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.

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.

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.

Sports Marketing Can Learn From Storytellers

The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. These are some of the best-selling books in history and subsequently some of the highest grossing films of all time. So what do they all have in common? And how can sports marketing storytellers learn from them?

All three stories have hit a storytelling sweet spot, tapping into an innate human desire to hear stories of heroic quests and adventures. Even if you’re not Harry Potter’s biggest fan, the heroic quest that J.K. Rowling had chosen – for Harry Potter to defeat the evil wizard Lord Voldermort across seven novels – follows one of the most powerful forms a story can take; the battle of good versus evil.

The ability to tell a compelling story is central to PR and marketing, and this is especially true in sports marketing. Storytellers who master the heroic quest concept and successfully use it to tell their brand’s story can engage their audience, change perceptions and improve understanding in a way their contemporaries cannot.

So what exactly is the Heroic Quest and what does it consist of?

The structure of the Heroic Quest, a phrase coined by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez in their 2016 book titled ‘Illuminate’, is split into three chronological acts: The Beginning (Dream, Leap), The Middle (Fight, Climb) and The End (Arrive and Re-Dream).

Simply put, the hero in the quest must embark on a testing and long journey, overcoming set-backs and obstacles that push them to their limits, before they finish triumphant (or in some cases, fall tragically short).

We see these stories all the time in sport; Andre Agassi’s long road to recovery from injury (and a fall in the world rankings to 141) to win the US Open in 1999, Lionel Messi’s rise to become the best player the world has ever seen despite a growth hormone deficiency as a child, and Michael Phelps who has battled back from rehab following alcohol abuse and is set to compete for the USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics. It’s hard to forget Leicester City’s recent climb to the top of the Barclays Premier League and with a Hollywood film depicting the feat reportedly in the pipeline, this may well be the purest form of the heroic quest within sport we have ever seen.

‘Illuminate’ by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez (2016)

Why does storytelling work so well in PR and marketing?Without getting bogged down too much in the science (take a look at the image below for more detail if dopamine and cortex activity float your boat) our brains are far more engaged with information presented in a storytelling form rather than cold hard facts. Science has proven we humans crave stories. We spend about one third of our lives daydreaming (this actually equates to about half of our waking hours) and another third dreaming of stories in our sleep.But stories do not just come in the form of daydreams distracting us from the day job. Stories can help us connect (the more personal to the viewer the better) with and understand ideas being presented to us. They can conjure a range emotions to help change perceptions of and behaviour towards individuals and brands.

People have a tendency to enter the worlds of the stories they are gripped by and the boundaries between what is real and not becomes increasingly blurred. A great story has the ability to transport you to another world completely. Ever wondered why films can be such tear-jerkers or why you grab the edge of your seat during horror movies? Our brains find it difficult to make the distinction between real life and a figment of someone’s imagination.

But in a world where your audience is dominated by Millenials – a demographic who are increasingly time-poor and often distracted – how can you ensure that your story successfully stands out from the crowd?

1) Make it personal

The more personal and emotive the story, the easier your audience will find it to connect and identify with the characters involved. Keep your hero individual (rather than a group or team) and your viewer is more likely to relate and feel a part of their journey. A good example of this is Under Armour’s emotive ‘Rule Yourself’ video featuring USA swimmer Michael Phelps:

2) Make it authentic

Authenticity is key. Your story should be born from a genuine place otherwise you run the risk of people switching off and, rather than valuing it, thinking of it as a disturbance. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen in Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ video that launched in 2014 is an example of authentic storytelling at its best.

3) Make it suitable for the digital age

The traditional art of storytelling is being challenged. Grab your audience’s attention in the first 15 seconds of the story and you’ve got a good chance of keeping it. The powerful Rugby World Cup 2015 advert ‘Force of Black’ by New Zealand’s kit supplier adidas quickly captured their audience’s attention to help them tell the story of the blade jersey and the force of 15 All Blacks coming together as one.

Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ and ‘Rule Yourself’ campaigns also use a shortened form of the heroic quest to great effect:

While the heroic quests found in The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are easy enough to recognise, it takes a skilled storyteller to present the less straightforward events of day-to-day life in engaging ways, particularly as brands look for new ways to start a conversation with their audience as new technology blossoms.

There are so many heroic sporting stories out there for brands to tell. Working out how to tell that story in a way that is relevant to the brand, engaging for their audience and is powerful enough to change their perceptions is the quest that brands must embark on.

Millennials’ no.2 passion point is music… So why are you making an ad?

We spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV. So why are marketers still so reliant on TV and so few using music as a marketing platform?

Whilst there’s a lot of negative press about the ‘decline’ and ‘downturn’ of the music industry, with artists and labels witnessing a fall in revenue, behind the headlines it’s anything but bad news. The introduction of streaming and the shift of artists’ focus from record sales to live means that more music is being consumed than ever before.

IFPI (which represents the global recording industry) recently published their annual report outlining a total growth of 3.2% to $15.0 billion for recorded music, partly due to a 45% streaming growth with subscription revenue (excluding revenue from some services’ free tiers) jumping $58.9 million to $2 billion, with subscribers growing 66% to 68 million.

The Album Equivalent Sales (AES) industry metric, which measures the volume of music sales combined with streamed audio continues to rise – from the last numbers released, these are up 3.7% from 117.2m albums in 2014 to 121.6m in 2015 in the UK. And the retail value of the UK recorded music market is up 3.5% to £1.06bn in 2015, from the previous year’s £1.02bn.

Whilst we’re always-on, always-connected, we’ve also never been more into the visceral, immersive, analogue experience of a live show. QED: LiveNation, the largest live entertainment company in the world, just posted a record year in 2015, with revenues up 11% to $7.6 billion.

The Nielsen annual Music 360° report shows that 93% of the American population listens to music, spending more than 25 hours each week ‘jamming out’ to their favourite tunes. In fact, 75% of Americans say they actively choose to listen to music, which is more than they claim to actively choose to watch TV (73%). According to The Cassandra Report (from our Engine Group sister agency, Deep Focus), what U.S. Millennials aged 14-34 share online are: 1) Pictures 57%, 2) Music 43%, 3) Videos 43%, 4) Status updates 38%, 5) Jokes 32%, 6) News articles 28%, 7) Memes 25%, 8) GIFs 21%. Clearly the reason why Facebook recently introduced ‘Music Stories’ its music sharing capability, is to deal with the #2 most shared commodity – Music.

So we spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV and share more music than videos. So why are marketers still so addicted to TV ads, when it’s way more likely that their target market is listening to music – especially the world’s two billion Millennials, for whom music is one of the main passion points?

Having personally spent many years talking to senior marketers across many blue-chip brands of the world, one tends to hear similar needs from them all – usually including the need for passion, emotion, connectivity with a demographic and, of course, shareable/viral content. Music is content and comes pre-loaded with all of the above. The lyrics are storytelling and the melody engaging on an emotional level – music can make you laugh and cry…and everything in between.

Music is one of the most shared and recommended commodities online. It’s the most spoken about social conversation, and it fuels the biggest social media sites out there. It simply isn’t being used efficiently and effectively by most brands. Nor is it fully understood. The issue brands have is that active involvement in music is perceived to be both complex and costly – not helped by the traditional historical approach of the music industry, who have seen brands as a cash-cow.

Many brands have had painful experiences and traditionally ROI has been low due to the tactical, one-off approach many brands have adopted. Additionally, with the array of rostered agencies surrounding brands, there has often not been a custodian of the brand in place responsible for controlling the ‘sound of the brand’. The ad agency creating a film for an ad is generally tasked with thinking about what piece of music might bring the film they create to life from a creative standpoint, not always with planning at the heart. Putting it in a brand campaign is only one tiny part of how a brand can use music, yet this is still what many brand marketers consider as ‘being involved in music’. For what really being ‘involved in music’ should look like, brands should take a leaf out of the sports marketers’ playbook – a playbook that at its best eschews tactical one-offs in favour of long-term partnerships with events, teams and athletes.

What is so different in music? Why is there is there so little long-term, platform-based planning going into music and entertainment? Take Red Bull as an example. Dietrich Mateschitz’s love and belief for extreme sports has led the business to truly ‘own’ that space, to the point of becoming a major owner of extreme sports content. Why not take Red Bull’s best practice approach to sports and apply it to music? When will marketers talking about ‘content being king’ start taking music on-board on a more serious basis as part of their content strategy?

Brands that get this right will find themselves embedded at a deeper, emotive and instinctual level with their audiences. Surely music to any marketing director’s ears…

We discussed Millennials and the power of music as part of brands’ marketing strategy at our Synergy Entertainment event, ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’, which was held at Spotify HQ, London in April. Our panel included Emmy Lovell (VP Digital, Warner Music), Joey Swarbrick (Manager Rizzle Kicks), Lisa Buchan (Director Music & Culture at Monster Energy), Mark Sutherland (Editor of Music Week), Simon Burke-Kennedy (Manager of Professor Green) and Tom Kitchen (Spotify). The event was a huge success and edits from the panel will be posted shortly.

For any further information about Synergy Entertainment and how we help brands navigate and deliver solutions in music, please contact:

What the art of storytelling can learn from a whale called ‘Big Blue.’

A few months ago we made a beautiful short film telling the inspirational story of a big wave surfer from Maui. We spent months scouting the island for perfect locations, practicing with drones and underwater cameras and developing the narrative, storyboard, script and soundtrack. All this with a view to making not just a film but a ‘social content pack’ of main edits, making-ofs, YouTube trailers, Instagram teasers, Twitter posters, Facebook gifs and media editorial. The success of this ‘film’ would be defined by its social engagement, which these days means (infuriatingly un-ambitiously) how many people watched more than half of it on YouTube!

The production team decamped to Hawaii for the shoot with storyboard in one hand and camera in the other. On day one we shot out in the ocean, grabbing footage of our surf star paddling his board, silhouetted against the setting sun. Nice work if you can get it. And then, out of the blue, quite literally, a humpback whale rose majestically out of the water, ten feet from our man. She gave him the beady eye, shot a gentle ‘hello’ from her blowhole, rolled to the right…and went back down from whence she came.

Blimey. A massive whale. A real one.

It took us a while to take in what had happened. Our new surfer friend hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before – you can see his reaction on film. Our Director was frantically checking to see what we’d caught (it was good). Our client’s excitement blew their ‘this wasn’t on the storyboard’ concerns out of the water. ‘Big Blue’ – as she became known – had thrown us a bit of a curve ball.

Over the coming weeks, across the rest of the shoot and throughout the editing process, Big Blue had quite an effect on things. Fundamentally, we now had a ‘killer shot’ to play with that we hadn’t planned for! How should we use it? Old-fashioned storytelling suggests you might save it for a climactic moment. Today’s YouTube metrics tell us to stick the money shot up front and secure the eyeballs early on. But, more importantly than all this, Big Blue reminded us of three fundamentals of the art of storytelling:

1. Create stories that have room to breathe. Any story that only works if every shot is captured as sketched on the storyboard and every line of script is delivered word-perfect will never have the emotional depth of a story that can go it’s own way. Yes, we need the brand story to sit strong at the core. The trick is to keep the narrative big enough to allow some freedom.

2. Be creatively ambitious, not a slave to media metrics.
Story first, channel second. A great story, well told to a receptive audience will overpower all the cynical media metrics you can throw at it. We didn’t use Big Blue’s surprise appearance for our opening shot. We drew the viewer in with a subtle underwater sequence…then hit ‘em hard with the whale! From then on, you know you’re in for a ride.

3. Always be open-minded about where a story could go on set. True creativity doesn’t like rules. Yes, you need a core narrative to stay true to – and in the world of marketing this is quite rightly what the brand wants to get across. But, beware the storyboard written in stone. Keep your narrative tight enough to say what you want to say, but loose enough to allow different ways to say it.

Channel proliferation, cynical media metrics and ‘best practice’ techniques are leading the art of storytelling down a commoditised and formulaic path.

When Big Blue said hello that day, she didn’t just help us make a great film. She reminded us that we should always be ambitious and stay open to that little bit of magic that could come along at any moment. When hopefully the cameras will be rolling…

A year like no other: Synergy’s 2014

As another year comes to an end, now seems a suitable time to reflect on a whirlwind 12 months for Synergy.

Here we outline some of our most innovative work in 2014, what the wider implications are for the industry, and what other campaigns have caught our eye and set the benchmark for what will undoubtedly be another busy and exciting year:


What we did:

2014 kicked off slightly early for some of the team at Synergy, who were at Twickenham activating IG’s inaugural sponsorship of The Big Game. Through the ‘Big Game, Bright Lights’ campaign, we looked to capitalise on the down-time that half-time offers and re-invigorate the crowd for the second half. By innovatively using Twickenham’s LED inventory, fans experienced an audio-visual spectacular that connected IG’s brand with Harlequins and gave fans the chance to win some amazing prizes.

Industry insight:

Half-time at sports games have often felt like a necessary evil for sports fans in the UK; a short break to allow the players to recover and fans to visit the facilities. The Pepsi Half-time show at the SuperBowl in February emphasised that US sport is still the benchmark for half-time entertainment, but IG’s work at Twickenham showed that, with a clear insight and innovative use of standard sponsorship inventory, the half-time break may no longer simply be used as an excuse to get the drinks in.


What we did:

The RBS 6 Nations tends to dominate the sporting agenda in February, and is often when Synergy is at its most active. As part of the RBS 6 Nations activation, Synergy helped to produce a series of films based on defining moments from the tournament. These films truly encapsulated the values of sportsmanship, perseverance and teamwork that the brand and the fans love about The Championship.

Industry insight:

Capturing sport’s inherent ‘truths’ like this, and amplifying them to produce content of interest, based on real insight, is a gift that fans want to receive. Guinness also managed this feat, with their films in honour of Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams and Bill McLaren, whilst Barclays’s impressively moving Premier League film captured the essence of the match day experience that makes football so special for fans, and so valued by brands.


What we did:

The Capital One Cup Final in March saw the climax of Capital One’s season-long campaign focused on ‘supporting the supporters’. As part of the Final activity, Capital One looked to maximise the audience of the final by offering free Now TV passes to those not lucky enough to have access to Sky Sports. This was a big gesture that delivered true value to football fans, who would otherwise have missed the first final of the 2013/14 season.

Industry insight:

Extending the true excitement of an event beyond those lucky enough to attend is a challenge facing a number of brands and rightsholders. However, alongside Capital One’s work, there have been a number of other examples in 2014 of brands bringing events closer to non-ticket-holders. Two that we particularly enjoyed were The National Theatre’s continued commitment to its National Theatre Live programme, which involves live screenings of theatre shows at local cinemas, and Manchester United’s partnership with Google+ that allowed fans around the world to ‘be’ at Old Trafford by appearing live on the pitch-side perimeter boards.


What we did:

In order to kick off MasterCard’s partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy created a photo moment on the Thames involving All Blacks legend Dan Carter kicking conversions over Tower Bridge. As emphasised on the Synergy blog, a good photo idea has to be reinforced with insight and good management in order to be successful. Both of these boxes were emphatically ticked here, with the resultant images capturing the imagination of the national media and providing one of the most compelling sports PR shots in recent memory.

Industry insight:

Other striking PR shots that grabbed our attention this year included the Yorkshire Building Society dying 150 sheep yellow in honour of the Tour de France and Puma’s water projection on The Thames to launch the new Arsenal kit. Once again, these examples looked fresh and innovative and therefore excited the media and fans alike.

What we did:

BUPA’s ‘My First Step’ campaign looked to get more people running by emphasising the ease with which people could start, or re-start, training. As part of the planning, BUPA and Synergy found that 60% of UK adults believed that their bodies would not be up to running once they reached 60, a myth BUPA looked to dispel as part of the campaign. 63 year-old non-runner Jennie Bond was recruited as an ambassador, as we followed her training journey that culminated in her completing the BUPA London 10,000 event.

Industry insight:

Consumer insight is clearly crucial for a successful sponsorship campaign, with the best examples based on thorough planning. Whilst the success of the ‘My First Step’ campaign was built on a relevant and robust consumer insight, we make no excuses for including another piece of Synergy work from 2014 that emphasised the importance of understanding a target audience. Ahead of Round 4 of the Capital One Cup, Capital One gave Brian Clough-style green jumpers to Nottingham Forest’s away fans at Tottenham as a tribute to their legendary manager. The story and images received widespread acclaim and, whilst the execution was impressive, the success of the story was thanks to the team’s insight around the 10th anniversary of Clough’s death and his unforgettable status within the game.


What we did:

June at Synergy signalled the launch of Coca-Cola’s ParkLives project. Following many months of in-depth planning and research, the aim of getting more people more active more often was brought to life through this bespoke programme in partnership with local councils, which provides free activity classes for local people in local parks in cities across the UK.

Industry insight:

The planning for the ParkLives campaign re-iterated that self-created programmes can often be the best way for brands to achieve their CSR goals, rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf proposition. Another great example of this in 2014 was Western Union’s ‘Pass’ programme around the brand’s UEFA Europa League sponsorship. Each successful pass made during the competition signified a contribution of financial support for quality education of young people around the world.


What we did:

The SSE team at Synergy were up in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the culmination of the brand’s GoGlasgow campaign. One of our many roles up in Scotland was managing SSE’s experiential activity on Glasgow Green, which allowed fans to capture a unique photo of themselves supporting their nation. Importantly this activity linked seamlessly into SSE’s wider campaign and fed into a digital leaderboard that acted as a real-time tracker on the conversations around the Games.

Industry insight:

Whilst by no means a new trend, by linking the experiential activity to the wider campaign and creating a strong digital output, the reach of SSE’s footprint went far beyond those lucky people at the Glasgow Green live site, and therefore generated significant engagement levels. Another really simple idea that we loved from this year was Nescafé’s activity in Croatia that again blended the online and offline world simply and effectively to create a fun and shareable experience.


What we did:

A couple of crazy days in late August saw Synergy manage the media launches for both the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership 2014/15 rugby seasons, and give journalists, staff and fans unique access to two of the biggest club rugby competitions in Europe. The Guinness launch focused on staff engagement at Diageo’s global HQ in London, which gave employees the chance to quiz the Pro 12 captains; whilst Aviva’s event at Twickenham harnessed the Twitter reach of several of the players by creating the first ever ‘Captains selfie’ which provided fans with a fun, new viewpoint of the launch.

Industry insight:

One of the obvious benefits of sponsorship as a marketing tool is the ability for a brand to give their target audience behind-the-scenes access to something about which they care passionately. Whilst not specifically a launch, The FA’s use of the trophy to promote the sense of adventure around the upcoming third round of The FA Cup is a heart-warming example of a rightsholder giving fans unique access to something special (in this case, young fans being able to take the trophy on a series of their own adventures).


What we did:

2014 has been a massive year for Martini and Synergy, as we have helped take the iconic stripes back to the Formula 1 grid through the title partnership of Williams Martini Racing. In September, at Martini’s home race at Monza, a massive pan-European trade promotion reached its climax, with consumers and trade partners having the chance to experience an exclusive Italian weekend. This included rooftop parties, power boating on Lake Como and, of course, access to the Italian Grand Prix itself, and Synergy were on-hand to ensure this massive operation ran smoothly.

Industry insight:

Global sponsorships don’t get much bigger that a Formula 1 car deal, and Martini have used their sponsorship effectively to create unique promotions that engage with their target audiences. We also loved Coca-Cola’s huge FIFA World Cup on-pack promotion – offering consumers the chance to win one of a million footballs. For a brand that is committed to helping people get more active, this was a bold statement of intent. The additional element of a 10p donation to StreetGames for every purchase showed a brand that is embracing the Social Era and also reiterated that sponsorship, shopper marketing and CSR can work brilliantly together when applied correctly.


What we did:

October was all about The 2014 Ryder Cup, and the BMW and SLI teams at Synergy used their sponsorships in very different ways to achieve their objectives. BMW focused on generating sales leads and bringing fans closer to the action, with all activity centring on the #DriveYourTeam hashtag, whilst SLI used the tournament to demonstrate their ‘World Class As Standard ‘proposition. Two unique content strategies helped to achieve these objectives, with BMW focusing on using Twitter to create relevant and reactive golf content for fans and SLI creating long-form video content with ambassadors Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange to connect the World Class attributes of The Ryder Cup with Standard Life Investments.

Industry insight:

As we all know, a single sporting platform can be approached in very different ways, and a third brand (this time a non-sponsor) who once again used The Ryder Cup as a prime PR opportunity was Paddy Power, and we loved their approach, using a tongue-in-cheek appearance from Nigel Farage to extol the virtues of Europe coming together.


What we did:

The QBE Internationals are always a busy time in Synergy’s calendar and this year we were busy creating fantastic social content for our new client, and England kit manufacturer, Canterbury. Using Canterbury’s innovative new shirt fabric as our literal canvas and creating messaging that linked the product with the team, we were able to put an innovative spin on real-time messaging and put the shirt at the heart of Canterbury’s content.

Industry insight:

As the fan appetite for real-time content continues to grow, the evolving challenge for brands is how to get serious cut-through from their communications. We therefore also liked Virgin Media’s real-time newsroom during the Commonwealth Games, which created fun, amusing and – most importantly – differentiated sponsor content throughout the Games.


What we did:

December has seen another milestone reached for Synergy, as the first instalment in a series of Royal Salute videos inspired by the world of horsemanship, reached over a million views on YouTube (across four geo-tagged edits for different markets). This visually stunning video beautifully encapsulates the bond between man and horse, and is perfectly in keeping with a luxury brand with a strong heritage in polo.

Industry insight:

We have thought about some of the other content we have enjoyed in 2014 and in no particular order, three of our favourites include:

Beats By Dre – The Game Before The Game

The ultimate ambusher pulled off a masterstroke – brilliantly framing the key moment before a game (the moment when Beats headphones have an obvious and key role for the players) with a little help from among others – Neymar (and his dad), Fabregas, Van Persie, Lebron, Serena and even the two stars of the World Cup final – Schweinsteiger and Gotze. The presence of the pantomime villain Suarez didn’t even detract from it!

Nike Football – The Last Game

We loved how Nike brought out the personalities of their superstars and used animation in a fresh and interesting way, helping them to get around the obvious problems of bringing together a wealth of their talent for a shoot. The medium also opened the door brilliantly to the unique #AskZlatan real-time content series.

Always #LikeAGirl

A very different video – and one that doesn’t rely on any talent costs or high production values – but in an incredibly focused, simple and beautiful way reinforces Always’ commitment to empowering girls globally.

What do all of these videos have in common? All four of them are (in very different ways) tapping into something of genuine interest and relevance – whether a moment or a movement – and therefore people in their millions have actively chosen to watch, talk about and share them.

For Synergy, 2014 has unquestionably been a year to savour in sponsorship – here’s to another great year for the industry in 2015.

Brazil 2014 – Synergy’s Sponsorship & Marketing First XI

Germany’s victory against Argentina on Sunday evening signaled the end of what many are referring to as the greatest World Cup in living memory. The attacking football on show led to matches of the highest quality, with many of the world’s top players rising to the occasion and creating magical moments. However, the action on the pitch was not the only source of interest, with the marketing of the event inevitably leading to a number of worldwide talking points. As part of our Synergy team on the ground in Brazil, Reema Babakhan picked out her highlights:

1. Social media showed just how global the World Cup is

In particular, Twitter demonstrated this like never before during this summer’s tournament. Germany’s demolition of Brazil in the Semi-Finals broke the world record for the number of tweets about a single sport event, with 35.6 million tweets sent about the match, while 618,725 tweets were posted in just one minute following the final whistle of Sunday’s showpiece. And the conversation really is global, as neatly illustrated by this Twitter heat map from the Germany v Brazil match.

Away from Twitter, the World Cup Final became the most discussed event ever on Facebook with 280 million interactions during the game, dwarfing the 245 million set by the Super Bowl last year.

2. Suarez’s bite was the ‘Oreo Moment’

Suarez provided brands with a prime opportunity for some tongue-in-cheek real-time marketing. But, as we wrote on the Synergy blog, no brand managed to own the incident like Oreo at the Super Bowl.

3. Watch this space

Hublot’s huge new watch-style subs boards were a real coup, and they became one of the talking points of the tournament. It also highlighted a trend of World Cup sponsors’ unique activations becoming more and more visible with other examples including Bud’s Man of The Match, Coke’s Happiness Flag and McDonald’s Player Escorts. Food for thought for the IOC?

4. Gillette missed a sitter

We like Goal Line Technology, but we loved the free kick spray and, more importantly, we all talked about it. It also spawned hundreds of Twitter virals almost immediately, so why did Gillette take a week to capitalise on it?

5. Cahill’s lucky escape

Some activity is only seen in certain territories. Gary Cahill will be forever thankful to his agent for ensuring that Premier League fans were spared this cracker from Budweiser that aired hourly in Brazil:

6. All over for Sony?

Although no official announcement has been made, rumours are rife that this will be Sony’s last as a World Cup sponsor. A contributing factor to this decision may well have been how well they were ambushed by Beats by Dre, a move that caused such alarm that the headphones were explicitly banned by FIFA. Despite this, and Sony sending every player a pair of their headphones, some of the most talked about players from this summer’s tournament, including Neymar, Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli, continued to be pictured wearing their Beats away from the stadiums.

The ad for Beats, filmed in Brazil, features the aforementioned players as well as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daniel Sturridge, Mario Götze and Robin van Persie, and has had more than 22 million views on YouTube. Following Germany’s victory at the Final, it was announced that the full squad would receive a set of 24 carat gold-dipped special edition headphones.

7. Will Emirates ever activate?

One film, Pele in a polo shirt and their hostesses at the Final. Is that it?

8. A ball became a celebrity

The activation of @brazuca by Adidas was probably the sponsor coup of the tournament. With its irreverent posts, the official match ball became one of the must followed accounts of this year’s World Cup, with Zinedine Zidane, Samuel L Jackson and Pope Francis amongst the 3 million people to hit the follow button. Not only that, but the brand sponsors both the German and Argentinian kit, resulting in the first all Adidas final since 1990.

9. Nike still rules as an ‘unofficial’ sponsor

The #riskeverything campaign received unanimous nods of approval, a certain Mr Gotze is a Nike man and they still own the most iconic shirt in football, the yellow of Brazil.

10. But most Brazilians don’t buy Nike shirts

Up and down the bars at Copacabana, on the streets of Sao Paulo, on the beaches of Recife, the yellow shirt is worn, which sounds great for Nike, but it’s rarely the genuine article. The price is prohibitive for many Brazilians, costing almost 1/3 of their monthly salary. In response, some outlets reverted to reducing the costs to combat the endless fakes sold openly on the streets.

11. Social Media has made #gotgotneed even louder

In every school playground and classroom, the ‘got, got, need’ mantra has been spoken for years. This year, that mantra became louder as nostalgic adults also got involved like never before. Social media became a giant global playground for dedicated collectors of the famed Panini stickers. It’s likely this will be a world record year for Panini, especially with Brazil as its biggest market (8 million albums are currently being filled by the host nation alone).

And 3 off the bench…

12. The USA sees the light

Has the US finally fallen in love with soccer? The performance of USMNT certainly galvanised the US audiences, and it is clear that 2014 was the year that Americans finally learnt to fully embrace the spectacle of the World Cup. President Obama was amongst a host of high-profile USMNT supporters to articulate their support for the team through social media. Others included Justin Timberlake, Fergie, Kobe Bryant and Hulk Hogan.

13. Football saved FIFA. For now.

It was all doom and gloom in the weeks and months leading up to the World Cup. The infrastructure was not going be ready, the tournament would grind to a halt, there would be violent protests, and England would struggle to get past the round of 16. The predictions were (almost all) wrong.

Football won. It was so good that FIFA, and even Sepp Blatter, were given a break from the corruption allegations surrounding the Qatar World Cup. It remains to be seen how long that will last.

14. Messi wins Golden Ball (sponsored by Adidas)

Messi also happens to be Adidas’s most high profile ambassador. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the general consensus is that Messi didn’t do anywhere near enough to claim the plaudits this time.

Synergy Kick-Off MasterCard’s Rugby World Cup Partnership

Earlier this year, Synergy helped MasterCard announce their worldwide partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015 . In order to emphasise the iconic nature of both the Rugby World Cup and London, Synergy developed a plan to launch the sponsorship with a striking image with one of the best rugby players in the world, Dan Carter.

As the world’s leading points scorer, Dan Carter needs little introduction. As someone who sits comfortably alongside legends of the game, he is a perfect fit with MasterCard who have signed him up as an ambassador from the launch through to the beginning of the tournament in 2015.

In his first outing as an ambassador, The All Blacks legend headed out into the middle of The Thames to practise his kicking towards London’s largest set of goalposts, Tower Bridge, in front of the world's media. Dan also conducted a series of interviews to deliver MasterCard’s key sponsorship messages. A press release, imagery and a behind-the-scenes video were delivered across MasterCard’s media in key global markets.

Ann Cairns (President of MasterCard’s International Markets) and Brett Gosper (Chief Executive of International Rugby Board) were also both in attendance on the day to speak to the assembled media about the Priceless nature of the Rugby World Cup, as well as the important role MasterCard’s sponsorship plays in creating a legacy of innovation around the tournament.

The day was a great success and, in total, the activity generated over 150 pieces of coverage across global markets, with highlights including CNN, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. The image of Dan Carter and the accompanying interviews certainly seemed to strike a chord with rugby fans and proved to be a fantastic way of celebrating the new partnership. 

Highlights of what was a very memorable day can be seen below:

Bubba’s Hover gives Oakley the lead in The Brand Masters

For golf fans, the onset of April is all about looking forward to The Masters, the year’s first Major and one of the jewels in the crown of global sport. That being the case, it’s also a key marketing moment for brands looking to leverage golf, which always sees a raft of campaigns unveiled. And first off the tee this year is Oakley, with a brilliant fusion of bravery, creativity and innovation, featuring reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson. The launch film – over 300,000 views in 24 hours at the time of writing – speaks for itself.

There are so many things I love about this idea and this film, but I’ll pick three in particular.

1. Its inspired use of endorsement. As Bubba is above all known for being unconventional, the endorsee and the creative idea fit perfectly – still a rarity in sports marketing and, at a time when the falls from grace of Tiger Woods and Oscar Pistorius among others are leading many to question the value of endorsement, a reminder that it’s still a very valuable asset in the sports marketing toolkit when you get it right.

(Related point. If Rory McIlroy was still an Oakley asset, I wonder whether they would have used him instead of Bubba.)

2. Its alignment with the Oakley brand. Oakley has a very strong point of view about innovation, which is absolutely key to its DNA and product portfolio. But on top of this, it also has a brand manifesto – ‘Beyond Reason’ – which it set out in a series of films launched last year, led by this.

Again, it’s a rarity in sports marketing to see brands committing so strongly to a point of view. More brands should do it, as a touchstone to guide everything they do. If Oakley hadn’t had ‘Beyond Reason’ as a framework for their thinking, I’d wager that making a call on Bubba’s Hover would have been a lot harder.

3. The film isn’t over-branded. Sure, there are some obligatory shots of the Oakley logo on the hovercraft, but overall the branding is subtle and lets the idea – and the Oakley point of view – speak for itself. Refreshing.

With brave content like this, the future is definitely sunny for Oakley…here’s hoping we see a few more bold brands making the cut this year.