Blog

VIDEO: The vision of the future

Content. The buzzword of modern-day marketing. Not a day goes by in the office when the word content isn’t mentioned. With all this comes a huge increase in video content, and at a time where one third of online activity is video consumption, brands would be foolish to not ensure that the video content they are producing is engaging, relevant and last, but by no means least, has a purpose.

Yet, with this explosion of online video comes a huge amount of data, which ultimately, is the key to brand success; unlocking audience behaviour, and being informed about what is making an impact. In light of this, I attended an Online Video Data Revolution Talk hosted by Tubular Labs last week where I was able to listen to the success stories and learnings from broadcast and digital experts in their pursuit of doing just that.

Be one of the ‘Lads’

In the room, we learnt tips from the likes of Adam Clyne, COO of The LAD Bible Group, the world's fastest-growing news site for young men. With monthly viewership of 3.7 billion, and ranking second across global media properties (according to Tubular Lab’s August statistics), The LAD Bible is a great example of a brand born out of social media channels, mainly Facebook, which meant the pressure to create engaging video content was vast.

Clyne was quick to acknowledge that the ‘relatability’ of The LAD Bible’s content has been a huge factor in its success. By understanding their audience, the team at The LAD Bible are able to produce video which has the likeability and shareability factor which exponentially increases the likelihood of getting views. Elements like ‘tag a mate’ act as a direct call to action, which often results in a domino effect with audiences’ content participation.

The success of The LAD Bible has also been down to the instantaneous results which they can gauge through social sentiment. Clyne highlighted that more than ever, if the content is wrong for your audience, they are not afraid to comment and call you out on this. This goes for branded content as well, with audiences being savvy enough to acknowledge a brand collaboration when they see it. However, Clyne pointed out that such content shouldn’t be an anomaly within your newsfeed or enable you to “sell your soul” by changing your normal tone for the sake of a brand. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to react to what your audience wants, learn the before and after, and ensure you’re targeting those most engaged with your content.

Leaving Broadcast Behind

With the rise in digital video content, where does this leave broadcasters? Certainly, there is the necessity to keep ahead with the times by creating short-form content which can establish a place on social platforms in its own right. Andy Taylor, co-founder and CEO of LittleDot Studios commended American talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show with James Corden for their ability to master an online presence.

A show of hands in the room proved this point when asked who watches The Late Late Show with James Corden versus who had seen James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke ; more often than not, YouTube sees more views of broadcast content than the programme itself. These types of videos tap into the recipe of success which Adam Clyne spoke of, being easily shareable as well as timeless in their existence on YouTube.

What’s next for video

With the surge in demand for online content, Andy Taylor from Little Dot predicted that in five years’ time, Facebook will consist of strictly video content. For broadcasters to succeed in these times, he predicted that we are more likely to see TV and online collaborations. This is something we have already had glimpses of with the recent partnership between National Geographic and The LAD Bible, whereby National Geographic’s Leonardo DiCaprio-led documentary, Before the Flood ( was broadcast simultaneously on TV and via a livestream on The LAD Bible’s Facebook page.

This form of output is establishing a presence online, particularly for sports fans who have shown themselves hugely engaged with digital and social live streaming, which brings massive opportunities for rightholders and broadcasters alike. Just recently, Andy Murray became the first tennis star to stream a major match live on Facebook from his own page, and Moto GP earned more than 7 million views from a clip of Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi partaking in some ‘epic’ wheelies, demonstrating that the appetite for live sport on social will continue to increase.

Ultimately, it is clear that video content is more important than ever for engaging audiences and creating a loyal fan base for your brand; viewer behaviours are finding new forms of expression all the time, so, more often than not, brands need to adapt quickly and respond. Lastly, it is important to understand that the digital landscape has shifted in such a way that brands are able to reach their consumers without necessarily going through a third party, putting greater emphasis on the brand messages themselves and the way they reach their audience. We’re currently in a shift state, the balance of power for content is moving from broadcast to online, and I for one am excited to see where brands can capitalise from this.

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.

Brand Murray Is Just Beginning

Arguably sport always has been, and always will be, associated with stars. Sportspeople of incredible athletic ability make the impossible appear effortless, creating moments of magic that give fans the chance to utter the phrase “I was there”. For an athlete to be held in this rarefied bracket of superstars can bring global fame and vast financial reward, but also a burden of expectation not just from their own fans, but the sports they bestride.

The Next Stage

An athlete who must surely now be considered within this group is Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray. Three years since his first win, Murray once again captured the title that he covets most, placing him alongside esteemed double Wimbledon winners such as Stefan Edberg and Rafael Nadal. The win also topped off an incredible year for Murray. Marriage to his long-term girlfriend, guiding Great Britain to a Davis Cup win and becoming a father has brought about a slow but noticeable transformation of brand Murray. His growing maturity matched with a change in perception among even the most casual of tennis fans offers him the perfect opportunity to take his brand even further as he moves into the next stage of his career.

Star Power

According to London School of Marketing’s 2015 sport power list, Murray ranked in 16th place. Not bad, but when considered alongside his fellow male players, Rafael Nadal (8th) Novak Djokovic (7th) and Roger Federer (1st), there appears to be some room left to grow. Federer’s continued brilliance away from the court is in contrast to his slowly diminishing powers on it. Without a Grand Slam win for four years, Federer’s ‘RF’ brand remains worn by more than just a few of the paying crowd on centre court. His ability to show a side of his personality that resonates with sponsors without a link to the court has helped prolong his marketability and it’s a path that Murray has already started to tread.

Although he counts Under Armour and Head as his on-court equipment partners, Murray’s partnership with Standard Life represents a deal that looks to work with some of the less athletic aspects of Murray’s character and is undoubtedly contributing to a better understanding of the man behind the racket. Yet it’s imperative that the partnership works both ways, with a set of shared traits that can be projected to a targeted audience for the benefit of both sponsor and athlete.

Careful cultivation of these traits can truly transform reputations and Standard Life’s Master Your Dreams film series is a perfect example of the process at work. The films explore a side of Andy Murray that isn’t well-known, helping the audience to see a new thread in the Murray story and one that Standard Life applies to its own organisation. From the meticulous preparations of Andy’s childhood, to meeting his own sporting heroes, viewers have shown a willingness to engage with the films, sharing their changing perceptions and even thanking Standard Life for providing the opportunity for them do so.

Standard Life’s willingness to look beyond the common narrative and work with a different side of brand Murray not only helps them stand out from the crowd but supports their own story, not something every sponsorship or indeed athlete, has the ability to do. The challenge therefore is two-fold, first to identify an athlete whose own brand, ambitions and athletic performance complements that of a sponsor and secondly (and far more challenging) is to select the the correct aspect of an athlete’s story to tell.

Executed properly the rewards are clear for all to see, both on and off the court.

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.

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.

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…

Success & Scandal: The Inspiring Early History Of Women’s Football

Goodison Park was packed to the rafters as 53,000 fans watched Alice Kell – captain of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies – score a hat trick in her team’s 4-0 win over St Helens Ladies. By all accounts, the 14,000 supporters turned away from the stadium missed a great game of football. The day was Boxing Day; the year, 1920.For the best part of a century this game stood as the record attendance for the women’s game. It wasn’t till London 2012 when 70,584 saw England beat Brazil 1-0 that this dusty record was broken. In recent years – and especially in the wake of the England’s heroics at the 2015 World Cup – women’s football has been experiencing an extraordinary rise in popularity. England’s semi-final against Japan peaked at 2.4m viewers on BBC 1 and Round 7 of The FA WSL in July 2015 experienced record crowds. Moreover, the Women’s FA Cup – boosted by SSE’s historic title sponsorship – drew 30,000 to Wembley.A challenge for the game’s champions and sponsors is to consolidate and grow this fanbase ahead of the European Championships in 2017.

Given compelling stories celebrating brands’ pasts are often the backbone to strong campaigns, (see Johnnie Walker and Lloyds), perhaps the same strategy could be applied to women’s football, given its fascinating and tumultuous history…

In 1894, feminist Nettie Honeyball founded an unprecedented entity – the British Ladies Football Club – with the aim, she said, of “proving to the world that women are not the ornamental and useless creatures men have pictured”. It was a radical idea and led to the first official recorded game of football between two women’s teams. This took place in 1895 when a collection of players from North London took on their Southern counterparts.

A “huge throng of ten thousand” travelled to Crouch End to witness the spectacle. There followed a series of games, raising money for charity, around the country. Some reporters were sneering, “the laughter was easy, and the amusement was rather coarse” (Jarrow Express); whilst others were supportive, “I don’t think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men” (The Sporting Man). However, by the time the year was over, crowds – apparently blasé to the novelty – had petered out and the women’s game disappeared.

Twenty years later, with World War I raging on the Western Front, The FA suspended the Football League as players joined the ranks in the trenches. Meanwhile, 900,000 women were sent to work in munitions factories, where kicking a ball around at lunch breaks was a welcome respite from their dangerous job. From these kick-abouts, ‘Munitionette’ teams from various Northern factories were formed.

The most famous and successful of these was from Dick, Kerr’s & Co. in Preston. The team’s first match drew a crowd of 10,000 but this success was unlike the short-lived successes of 1895. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies went on to play numerous matches, raising £70,000 (£14m in today’s money) for charities supporting ex-servicemen and other causes. True, there were mutterings of the game’s unsuitability for women but the crowds continued to pour in even after the war ended – 35,000, for instance, saw Alice Kell’s team play Newcastle United Ladies at St James’ Park in 1919.

Alongside Alice Kell, Lily Parr was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies star player. One local newspaper wrote that there was “probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country” and it is said her shot was so hard it once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper. Parr’s 31 year playing career saw her score over 1,000 goals, 34 in her first season in 1920… not bad for a 14-year-old.

1920-21 represented the peak of Dick, Kerr’s success. In 1920 they represented England, beating the French women’s team on both sides of the Channel and finished the year at Goodison Park in front of 53,000 fans (by comparison 50,018 attended the men’s FA Cup Final that year). Meanwhile, 1921 was packed with 67 fixtures in front of a cumulative audience of 900,000. Yet, 1921 was also the year of the second downfall of the women’s game, courtesy of a directive from The FA banning female teams from all FA affiliated stadiums and grounds.

The perennial complaint against women’s football – and the excuse used by The FA – was that it was harmful to female health. In 1895 the British Medical Journal had declared “We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect.” Now in the ’20s, Harley Street’s Dr Mary Scharlieb wrote, “I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a women’s physical frame”.

However, one might argue that these medical opinions were merely a pseudo-justification for The FA’s real fear that women’s football represented an uncomfortable shift in society’s hierarchy. Now the war was over, here you had female teams – “in knickers [shorts] so scanty as would be frowned upon” – attracting more fans than many men’s games being played on the same day.

What’s more, the women’s football matches, which had raised thousands for charity, were now supporting the struggling families of miners during the 1921 Miners Lock Out – a politically charged dispute where miners were had been banned from working in the coalfields, having refused significant wage reductions.It was a lethal combination: Women flouting the role dictated to them by social convention to play a scandalous sport that drew bigger audiences than their male counterparts, whilst raising funds in support of anti-establishment trade unions.

The FA’s ban effectively squeezed the sport into obscurity. Whilst teams such as Dick, Kerr’s continued to play, their banishment to nondescript playing fields meant that never again would they be cheered on by thousands in Goodison Park or St James’s. Years in the wilderness followed until the FA ban was finally lifted half a century later, allowing the game to begin its slow recovery. Although that’s another story for another time…

Back in 2016, with the women’s game reaching the popularity levels of the 1920s, the challenge is to maintain its upward trajectory ahead of, and beyond, forthcoming major Tournaments. The stories, characters and controversy from women’s football’s intriguing past are potentially a real starting point from which to catalyse powerful campaigns around the sport.

SOURCES:
Shelley Alexander, ‘Trail-Blazers who Pioneered Women’s Football’ (BBC)
John Simkin, ‘British Ladies Football Club’ (Spartacus Educational)
John Simkin, ‘History of Women’s Football’ (Spartacus Educational)
‘The History of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge’ (The Guardian)
‘WW1: Why was women’s football banned in 1921?’ (BBC)

Back to Hockey: a winning approach to grassroots

Trying to fit playing sport around work and having a social life is difficult especially when you haven’t played since leaving school or university. What can be done to help rectify this? In 2010 England Netball created Back to Netball, an initiative which has helped encourage women who thought their playing days were over to get back into the sport. The campaign has been hugely successful with over 60,000 women getting back into netball which has naturally benefited the sport from grassroots to the elite game.

England Hockey took a leaf out of the same book a few years back to create their own Back to Hockey campaign – using eye-catching creative to get lapsed players back into the sport, more recently evolving the initiative to make it as relevant and powerful to audiences as possible.

Reinventing Back to Hockey

2014 was a hugely successful year for the initiative, with 53% of players stating they wanted to take part in more Back to Hockey sessions within the club environment. This subsequently saw over 2,500 players regularly attend Back to Hockey sessions across England. To innovate for this year’s campaign, England Hockey connected with Sport England campaign ‘This Girl Can’, which has helped to improve and build upon the marketing of the initiative.

By using the same principle as Back to Netball, England Hockey have been encouraging hockey clubs to reach out into their local communities and encourage former players – women in particular – to put on their trainers and head towards their local club. Attracting female players back into sport has traditionally been a difficult task as there are numerous barriers to participation for them, therefore, the investment that governing bodies make towards similar campaigns is vital towards their success. Not only are England Hockey making the scheme more appealing to clubs by emphasising the potential of attracting new members, they are also encouraging clubs to use their own social media channels to help spread the word of the initiative further afield.

My own hockey club, Winchmore Hill and Enfield HC, has taken part in Back to Hockey this year, which has seen a massive positive impact within the club, as well as a growing interest in hockey from media within our local community. With the sports pages traditionally dominated by football and cricket, our local paper has helped us advertise the weekly sessions, which has widened our search for new ‘lapsed’ recruits. With the help of new creative content from the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, there has been a focus on combining simple skill-based drills with games, which has helped to slowly introduce lapsed players back into the sport.

Not only have we gained new members who have already started playing in our summer league teams, attendees have loved the laid back, enjoyable style of each session, which has seen us retain 70% of attendees from the first sessions we ran. From my own experience of the campaign, I’ve noticed a huge positive effect it has had, not only on our club members volunteering to coach and umpire each session, but also on how much the lapsed players have grown in confidence since we launched our weekly Back to Hockey sessions a few weeks ago. This has been particularly evident in our female players.

New Marketing Approach

In marketing terms, England Hockey’s tie-up with ‘This Girl Can’ has allowed them to produce a variety of content with a similar creative look and feel. The content has been shared via the governing body’s social media channels, which the participating Back to Hockey clubs across the nation have reciprocated through their own channels. Aligning with the high-profile ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has given Back to Hockey a shot in the arm, and allowed them to reach a wider target audience than it would have done previously. Using copy and imagery which is both inviting and current, especially for a more predominant female audience, has allowed the campaign to become much more relatable for the lapsed players.

This new content has also seen England Hockey completely readdress their current marketing of the women’s team, which previously would have had the same approach as the men’s. England Hockey have not only identified that when they are promoting the women’s team to a female audience they shouldn’t be focusing on the physical nature of the sport, but also that they should be showcasing the sport in a different environment. Profiling the women’s team in articles like The Daily Telegraph’s recent piece has highlighted the current shift in perception of the sport, which has seen an increased appetite for televised coverage of matches and internationals to be played within the UK.

England Hockey and England Netball have created impressive and engaging initiatives that challenge the significant drop-off in sports participation between school and adult life, with England Hockey’s connection to ‘This Girl Can’ hugely aiding their cause.

Is this simple concept something that other sports can learn from and adapt to their own sports? I definitely think so.

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:

JANUARY

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.

FEBRUARY

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.

MARCH

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.

APRIL

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.

JUNE

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.

JULY

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.

AUGUST

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).

SEPTEMBER

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.

OCTOBER

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.

NOVEMBER

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.

DECEMBER

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.