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Be Cool, Be First: Does the Quest for Original Activation Concepts Come at the Expense of What’s Right for the Brand?

All marketers are seeking that ‘first’, that innovative use of technology that is going to garner awards and make their brand, their agency, or themselves famous. In this quest for originality, however, there is the danger that new technology in our industry is being used purely for the sake of it – with very little strategic rationale for the brand involved.

At Synergy, we are of course tracking with interest the evolution of this technology, but the challenge we face week in, week out is to ensure that we are creating both innovative and effective sponsorship campaigns. We therefore recognise the importance of continuing to offer original thinking, but are keen to discourage the ‘it’s been done before (and is therefore not appropriate)’ attitude than can be prevalent in the industry.

We believe that it is not necessarily about winning the race to use any new technology – but instead ensuring that this tech is used appropriately to make sponsorship activations as authentic and impactful as possible.

So why are we so interested in correctly handling this balance between utilising new technology at both the right time – and also for the right reasons – in the first place? As sponsors increasingly look to reach Millennials, we know that these digital natives fully expect their interactions with brands to be grounded in technology, and are eager to try out new things (even if they can’t yet envisage how these forthcoming devices are going to influence their lives). The onus therefore lies with brands to attract and then engage with this audience through digital activity that makes their experiences both memorable and sharable. Clearly, for things to be memorable for Millennials, activations need to feel fresh and different, and this audience is less likely to share something that is starting to feel old hat – so timing remains a crucial consideration. The Fall/Winter 2014 Cassandra Report from Engine Group agency The Intelligence Group reiterates this: Millennials ‘want to be the first to do or share something, [and] they admire brands that take this approach too’.

To ensure that we are creating original activation concepts for the right reasons, two key questions need to be answered:

Does the technology being used…

• …play an authentic role for the brand?

• …make the experience better or solve a problem?

If the answer is yes, then our thoughts can turn to how we can create impactful and engaging experiences that are seamlessly grounded in this tech.

We wanted to share some examples of brands using emerging technology in the recent past in truly authentic and innovative ways (whilst not necessarily being first to leverage them) that have helped set the benchmark for the future.

3D PrintingCoca-Cola & EKOCYCLE Cube

Coca-Cola, in collaboration with will.i.am, have invented a 3D printer that uses a cartridge made in part from recycled plastic bottles, to create an array of lifestyle products – with the aim of bringing 3D printing to the masses. This initiative clearly fits as part of Coca-Cola’s commitment to sustainability and also has the potential to make recycling relevant to a younger audience. It will be interesting to see, however, whether The Cube’s retail price of $1,199 really helps lead to the democratisation of 3D printing.

According to Cassandra, 72% of trendsetters have heard of 3D printing and are interested in this, and as this technology begins to reach the masses, it could provide a great solution for a sponsor looking to give away bespoke, branded merchandise to fans at sporting events, for example.

Internet of EverythingOptus Clever Buoy

Optus, the telecommunications company, wanted to show the breadth of their network coverage and solve a genuine problem in Australia – creating the world’s first shark-detecting ocean buoy. Sensing their movement using sonar, the buoys then send instant alerts to lifeguards via Optus satellites. ‘The Internet of Things’ has been widely discussed in recent years, but this is one of the best examples of a brand using this connected technology to solve a long-standing, real-world issue, as well as to highlight one of the company’s key infrastructure strengths.

From a sponsorship perspective, this technology could be naturally used by Optus or organisers in surfing competitions, alerting surfers (via smartwatches) of any hidden dangers in the deep.

It will be interesting to see if rightsholders and sponsors will begin to find a role for innovative examples of NPD such as this. Saracens, a leading Aviva Premiership rugby club, plans to assess real-time data around the impact of big hits on the rugby field, which is a great example of a rightsholder using new technology to address a genuine challenge facing their sport.

3D ScanningJohn Lewis and Monty’s Magical Toy Machine

John Lewis teamed up with Microsoft Advertising UK to produce an effective and emotive in-store activation that quite literally brought to life their Christmas 2014 TV ad. Using advanced 3D mapping technology, they gave children the chance to bring in their own soft toys and then watch them come to life in front of their very eyes, just as Monty the Penguin did. With this, John Lewis creatively connected an otherwise unrelated technology to deliver a genuine moment of wonder for children and parents alike.

50% of trendsetters have heard of image or facial recognition technology* and we have already seen a few nice examples of this technology being used by brands. Wouldn’t it be great to see this in a sporting experiential arena – anyone fancy shadow boxing with Floyd Mayweather?

Wearable TechVB Cricket Watch

Another great example from Australia – with Victoria Bitter using their sponsorship of the Australian cricket team to offer fans the world’s first ‘cricket watch’, a wearable timepiece that delivers live scores from the Aussie matches by pairing with a compatible smartphone. Supported by an on-pack consumer promotion and a multi-platform campaign, this is a really nice example of a sponsor improving the fan experience (and we all know how much the Aussies love their cricket) through the appropriate use of new technology and also generating widespread PR through this ‘first’.

Only 18% of trendsetters have currently heard of smartwatches and tried them out (The Cassandra Report Digital Fall/ Winter 2014), so this is a great example of a brand using technology first, but in a relevant and engaging way.

There is a school of thought that brands are taking a risk by using the latest technology before their target audience can fully appreciate it. Whilst this approach can bring the obvious benefit of a completely novel and fresh experience, it does raise the possibility that consumers will only associate certain technology with marketing campaigns, which in turn could bring a degree of cynicism.

We know that Millennials don’t like being ‘sold to’ and therefore, if new technology isn’t being used to genuinely improve an experience (or worse, seen as a poorly thought out gimmick), then this approach risks damaging both the brand and the tech in question. This is a criticism that has been levelled by some at the Oculus Rift headset – and despite a few interesting activations involving this specific hardware – it is fair to say that we’re yet to see a game-changing execution using this equipment. With the big money purchase of the company by Facebook and the news that they are to launch a consumer product this year, however, it’s likely to be a case of when, rather than if.

There’s no question that the pace of technological innovation will continue to create new opportunities for sponsors – but rather than racing to be first, the marketing challenge for brands remains as it always has been: to reach their target audience with key messages in a relevant and authentic way.

The challenge for how sponsors use new technology should mirror how they approach key strategic considerations: it’s not just about white space, but right space; not just real time, but right time – in terms of tech, think less first-mover and more right-mover advantage.

Matt’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.

Moving Social Media Measurement in Sponsorship from Vanity to Value

Closing the Telegraph’s Business of Sport article on ‘The importance of social media in sport’, Synergy CEO Tim Crow says rightsholders “need to focus less on selling price and impressions and much more on delivering engagement and value”.

He's right – value metrics are the future. And with more words set to be published on twitter in the next 2 years than in all books ever printed, the cost of getting social media measurement wrong – by using vanity metrics such as “likes” and “clicks” – is set to skyrocket. This blog aims to provide a quick guide to moving sponsorship towards better social media measurement.

social media channels

The majority of data points available in off-the-shelf analytics packages are what author of The Lean Startup, Eric Reis, calls Vanity Metrics – they might make you feel good, but don’t offer clear guidance on what actions to take. Put another way, they do not help make decisions on how to drive value. Since around 80% of companies use vanity metrics, it’s clear that sponsorship must move from vanity to value in social media ASAP.

“But how?” I hear you ask.

Social media is very different to other channels in terms of data accuracy, frequency and availability. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can offer a wealth of data on user actions to the very second at which they took place, and the rise of real-time is set to transform the way we estimate and track value beyond what I can imagine. That means a move to value metrics in social media will have to leverage some of the most advanced measurement tools and techniques out there today.

Future Dashboards

We can understand value creation through Social Media with a simple framework for understanding social media value:

Reach – the number of unique impressions (organic & paid) made on the audience. Put another way, it’s the number of people who actually see an ad pop up in their newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter, or the pinboard of Pinterest users.

Engagement – directly purchasing a promoted product or interacting with and sharing brand content. Fundamentally, it’s the people who “like”, “share”, or “comment” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Advocacy – sentiment of the users who engage with the ad. In other words, the degree to which they are positive, neutral or negative towards the ad.

Purchase – the number of users who see the ad who, are converted to sale. In simple terms, it’s the people who have, one way or another, seen the ad and parted with their cash because of it.

Sales – Cost = Return on Investment (ROI)

Job done!

Or not, as it turns out. Analytics experts reading the above (I’m sure there are many…) will have noted the “simple” approach above is perhaps a bit too simple. Reach and Engagement are indeed hard to measure. There is, in fact, a relationship between impressions and interactions: the greater the Engagement level, the more users interact, the larger the resulting Reach. Put another way, albeit making an inference about causality, more engagement can drive more impressions – social media users who engage with and share brand ads are growing the number of people ‘impressed’.

Analysis has shown the correlation coefficient between impressions and engaged users to be +0.83

Transitioning to an approach like the one outlined above, and addressing the interaction across stages, would be represent a significant step forward for the sponsorship industry.Learning from Social Media

While data frequency in more traditional channels such as live-event, TV or Radio broadcast may never reach the levels seen in social media – it does not need to – brands should push for the same level of data accuracy and availability. The key is to transform their respective vanity metrics, like branded mentions and views, into value metrics.

Further lessons lie in the dashboards and user-interfaces used to visualize social media metrics today. In an age of big-data, it is easy to get lost in a sea of information without getting to insight. Social media platforms like Facebook – and behind-the-scenes Facebook Insights – are a step ahead of other sponsorship channels in tracking user data pre-, during- and post-campaign. We must learn from them.

So what next?

With only 1% of companies currently being “socially native” – meaning (among other things) they have measurement to match business objectives – the sponsorship industry has a long way to go. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I hope this blog will help the industry take it.

 

If you need a nudge or some guidance on social media measurement please do send Synergy an email at tom.gladstone@synergy-sponsorship.com and, if you haven’t already, take a look at how Synergy think about sponsorship value in our Synergy Decisions white paper here.

Spieth & McIlroy’s Google Spikes Are Growing, But Tiger Still Rules – For Now

I’m a big fan of the beta feature in Google Trends which enables you to compare search volumes since 2004 for just about anything, and often use it to add additional insights to our work. (Warning: if, like me, you’re into data, it’s pretty addictive). Recently, it’s also provided a really interesting angle on the end of the Tiger Woods era in golf, and what looks like the beginning of a new era marked by the rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

For most of his career, Tiger has been the world’s most Googled golfer, as shown by this chart, also shown below, comparing his search volumes since 2004 to those of his nearest rivals – although the most notable feature is of course the huge spike in December 2009 marking Tiger’s disgrace.

You can also see that in the last couple of years the gap between Tiger and his rivals has closed. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Google Trends also enables us to compare how searches for Tiger compare to megastars in other sports. Here he is compared to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James for example.

So Tiger may have ruled golf, but both before and after his fall his Google search volumes didn’t compare to the biggest stars in bigger sports – if you play around with other big names you get similar results.

But back to the main point. How is Tiger’s apparently inexorable decline in form and the simultaneous rise of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth reflected in recent Google search volumes? Does Tiger still rule, or is the new McIlroy-Spieth era evident on Google as well as the golf course?

This chart, also seen below, shows how it played out in 2014.

Despite making only seven appearances during the year owing to injury, Tiger was still comfortably the most-searched of the three players on average in 2014, with his biggest spikes both coming from the two majors he appeared in: a missed cut at the US PGA and a 69th place at The Open.

Rory’s average in 2014 was around half that of Tiger, and like Tiger his biggest spikes also came at The Open and the US PGA, but obviously for very different reasons as Rory won both tournaments. His other big spike came in May, caused by his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki and subsequent win at the BMW PGA Championship.

In contrast Jordan Spieth wasn’t really a factor in 2014, except – in a sign of things to come – for a spike for his second place finish on debut at The Masters, where he also outscored McIlroy by seven shots when they played together in the second round.

Fast forward to 2015 and it has of course been Spieth’s year so far, with wins in both majors, The Masters back in April and the US Open earlier this month, which the chart below and here clearly shows.

(Interesting that Spieth’s Masters win generated a much higher spike than his US Open win. This could be for all kinds of reasons, but I suspect the two biggest are the novelty factor of Spieth’s debut major win and the Masters being a bigger deal worldwide than the US Open, as this chart shows.)

What’s also clear is that, driven unquestionably by the media, there is as much interest in Tiger’s poor performances as there is in a great performance by Spieth or McIlroy. For example, Tiger’s missed cut at this year’s US Open generated almost as much search interest as Spieth’s win, and Tiger’s missed cut at last year’s US PGA generated more search interest than McIlroy’s win. Which is why Tiger’s average search volumes are still the highest – although Spieth especially is closing the gap.

So, for now at least, Tiger still rules golf on Google. But not in a good way – and probably not for much longer.

Let’s see whose spikes are biggest at the next major – the biggest of them all – The Open at St Andrew’s.

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.

Does the rapid growth of eSports show it provides a legitimate alternative to real sport for brands?

As consumption patterns of music, entertainment and sport continue to shift, so too does the approach of rights holders, brands and agencies. The growth and quality of internet access has allowed new pursuits to spawn in the past 15 years and offers huge opportunities for entrants into the leisure market.

Source: Battlefy (2014)

Internet broadcasting, through PPV platforms, YouTube channels or bespoke social networks and apps have allowed a new generation of superstars, spectators and key influencers. The rise of created sports (Slamball, Crashed Ice), Fantasy Sports and Professional Gaming has allowed brands to connect with a generation of millennials that they may not otherwise have. Professional gaming is not a new phenomenon, with Space Invaders tournaments taking place as early as the 1980s. The growth of the internet, and thus multiplayer platforms, has seen the number of participants and prize money soar, as shown in the graph above. As consumer interest has risen, so has media interest, with bespoke satellite channels, and more recently internet channels, providing widespread coverage of tournaments.

Major channels including ESPN, CBS and DirecTV have all covered professional gaming, however, internet channels such as Twitch (recently purchased by Amazon for $970m) and MLG.tv have been the major media platforms. Both platforms have huge subscriber bases, dedicated social media communities, and continue to grow exponentially. In 2013, 45 million unique users watched 12 billion minutes of video on Twitch, from six million videos, while 58% of the users spend more than 20 hours a week on the streaming site. These figures place Twitch in the same league as the top cable TV channels, while peak viewing (at 4.5 million live viewers) is comparable to major sporting events such as the Stanley Cup Finals. While traditionally appealing to a niche, hardcore community of fanatical gamers, the appeal is now spreading to more casual gamers, and thus appealing to more consumer brands. Samsung & Movistar were two of the initial backers; Samsung partnering with the World Cyber Games, and a pro team. On Monday (15th December), Coca-Cola live streamed an eSports Game-a-thon from their global HQ in Atlanta. Five renowned gamers took part in five games, streamed over Twitch, with the winner donating the prize pool to a charity of their choice. It is all part of a conscious focus from Coke, which includes support for the League of Legends, and a dedicated Twitter gaming account with 204,000 followers.

Both FIFA & NASCAR have entered into the world of professional gaming, with the FIFA Interactive World Cup (almost 2 million players), and the NASCAR iRacing series. The number of participants is relatively low, compared to the number involved in other eSports titles, however, brand involvement is arguably more advanced in this space. FIFA and NASCAR both make use of the existing partners they have in place, with Sony heavily involved in the Interactive World Cup, while car manufacturers have allowed access to ‘digital versions’ of their cars across the iRacing series. By getting in early, have FIFA and NASCAR found a niche in the market which will convert gamers into real life? Or are they just seeking to avoid football and racing fans defecting to gaming?

Whether across Twitch and MLG.tv or YouTube and Netflix, a generation of millennials is accustomed to consuming their content on TVs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. As the broadcast model continues to evolve, so too does the opportunity for ‘challenger’ sports such as professional gaming. With prize pools, audiences and awareness increasing, it is only a matter of time before more consumer brands become involved.

Whilst ‘YouTubers’ establish themselves as the next generation of influencers alongside actors, musicians and athletes, so too will brands wanting to tap into the generation of millennials. Indeed, this new generation of influencers are starting to impact ‘real’ sport, with one ‘YouTuber’, John Green, investing some of his personal advertising revenue as a sponsor of AFC Wimbledon.

Game On: Sport, Brands and Gamification

With March Madness now in full swing, there are an estimated 60 million ‘brackets’ completed, (including one from Barack Obama) attempting to predict the winners of each match from the first round through to the National Championship match. The official NCAA bracket challenge was predictably ambushed by an unofficial challenge offered by Quicken Loans & Warren Buffett, which offered $1 billion if someone could predict a perfect bracket, but with odds of 9.2 quintillion to one, equally predictably every entry was eliminated by the end of the first round.

The popularity of fan games in sport is not unique to College Basketball, with 3.2 million players registered on the official Barclays Premier League Fantasy Football game and NFL Fantasy Football being a huge part of the culture of being a ‘football’ fan. But despite this popularity, brand engagement in both remains minimal, with relatively low activation by partners. EA Sports’ association with Fantasy Premier League is limited to an EA badge offered for your personalised team kit, and doesn’t highlight their role as Sports Technology Partner – a missed opportunity perhaps.

An example of a brand leading the way in this type of activation is the Hilton Honors Fantasy Racing challenge in F1, which invites fans to select four drivers, two constructors, and an engine manufacturer, with their ‘team’ rewarded in points from actual performances at a Grand Prix weekend. As a partner of McLaren, Hilton is at the forefront of the experience – something that is rarely the case in fan games.

The PGA Tour Connect app and T20 World Cup Fantasy Challenge are relatively new additions from rightsholders, but with limited partner activity. As both rightsholders and brands seek to engage with fans in a meaningful manner, activation in the gamification of sport can be a rich area. The popularity of a major event is indeed often enhanced through gamification, as the various NCAA tournament bracket challenges show. With such games coming at a relatively significant cost, it makes sense that rightsholders would look to their partners for financial and marketing support.

Considering the popularity of many major sporting events, and the impact on public consciousness, it is perhaps surprising that many rightsholders and brands alike have not connected with fans like this. With the FIFA World Cup on the horizon, it could be a rewarding pursuit for non-sponsors looking to gain an association with the biggest single-sport event in the world. The official FIFA Fantasy Football, in association with World Cup sponsor, McDonald’s, will have a lot of entrants, but as the NCAA brackets show, ‘official’ does not necessarily mean other brands will not enter the field.

Wimbledon is one event which could lend itself to increased fan interaction: the huge global interest it attracts, combined with the vagaries of its many matches suggests there is more than enough scope to replicate the NCAA bracket format, with clear opportunities for brands to get involved and enhance the fans’ Wimbledon experience.

As we wrote in Synergy’s 2014 #NowNewNext, the gamification of sport is also exploding via wearable tech, pioneered by Nike +, and the gamification of playing, for example with vPar and GameBook in golf.

With rights holders and brands seeking new ways to credibly connect with consumers, gamification is clearly rich in potential both for passionate and casual fans, and of course to draw new fans into sport, but brand involvement has been relatively modest. Now’s the time for that to change.

The Missing Formula

Analysis of industry data suggests that the F1 ecosystem raises over £1b per year from sponsorship. This includes Team Sponsors and Suppliers (ranging from £100m for the big boys to £20m for the smaller teams), F1 Partners (around £25m per year in cash or Value in Kind from each of the 6 global partners) and Race Sponsorship (around £10m for each of the races with title sponsors plus trackside advertising).

To put that into context, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games raised around the same amount (£750m from domestic sponsors plus around £250m contribution from the IOC for TOP partners) – but that was for a 4-year cycle.

So here’s a question: Given how much is spent on it from some of the world's leading brands, why is F1 Sponsorship not at the leading edge of sponsorship thinking and activation?

It’s fair to say that F1 is ahead of the game in virtually everything else it does. So surely F1 Sponsors should be cleaning up at the major sponsorship industry awards.  In fact, over the past 5 years, an F1 sponsorship has won only once out of a possible 47 SIA awards (Vodafone’s Best Sponsorship of a Team or Individual in 2009). Case studies from F1 should be inspiring sponsors in other sports.  Here at Synergy, we should regularly be showcasing examples from F1 in the ‘What We Love’ section of Synopsis. But this just isn't the case – at least not to the extent that one would expect.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great pieces of activation in F1 (I’ll point out some of them later), but as a whole, F1 sponsorship is pretty uninspiring.

Having run the Reuters sponsorship of WilliamsF1 from 2000 - 2003 (yes - I agree - it was nowhere near 'award-winning'!), I thought I would have a go at answering that question based on my own personal experiences.

1. Most Formula One sponsorships are B2B

Reuters primarily used F1 for B2B relationship building. A quick scan of F1 sponsors shows that over 40% have significant B2B businesses. There is little better than F1 if you have a relatively small number of high-value, global customers who you reach through targeted sales and marketing programmes.  Travelling around the world to all the key markets, Formula One and Paddock Club™ are the absolute gold standard of corporate hospitality. With this being the focus of the brands' activation programme, it is little wonder that it remains unseen by the mass audience, award panels and the Synopsis editors.

The activation challenge for the B2B partners, however, is to create the most compelling brand stories and event experiences to attract their audience.  Because the fact is, especially in the small markets, most of the B2B sponsors are going after a very similar audience, in some cases exactly the same people.

2. There is too much focus on brand exposure and logos on cars and not enough on activation

Whenever brand exposure is such a critical part of the sponsorship package, it is easy to rely too heavily on it at the expense of all the other things you can do with the sponsorship. I absolutely hate the “media value” figures that are at the heart of so many F1 sponsorships.  However, it is easy to measure and as long as the media value is bigger than the cost of the sponsorship, brands can be tempted to think “job done”. In comparison, Olympic sponsors can't rely on any media value to justify their sponsorship.  That's why they have to work much harder and be far more creative with their activation.

A knock-on effect of this over-emphasis on media value is the fact that it can lead to an under-investment in activation.  Typically, the rights fee is so high (because brands are paying for the exposure) that there isn’t enough left over for activation. I’m not a big believer in any rule-of-thumb ratios, but the proportion of rights fee to activation spend when I was at Reuters is definitely not going to make it into any how-to textbooks. I suspect this isn't unusual for F1 sponsors up and down the Paddock

3. The calendar gives you no time to plan and develop great campaigns

The F1 season is relentless. The first race is in early March and the last race is in late November. In between is a never-ending cycle of travelling and managing the day-to-day execution of race weekends. Everyone goes on holiday during the 4-week summer break and at the end of the season, which then leads into Christmas. Trust me, if you want a year to fly past, get a job in F1.

Which basically just leaves January and February to do any sort of campaign development. But even those months tend to be dominated by tactical planning for the season ahead. There just isn't the time to think about a season-long campaign or a brilliant piece of activation.

Another challenge is the global scale required by an activation campaign. Japan, Abu Dhabi, Britain, the US and Brazil have very little in common with each other from a marketing perspective.  So as an F1 sponsor you are sort of in limbo between creating and delivering a global campaign that doesn't quite work in loads of markets and developing local campaigns which feel a bit 'small' and short term.

4. The F1 community is too closed

There are some great people who work in F1.  However, it needs more ‘churn’.

For example, when I needed a sponsorship agency, everyone I invited to pitch was effectively a specialist F1 agency. I understand why most sponsors do that, but it leads to a form of 'groupthink' where new ideas are thrown out in favour of "what we did last year" or "what we do with our other clients".

This happens up and down the paddock. If an F1 team needs a new Account Manager, they are likely to hire someone from one of the other teams. If a brand needs an F1 Sponsorship Director, they are likely to hire someone who has done a similar job at another sponsor. If an F1 agency hires a new Account Director, they typically hire someone who already has F1 experience.

The danger of this 'closed' community is that it loses the fresh influences and perspectives that drive creativity.

I know it’s tough (I’ve been there myself) but I think F1 sponsors need to be braver and set the bar higher for their activation campaigns. The benchmark should not be: “we want to create the best F1 sponsorship campaign”, but rather “we want to create the best sponsorship campaign”. And to do that, I think that it is critical for sponsors to look for inspiration outside the very small world of F1.

The point of this blog is not to say that there are no good F1 activations - because clearly there are some great examples.

My point is simply that given the number of world-class brands who are sponsors in F1, the amount that they invest and the possibilities of F1 as a platform, there should be far more ground-breaking activation programmes than there are.

Some of our Favourite F1 Activation Case Studies:

Johnnie Walker - Step Inside the Circuit Series

Johnnie Walker extended this campaign with some experiential activity in Travel Retail environments but at its core was some great behind-the-scenes content, from Monte Carlo (below), IndiaSingapore and other races

Vodafone:

One car, no team:

Camping:
Santander:

London Grand Prix:

The Silverstone Chase

Hugo Boss - Dress Me for the Finale

Using a special online configurator, consumers in each country could create bespoke designs of the drivers’ race suits. The drivers wore the designs during qualifying for each race, while the best two designs as voted by the audience were worn on the Sunday during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Boss also did a good job of connecting this activation to their social media and retail channels:

Red Bull - Faces for CharityIn exchange for a donation to charity (which Red Bull matched), consumers could upload a photo which was then put on the car for the British Grand Prix.

Vodafone -  Drive to the Big League

Vodafone introduced this initiative at the British Grand Prix in 2010 which offered one of their small business customers the chance to put their logo on the car for the British Grand Prix.  Vodafone have taken it to a whole new level in India now, where they have combined it with a Dragons Den style TV programme to select the winner – watch it – it’s brilliant!!!

See - it is possible - more of that please!!!