Sport and marketing – troubled times or perfect partners? - Ronin Marketing
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Sport and marketing – troubled times or perfect partners?

Sport and marketing – troubled times or perfect partners?

Sport is watched and loved by millions around the world. Nothing has the same ability to draw a crowd, captivate an audience and provide unexpected drama. The extent of sporting coverage has meant it is one of the best vehicles for sponsorship and marketing – both for the sports themselves and products attached to them. The draw of sport remains a substantial one. The recent World Cup and London Olympics have been two of the first major world events in the social media age, during which companies, large and small, learnt to develop new marketing strategies built around the events. There is a balance to be found, however, as excessive commercialisation of sport can damage its appeal, and wipe away the foundations upon which many successful marketing campaigns are built upon.

Paying your way

Direct sponsorship of events, teams and players is a tried-and-tested marketing tactic. FIFA has 6 ‘major partners’, and the World Cup itself another 8 ‘major sponsors’; the London 2012 Olympics had 11 ‘worldwide partners’, 7 ‘official partners’ and 7 ‘major supporters’. London 2012 sponsors cumulatively raised £1.4bn of funding. Sport is big business.

The impact of sponsorship on sport is clear – it provides funding for running costs as well as reinvestment in the sport’s infrastructure and in player development. In return, sponsors achieve exposure, and official endorsement which can prove a powerful marketing tool. Numerous companies have a famous face as part of their marketing strategy, but fame does not necessarily translate into growth. The image is important, but even more so is conveying a message that engages.

Target market

Adidas had substantial success with their marketing strategy during the World Cup. Its “all in or nothing” tag line was the common thread in a campaign that adapted as the tournament progressed. Consisting of a huge roster of big-name footballers, the tag line tied in with the popular sporting attitude of players, giving everything in pursuit of that final victory. Their adaptive strategy also invited social media interaction – the brand came to be perceived as the most successful among its rivals due to its association with the German champions and the runners-up, Argentina. The brand attained 5.8 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and YouTube, with over 8 million official team shirts sold.

The success of Adidas was in part due to the scale of its investment, but also provides vital lessons for any marketing strategy, small or otherwise. The adaptability of the campaign was as important as its timing. The rise of responsive marketing – creating and adapting adverts to reflect the action as an event unfolds – demonstrates that effectively timed and targeted social media can have a big impact on brand awareness and reach. With official sponsors gaining increased exposure, the growth of social media means there’s an outlet for ambush marketing. Brands can adopt a strategy of associating themselves with a particular event without paying a sponsorship fee, thus capitalising on it. It’s a powerful strategy in a world where social media usage is soaring.

Creating an ambush

Responsive marketing worked brilliantly for some: Lufthansa capitalised on Germany’s World Cup triumph with an image of a suitcase containing the trophy; Audi and Mercedes incorporated their logos into images of the German team badge, with a fourth star representing the triumph; Tesco advertised beer with the strapline “bottled it” after Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi-final. For others, the strategy backfired: Dutch airline KLM’s “adios amigos” tweet, following Mexico’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in the first knock-out match, was received with a great deal of indignation across the Atlantic. The issue with responsive marketing is that to have an impact, often the joke has to be made at the expense of another. The segmenting of the audience provides a tricky tightrope walk for marketers, as it can alienate potential customers, but as the successes have shown, a considered post can result in huge growth in the brand’s outreach.

Balancing act

As an avid viewer of multiple sports I find the extent to which commercialism has penetrated the industry can be quite frustrating. Successful marketing can enhance the viewing experience – amusing comments can raise brand awareness as well as enhancing brand image; well-timed tweets and adverts for products directly tied to the event, such as wallcharts, magazines or books, can boost sales of the brands’ products. But it can also have an adverse effect – apathy towards brands, disengagement with commercialisation, and irritation at poorly-judged adverts. The main marketing lesson to learn from the World Cup is that whilst it provides a fantastic media platform for brands, ultimately the sport should always come first – failure to recognise that can be damaging. There’s a balance between effective marketing and blatant commercialism. Many believe Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for the World Cup’s best player not because he had performed best, but because it suited FIFA’s marketing strategy. If sport is eroded too far by commercialism, people will become immune to the messages of brands. And to devalue sport would be to devalue a huge number of industries who prosper from attaching their brands and marketing campaigns to it.