In a recent poll on SBI, we asked readers what their favourite Australian sports marketing campaign was. With a background in marketing, strategy, and customer experience, it’s a subject that is close to my heart.
In a close finish the campaign to kick off the inagural new Hyundai A-League in 2005 - “It’s football, but not as you know it” – pipped the competition. Second was World Series Cricket’s 1978 promo “C’mon Aussie C’mon” with Rugby League’s 1989 Tina Turner-led “Simply the Best” campaign third. It was daylight fourth.
Surprise result? Maybe. Given the success of the AFL both as a business and as a sport over the last decade (few can argue here) one would have expected them to rate higher in the best-marketing-campaign stakes. Or given the controversy of the last few years, and even a perceived disconnect with some fans, perhaps football should have rated lower.
But if we take a deep dive we see that the most successful campaigns were built with a high level of involvement and emotion, striking right at the core of the consumer, the fan. Arguably the AFL is doing this in a whole lot of other areas, rather than in the advertising department.
“It’s football” looked to connect with old soccer fans as well as new football fans. It also came at a time when the country had not seen elite, domestic football for almost two years. This was a new dawn, and the catchline said it all. You’ve been waiting, here it is. Enjoy.
The rugby league and cricket campaigns used a different methodology. Both sought to connect with fans, but tried to do so with a Rocky-esqe bang. Who can forget belting out the tunes to “Simply the Best” or playing the air guitar at the sight of Tina Turner and Jimmy Barnes blasting away. Or sitting at the beach, on the bus, in the pub singing “C’mon Aussie C’mon’”.
Different approach but with the same result. Emotion and lots of it, inviting supporters new and old to get involved, and even attracting new markets absorbed into the excitement that results.
SBI also received a number of other suggestions from readers, and what I found interesting is that there were no suggestions or comments on individual player-sponsor led campaigns. Clearly, the first thing that came to mind when talking about sports marketing campaigns was the traditional season launch/ending television commercial/performance.
This led me to ask the question, are sponsors capitalising on supporters’ emotive connection to the game? Or in fact, are any of our local sporting personalities big enough to warrant a unique, emotive sponsorship campaign behind them? What about the flow on effect for the sports they represent?
This last point struck a note, where the lack of emotion-driven campaigns by sponsors is hindering the growth of heroes, and potential flow-on effect for elite sports.
A look at the Bleacher Report 10 greatest ad campaigns in sport showed a certain trend. Most of these are player-sponsor led. This involves the creation of a hero as a representative of a sport, and the sport itself receives the benefit as a by-product, beyond the supporters and into the mainstream.
Every organisation tries to build a personality around its products. Do they want it to be perceived as tough and robust? Perhaps a touch of luxury. Maybe innovative? As a marketer, you align your product to a sponsorship that will emphasise the core values you are trying to communicate as part of your brand.
The global Jordan phenomenon was single-handedly created off the back of subsequent Gatorade (“Be Like Mike”) and Nike (“Air Jordan”) campaigns – the latter in particular a brave move considering the risk they took, financially and brand wise. Few can argue that these campaigns lifted the perceived hero status of Jordan, and in doing so, exposure of basketball itself not only in the US, but worldwide. And the brands, they fit the mould. Drink Gatorade and be athletic like Mike. Wear Nike and fly like Mike. Regardless of what sport you follow.
And it’s not just in the US. In Japan many of the local baseball players have been pivitol for popularizing the sport in the country, not just Daisuke Matsuzaka who made it big in the US. Whether you’re a football fan in the country, or not a fan of sport at all, you know the names, made famous by association with the likes of popular Japanese soft drink, Pocari Sweat.
In Australia I doubt whether half of the football fans would know who the AFL “hero” is , or vice-versa, let alone non-sports fans. In fact the only way you would is in controversial circumstances which hit the tabloids. Not exactly the best way to generate interest in the sport.
We might say that Australia is not large enough to warrant that sort of global flow-on effect, but it presents a chicken and egg scenario. The bigger the game, the more value for sponsors. Imagine Adam Ashley-Cooper spruiking a Mercedes Benz, bringing Rugby Union back to its roots as an elitist sport – and doing so proudly. Suddenly you have a hero. A hero that everybody likes? No. But a hero that speaks to your core target market, rather than a fluffy launch ad showing smiling players saying “We’re going to win for you”.
How about V energy drink and tennis bad-boy Bernard Tomic combining, replicating the strategy of Red Bull internationally as that outside-the-box winning formula? Surely that would connect with youth and open up (or consolidate) a new market for tennis.
We do promote locally in a player-sponsor led campaigns. But what comes to mind is Mark “Tubby” Taylor spruiking air conditioning, Paul Sironen telling us it’s “At Lowe’s” or current player X spruiking a caryard. Can we really call that brand association at its best? Would you put these ads up for sports marketing campaign of the year? I doubt this sits in the same frame as Adidas association to Messi, Tag Heur and Luis Hamilton or EA Sports and Tiger Woods.
The closest we have come to it is Sony’s “Feel What They Feel” campaign in the lead up to the 2010 South Africa World Cup. But again, this was an internationally-focussed campaign, for an international event. It hardly resulted in creating a sporting-code hero back home that the masses can connect with.
Sure we need to maintain a local connection. After all smaller sponsors are still bread and butter for some teams. However there should be a certain few that aspire to sit at the top rung of sponsorship – Adidas, Coke, Sony – and as a result look to promote the game they play and increase exposure amongst current fans, and possible future fans.
Sport is aspirational. The ones who can play want to be there, the ones who can’t play want to cheer them on. We all need a hero.