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

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

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

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

So why is this partnership so special?

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

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

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

Will other brands follow suit?

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

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

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

So, what next?

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

The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 2: Brand Activation Highlights

Having written yesterday about the LBGT controversy and the latest developments in IOC sponsorship, today I'm turning to the key brand activation strategies and stories around the Sochi Games.

Play Russian

Unlike a summer Olympics or a FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympics doesn't bring with it a big, global Nike campaign. Sochi 2014 is lower-priority and lower-spend than the World Cup for Nike, because in terms of worldwide interest, the winter Olympics is nowhere near as big as a World Cup, as illustrated by this Twitter heatmap.


  

Nike's Sochi playbook has strong echoes of Vancouver 2010: focus on the host market; fusion of Nike attitude with national identity; hockey at its core (Nike sponsors the Russian, US and Canadian hockey teams). 'Play Russian' features Nike's key Russian endorsees across a range of sports, led by Russian hockey icon and Games poster boy Alex Ovechkin, as well as a very cool website.
Of the other sportswear brands, the Jamaican bobsled team qualifying for Sochi was good news for Jamaican NOC sponsors Puma, but even better for adidas, when adidas-branded pictures of the Cool Runnings movie instantly flooded the web; and Under Armour has had a Games to forget, first owing to the withdrawal of Lindsey Vonn, and then by making a ton of the wrong kind of headlines about the performance of its speed skating suits.

No Logo?

The IOC famously prides itself on making the Olympics as advertising-free as possible, but the snowboarders' gear in Sochi has been branded like no Olympics before, with the brands involved pushing the IOC's regulations to the limit. This drew this observation at the start of the Games from our head of consulting Carsten Thode:

Carsten Sochi

Subsequently brandchannel followed up on the same subject with this very good piece: expect to see this particular loophole narrowed, if not closed, by the time we get to Pyeongchang 2018.

There was also the curious case of Alexey Sobolev, aka the Pussy Riot board artwork that wasn't, and the cellphone number that was. Or something like that.

And while we're on the subject, check out this very cool interactive guide to the gear of the Games by the NYT.    

The Return of the Brand Police

Games officials doing daft things as 'brand police' - supposedly to protect the Games' sponsors, but actually doing the absolute reverse by creating negative stories - is a thing again in Sochi.

In London in was LOCOG's mishandling of local butchers and bakers, and Seb Coe's infamous 'Pepsi t-shirts' Today programme interview. In Sochi it's officials covering up journalists' laptop logos.

Plaschke

 

Coverup

Sochi USA

What happens in the USA - the biggest and most valuable Olympic TV market - around every Games is always worth watching.

This time around of course, Sochi followed hot on the heels of the Super Bowl, and Bloomberg took this fascinating look at the two events as TV properties and the numbers behind NBC's deal with the IOC, estimating that NBC will make a profit of around $100m from Sochi on revenue of $1billion, from the sale of 11,000 - yes, you read that right, eleven thousand - ads.

No surprise then that NBC put a lot of effort into marketing the Games upfront to the US consumer as well as to Madison Avenue (note the prominence of Lindsey Vonn by the way).

The sales pitch to IOC and USOC partners worked. As SportsBusiness Journal reports, fifteen Olympic sponsors are running ads on NBC during the Games, almost all of them featuring new, specially-developed creative.

But the jury is out on NBC's ratings, even though the overall numbers are pretty impressive.

NBC

Breaking New Ground

A few sponsors' campaigns - or elements of them - that have caught my eye in the last few weeks.

Albeit I may be biased (Synergy works for BMW in the UK) but for me the BMW campaign has really stood out from the other USOC sponsors for its depth, ambition and integration, as well as for telling and leveraging the bobsled story very skilfully. 

P&G has evolved its successful 'Thank You Mom' campaign, which debuted at Vancouver 2010, into Sochi, and in the week before the Games I enjoyed how P&G fused branded programming on NBC (a show called 'How To Raise An Olympian') with social content - check out my Storify. But - albeit it's still generating very high engagement - how long can P&G keep 'Thank You Mom' going? One more Games? Two?

I've also really enjoyed a lot of Visa's work. 'Everywhere' feels very natural in an Olympic context, some of the creative has been absolutely sensational, and the use of Vine has been original and fun. Here's another Storify of some of the work.

I wrote a few weeks back how much I liked MegaFon's MegaFaces, the success of which is evident from how many consumer pictures of the activation are now out there.

But my favourite on-site activation at Sochi is definitely Molson's passport-activated beer fridge.

Brilliant.