposure is of course key, but the days of media coverage being the be all and end all are over, it’s about how you engage with your audience”. So far, so successful for SSE and The FA.


For brands to engage the key is to connect to their audiences in an authentic way; when you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. #ThisGirlCan proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be. Open, honest conversations with all stakeholders and your audience are essential to ensure your brand connects. According to Telford, where you will find success is when you move away from this ‘puppet on a string’ approach to working with athletes. Brands also have much more to being to the table, to generate the much needed awareness to genuinely build the sport, instead of paying vast amounts of money in exchange for reluctantly handed over assets and limited access to players that is often the experience in the men’s game.

Don’t miss out

According to Joseph “in five years’ time people will be kicking themselves that they didn’t get involved earlier”. It’s becoming quite evident that SSE has set a historical precedent in this space and we at Synergy hope to see many more brands follow suit..

If you’re interested in discussing Women’s Sport further please get in touch with Synergy’s Lisa Parfitt – lisa.parfitt@synergy-sponsorship.com.

Why Brands Should Take Extreme Sports Seriously

I’m not ashamed to admit that I could watch ski and snowboard films all day. There’s something so alluring about the mountains; people have always loved being close to and at the mercy of nature at its most unpredictable and this has provided the perfect backdrop for a huge number of sports that we know and love.

When you think about the brands that associate themselves with these sports, the most ubiquitous tend to have a literal link, like energy drinks, alongside the relevant equipment and apparel brands. Undeniably Red Bull has become synonymous with extreme sports; it has stuck to its guns, made its presence known and created new events under its brand banner alongside existing ones within the category to truly cement its domination. It’s quite a niche world and one in which there aren’t many rules for traditional broadcast and dissemination of information. Red Bull Media House recently announced a partnership with Reuters to provide extreme sports and lifestyle sports content to their list of international news subscribers around the world, which will bring them a new level of exposure.

With domination of the category I can understand why extreme sports tends to get overlooked for sponsorship in favour of aligning with the tried and tested routes for generating the highest reach possible. You can’t argue with the 4.7bn global viewing figures of the Premier League, but according to ‘The Future of Sports’ report, extreme sports in the US will challenge professional and collegiate team sports for the title of most-watched category of sports content by 2020.And this is despite the fact that these sports are not routinely broadcast on TV, but consumed on YouTube as well as well-known outlets dedicated to their broadcast like Teton Gravity Research and Epic TV.

In my opinion here is a category of sports where all factors point to a large potential for growth, where the challenges provide exciting opportunities to be creative in order to break free from the dominance of Red Bull and reach new and loyal audiences for your brand.

Self-generated content & social media

The age of GoPro and YouTube has allowed us all to be film-makers, athletes included. Okay, so we may not be able to make ski films like Teton Gravity Research have been for years, but we can strap a camera to our heads whilst skiing through the trees or bouldering a technical route and the very nature of these activities makes our own curated outdoor content inherently more watchable.

Athletes have to generate large followings on social media to attract sponsors and increase the reach of these sports to the mainstream. This makes innovation and social media essential for the survival of these sports; the engaged audience has existed for years, but the wider audience opens up more possibilities for brands, participation and funding. Brands have a fundamental role to play here: they have the creativity and technology to take these sports to new audiences, whilst making the most of the influence you can have on the athlete’s own audiences using their heroism/heroinism to tell your story.

Cross-pollination of audiences

Skaters and surfers can appreciate ski and snowboard films (and vice versa) because they often emulate a similar vibe that resonates across audiences; for example, these skiers making use of the streets in Boston covered in snow will have taken inspiration from street skating. If you sign up to partner with one sport in the ‘extreme’ category, your audience is immediately wider than these seemingly niche sports would indicate.

There are opportunities here for brands to speak to audiences across sports. Luxury brands have started to do this particularly well; this short film that we made for luxury whisky brand Royal Salute blended polo and surfing in Hawaii. The strategy was to demonstrate polo as a lifestyle that brings people together; the comparison of the unpredictable nature of horses and the ocean gives both sports new dimensions and, therefore, an appreciation from new audiences. Tag Heuer’s free riding series is similar and highlights the technique, power and fearlessness of free diving, trail running and mountain bike free riding. It’s about finding amazing people with incredible untold stories and telling them through a brand or campaign filter, e.g. Tag Heuer’s #dontcrackunderpressure.


Sports that we may class as extreme at the professional level are characteristically lifestyles at their grassroots. For the average person activities and hobbies like skiing and snowboarding, scuba diving, surfing, climbing, skate boarding, etc. transcends sport as a leisure activity. They can deliver on skill and competition, but they also provide a platform to feel connected to something greater and ultimately get closer to nature.

Snowboarding essentially didn’t exist 30 years ago and now boasts 5 million participants worldwide, whilst skateboarding started a style craze. It could be a specific lifestyle that leads you to one of these sports or just our obsession with the extremes of human experience – you don’t necessarily need to get involved at school. There are opportunities here for representatives of these sports as a way of life to get involved as brand ambassadors, particularly if you are looking to channel the ethos of one of these sports to make them more humanly accessible. Indeed many of these athletes are not international superstars and so are arguably more accessible as inspirational and aspirational figures.


The great outdoors is irrevocably changing. Whether you notice it or not, snow in the Alps is gradually becoming a more finite entity. For any sports that depend upon the way that we treat the planet, there are inevitable worthy and high profile initiatives that present opportunities for partners and sponsors to support. Ben + Jerry’s alongside New Belgium Brewing have teamed up with Protect our Winters (POW) with new products that pledge a donation to the cause. The point here is that brands who choose to invest in these sports and the issues they face will buy stronger and deeper loyalty and advocacy amongst participants and fans of extreme sports than you could ever imagine.

With extreme sports there are obvious superficial barriers to entry: there is risk attached and the entire genre seems to be completely owned by Red Bull. The former can be managed by a controlled and measured approach, the latter is pure perception; their association is dominant, but this does not mean that there is not enough room for ownership and a different approach. With extreme sports, despite its niche nature, the opportunities are infinite and the fans endlessly supportive, grateful and loyal.

UEFA Champions League Final – Does Alicia Keys have what it takes?

This year's UEFA Champions League Final being held in Milan this weekend (May 28th) will look and sound different: as part of a revamped music-driven opening ceremony, Pepsi will be presenting a live performance by Alicia Keys of her new material. Media interest is building, yet I find myself in two minds about the partnership.

On one hand I really want to see a music and sport event tie-up in Europe work and deliver for all parties, to prove that Europe can, as the US has been doing for years, successfully blend entertainment with sport on a big sporting stage. It would be brilliant for everyone: fans, the music industry, the sporting world and of course brands - in this case Pepsi.On the other hand I'm concerned that the approach and strategy behind the partnership is not going to work for the audience and, as a result, the brand. This could have a knock-on impact on whether future major European sporting events and/or artists invest in replicating what has proved to work in the US, in particular at the Super Bowl.

Once more we are seeing the music industry thinking on a very short term basis. The main gain in this case for the label is reach - 220 countries tuning in to see the Champions League Final and hearing Alicia’s new music: as success in music is so reliant on as many people as possible hearing your music, this works well for Alicia and her label RCA.

In order for music to connect with its audience on an emotional level, what is required is familiarity or a simple, catchy hook. But from what we understand, Alicia is planning to perform tracks from her new album. So the TV and stadium audience will be hearing new, unfamiliar music, which will clearly affect their interest and engagement, and may even result in negative reaction.

The stakes for Pepsi are high and you have to ask why they thought Alicia was the right artist. At our recent #TalkinRevolution event about the future of music and brand partnerships, we highlighted that successful brand-led music campaigns generally start with the idea first and the artist second. So: was Alicia chosen before or after Pepsi decided on the strategy?

I have no issue with Alicia Keys - on the contrary, she is a loved, accomplished and talented artist. Her new single 'In Common', is a beautiful song. She has a big digital footprint, with 38m Facebook fans and 23m Twitter followers; so from the perspective of a brand ‘media buy’ I understand the thinking. But what about thought about connecting with the audience? With the Final being held in Milan, Alicia's Italian ancestry maybe offers 'an angle'. But other than that, what's the fit? Is Alicia not naturally more fitting for a female audience? I can't imagine the stadium and viewers will be predominantly female...


Above all, I question whether Alicia can light up European football's Super Bowl moment and, therefore, Pepsi's involvement. If this is going to work for Pepsi, the sound and feel of the music must match the mood of the fans and viewers.

For FIFA World Cup 2014, I co-wrote and delivered the tournament's Official Anthem. As the World Cup was handed to Germany in the Maracana, our music played in sync to a spectacular firework display and I witnessed the result of the studio work, as 78,000 people jumped up and down to the song we put together. That is emotional engagement.

I really want Alicia's performance to work, but I fear that the mismatch between brand, artist and event may prove too great, and that we could be looking at a repeat of Coldplay's Super Bowl 50 halftime show performance, which famously failed in stark contrast to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. I hope I'm wrong. With more than 220 countries tuning into the UEFA Champions League Final, there are a lot of people who want to see this partnership succeed. Only time will tell if it will. The future of music (and related brand partnerships) at major European sport events may depend on it.

You can hear Alicia Keys new single on Spotify here.

The Music & Brand Revolution: learnings from our Event

A few weeks ago we welcomed brand friends old and new to Spotify HQ, London for a chilled late afternoon chat about the future of music and brand partnerships, featuring a panel of thinkers and innovators from across the industry: Emmy Lovell, VP Digital, Warner Music; Joey Swarbrick, Manager, Rizzle Kicks; Lisa Buchan, Director Music and Culture, Monster Energy; Mark Sutherland, Editor, Music Week; Simon Burke-Kennedy, Manager, Professor Green; and Tom Kitchen, Head of Sales, Spotify.

Our theme was revolution and the potential of music marketing for brands: the revolution in music consumption – more music is being consumed today than ever before – and the huge and largely untapped potential of music to connect brands meaningfully and emotionally with consumers – especially Millennials, for whom music is one of the main passion points.

Here are our top 10 takeaways from the session.

1. Brands have a natural, expected and often essential role in music

Bands and brands is simply how things are today. Modern, mainstream artists are often measured by their fans and followers by who they surround themselves with. This very much includes brands. Simon Burke-Kennedy told us that “Professor Green has had 40-50 brand deals over the last 5-6 years.” Mark Sutherland added: ”Millennials expect brand collaborations to help them discover new music.”

Professor Green and Puma

2. Any brand can create an authentic role within music

And there are plenty of routes to authenticity. Tom Kitchen: “There is a role for brands you wouldn’t assume have a natural connection with music. For example you can find a connection in how people listen to music – context is important.” A long-term commitment can also deliver authenticity: the Mercedes and Professor Green’s partnership wasn’t an obvious match but has worked really well over a period of a few years. Simon Burke-Kennedy: “The Mercedes partnership was founded on aspiration. Mercedes wanted a bit of risk and edge.” But, as Lisa Buchan explained, it’s all about the idea: “The idea should come first, before the asset or artist.”

3. Collaboration is the key to a successful partnership

The word ‘partnership’ often gets misused. A successful relationship should allow both rights owners and rights users to extract equal value out of any deal. It should not be about a one-way financial transaction (which is often the case). Aligning marketing schedules can often lead to more substantial results, specifically when there is a common target market. Tom Kitchen: “Brands and labels both spend massively on marketing but often conflict – working together would be better for everyone, including the fans.” Joey Swarbrick: “The starting point is to merge what brand and artist want to do.”

4. The starting point for brands is to bring marketing in kind rather than rights fees

As record label budgets continue to plummet, artists and their management regularly search for new opportunities to reach new audiences in order to market and distribute their music. The brands have something that artists and labels don’t: reach, budget and often sophisticated marketing. At the same time, brands value the power of content. Agreeing on a strategy benefiting both sides is more likely to result in a win-win.

Mark Sutherland: “Brands have what labels don’t: money to invest in new talent. Labels are taking fewer risks.” Joey Swarbrick: “Brand marketing budgets are a key selling point for brand partnerships with artists. Beats by Dre will be part of Rizzle Kicks’ third album marketing planning.”

5. Too many brands take a short-term, campaign-specific approach

This is one of the reasons why so many marketers and artists are left disappointed. It scratches the surface of what is possible, uses music tactically rather than strategically, and often results in low ROI for both the brand and band. Joey Swarbrick: “The longevity of brand partnerships is important for credibility – not hit and runs. There is often frustration with short-term brand partnerships for short-term campaigns.” Tom Kitchen: “I rarely see a brand using a long-term music strategy. Just lots of brands trying to be cool and short-term.”

6. The sound of the brand is critical

Successful campaigns require planning and a proactive approach. Music is more often than not a last-minute after-thought (often with little or no budget and left to a junior member of staff to deal with). But it shouldn’t be. The ‘sound of the brand’ is critical and brands should be managing theirs in the same way that labels manage those of their artists. Every brand has a visual identity system with colour and design guidelines: they should also have sound guidelines. Why shouldn’t brands use a Pantone reference scheme for their sound? The ‘traditional’ brand approach is simply missing out music and missing out as a result.

In the multimedia society we live in, the sound of your brand is crucial to get right

7. Music is a complex landscape which most agencies lack the expertise to navigate

The various disconnected verticals (stakeholders) in the music business are very contact driven and complex for those with no experience, making it essential for brands to hire experienced specialist advisors with no conflicts of interest, working on behalf of the brand not the rights owners. Emmy Lovell: “Music is really complicated and the complexity can put brands off. We need to make ourselves more accessible.”

8. Brands need to accept the risks, but there is a big upside: risk can be good!

Brands need to move out of their ‘comfort zone’ and be prepared to take some risks in order to stand out and connect credibly, specifically with Millennials. The music industry takes risks – in order to truly embrace music, so must brands. Something brands such as Mercedes has understood. Lisa Buchan: “Risk can be a good thing as long as the brand is aware of what the risks are and might lead to. Whenever you work with creative people there is risk.” Joey Swarbrick: “If there’s no risk, if it’s completely safe, it won’t cut through.”

Mercedes ‘taking risk’ with UK grime artist Kano in a recent campaign

9. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity

As any top athlete will tell you, preparation is the key to winning. Defining what success looks like before entering into a deal is critical. Many brands have historically entered into relationships with the music industry, unable to define KPI’s – just believing that an investment in the property is right for whatever reason (quite often down to personal belief in an asset). By defining the needs and values of a brand and working to a tight measurable brief, both brand and artist are more likely to benefit and succeed. Tom Kitchen: “Success should be about what you actually want to deliver at the end of the day. Something which is generally overlooked.”

10. The revolution is taking place now – timing is everything

The seismic shift taking place within music is happening now. With the ongoing battle for streaming, increased number of live music events and turf wars amongst other content distributors (the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Netflix) and brands such as Apple showing they can credibly be part of creating culture, there is a window of opportunity amongst artists, labels and management where brands can pioneer and establish the future ways in which things are done. Furthermore, the rights owners are listening… Emmy Lovell: ”We are moving at such a rapid speed of change and evolution – Things are now open that once weren’t.”


If you are a brand marketer interested in discussing how to be part of this revolution and use music as part of your marketing strategy, get in touch with Arnon Woolfson, Head of Entertainment at Synergy.