Six ways your brand can capitalise on the sporting calendar

From Wimbledon to the Ashes, from Football World Cups to Ryder Cups, the sporting calendar is not short of spectacular and iconic events. These offer up opportunities for brands to control the conversation and get fans engaging with them on a worldwide stage. With as many failures as successes to review in recent years, we look at best practice for getting ahead of your rivals.

  1. Be ready to react

It sounds simple, but one of the best ways to successfully position your brand at the forefront of the conversation around an event is being ready to adapt to unfolding events. Sport is all about reacting quickly to often unpredictable situations, and this is something brands would be wise to emulate.

The standard was set by Oreo during Super Bowl XLVII, when a massive power outage struck at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, putting a section of the stadium into darkness for a full half hour.

Oreo capitalised on the blackout, turning around an advert in double quick time of an Oreo on a blacked-out background, with the caption: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.”.

Having released a commercial earlier during the game, the social team at Oreo were closely monitoring the ad’s success on social, as well as general mentions of the Super Bowl. Then when the blackout struck, they noticed how the conversation online quickly shifted. Within a matter of minutes Oreo’s digital agency, 360i, had put a new ad together. The blackout post resulted in 10,000 retweets, 5,000 shares and 18,000 likes on Facebook – all within the first hour of posting.

With an audience of well over 100 million in America alone, the Super Bowl is one of those events that promises to capture the attention of fans across the world, and Oreo and their agency’s quick thinking meant that they were able to achieve the kind of cut through amongst that huge audience that other brands could only dream of.

Oreo’s success was down to the fact that they were lightening quick off the mark and that they were listening to the conversation on social and were willing to go off script. On this occasion that quick thinking certainly paid off.

  1. Make your campaign flexible

As long-standing sponsors of the England Rugby team, O2 wanted to capitalise on the 2015 Rugby World Cup, in which England were tournament hosts. The telecommunications service provider rolled out their ‘Make Them Giants’ advertisement, where the support of England fans made the players grow until they were the size of buildings. O2 also renewed its ‘Wear the Rose’ campaign, calling on fans to show their loyalty to the team and giving them the chance to tweet messages directly to the players using the #WeartheRose hashtag.

When England made history for all the wrong reasons in becoming the first ever host nation to exit the tournament at the group stages, it had the potential to result in a huge failure for the sponsor. O2, however, argued that with over five million messages of support on social media, it was still a success. That’s open for debate but what it proves is the importance of not pinning all your hopes on one outcome: namely (in this particular case), England lasting the distance in the tournament and making sure your campaign is flexible.

Whilst O2 justified their ad campaign by pointing out that they were “here for the ups and the downs”, it’s hard to ignore the fact that had England performed better on the pitch, then the campaign might have had more conviction.

  1. Explore collaborations with other sports

One way to tap into new audiences is by looking at cross promotion across other sports. Ahead of the start of the F1 season in 2016, Red Bull Racing teamed up with Bath Rugby Club for a true test of man against machine.

Red Bull have pitted their cars against everything from drag races to jet fighters in the past, but here they decided to take on a rugby scrum.

With the Australian Grand Prix always kicking off the F1 race calendar, Red Bull enlisted their Perth born driver Daniel Ricciardo to go up against Bath Rugby’s finest to help promote the upcoming season. The car’s 800 brake horsepower found itself up against a tough opponent taking on the combined 900kg weight of the Bath pack.

The stunt achieved widespread coverage and enabled Red Bull to engage a whole new set of fans. It’s the sort of “out there” marketing that is synonymous with the racing team, as evident by one user’s response to the video in the comments section of the YouTube clip – “Only Red Bull can do this.”

“Brandscaping” is a great way to leverage the audiences of other sports and can really help your brand tap into new audiences.

  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge stereotypes

Campaigns that push the boundaries in a way that few brands are willing to do so come with risk, but with that risk comes the potential for huge reward.

Taking such a risk during one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world, the Superbowl, is even braver, but that’s exactly what Always did… and the reward was certainly worth it.

Always, the Procter & Gamble feminine products brand, had previously struggled to create shareable content because consumers were reluctant to be associated with periods. Making a feminine hygiene brand more popular is a difficult brief, but Always managed to do it by returning to its roots. “Confidence” is something the brand has always tried to champion as part of its brand values. Confidence in the product transitioned into self-confidence for their #LikeAGirl campaign.

Always reasoned that gender stereotypes have become so deep-seated in society that they impact how we communicate. To look at this, Always created a social experiment where boys, girls, men and women were invited to a pretend casting-call. Here they were asked to do various things “like a girl”. Subjects were asked to run, throw and punch “like a girl”. Every age and gender category, except the young girls, reacted in the same way, i.e. they acting in a silly way and made the imaginary girl they were imitating seem weak and inept.

Young girls, however, did not follow suit. Instead, they responded to each action they were asked to do by giving it their all and exuding conviction in what they were doing. The conclusion drawn from this was that these pre-pubescent girls had not yet been affected by society’s apparent characterisation of womanhood. Doing something “like a girl”, for them, meant nothing else than giving it everything they had.

A 60 second version of the ad aired during the Super Bowl in 2015. To date, the clip has had more than 90 million views. With the NFL having long faced issues around domestic violence, the airing of an ad turning a negative stereotype of girls on its head was hugely powerful and emotive.

  1. Putting your brand at the heart of the story, without it needing to be the story

Whenever a brand invests in a sport sponsorship, or an activation around a particular sporting event, they are obviously aiming to get the best return possible and to make the most of all of the additional eyeballs they are gaining access to. However, focusing too heavily on the brand ‘story’ or the products or services of that brand can often lead to your targeted audience switching off. The key, therefore, is to get your brand in to the heart of the action whilst also ensuring the content excites and engages.

HUGO BOSS has been particularly successful at doing this in recent years. The luxury fashion house has sponsored British sailor Alex Thomson since 2003, in what is one of the longest standing partnerships in the sport.

Thomson competes in the Vendee Globe – a solo, non-stop, 25,000-mile race around the world which takes place every four years. It is the biggest race in the offshore sailing calendar.

In the build up to the 2016 edition of the race, Thomson and his team – who have become known for their daring stunts – rolled out The SkyWalk.

The SkyWalk involved Thomson, on a kiteboard, chasing his IMOCA open 60 HUGO BOSS boat upwind and attaching himself via a rope to the top of the boat’s mast. The skipper then utilises the speed of the race boat to propel himself 280ft into the air, sending him surfing above the vast yacht. When Thomson reaches the peak of his flight, he detaches himself from the boat and expertly controls his descent back down, coolly landing the kiteboard on the water, all whilst wearing a stylish BOSS suit.

Whilst the whole concept of the video had nothing to do with the BOSS brand, the products were front and centre and the branding was all over the boat throughout the shot. To date, the video has had just shy of 1.4 million views on YouTube alone.  These viewer numbers wouldn’t have been achieved if HUGO BOSS had made a film about a suit. No, it was the daredevil nature of the stunt that attracted the viewers. Of course, once they were watching the video, they were then all exposed to the HUGO BOSS brand.

  1. Engage with your fans

Creating an attraction which offers fans an interactive opportunity to engage with your brand is easier said than done, but when done well can produce great results.

To tie in with this years’ Wimbledon, drinks brand Robinsons, which has been associated with the Championships for many years, partnered up with KFC to take over the Wimbledon town centre branch. This was to promote the fact that Robinsons was being served at KFC during the two weeks the tournament was on.

Marketing agency Savvy put up a huge display of Pong, the arcade game, in the window of the KFC Wimbledon Broadway restaurant. Fans on their way to the tennis could interact with the screen, where users were able to activate the game with a simple tap on the window. The touchscreen technology then allowed each player to control their pong paddles.

It proved effective in driving footfall directly to the store, as well as creating a strong brand awareness for both companies. At times when no one was playing the game, the screen returns to an advertisement which illustrates the fact that Robinsons drinks are available in store. A clever use of space, to say the least.

It wasn’t the first time either that Robinsons had used the Wimbledon Championships to interact with fans. In 2015 to celebrate “80 years at Wimbledon”, Robinsons launched “The Great Robinson’s Ball Hunt”.

Followers on Twitter were asked to discover locations of giant tennis balls hidden across the country for a chance to win prizes, including tickets to The Championships.

Every day, a series of clues were revealed on the company’s Twitter channel encouraging others to join in. The hunt Former British number one tennis player, Tim Henman, became the ‘face’ of the campaign and presented clues on Twitter while asking the public to find the balls and tweet a picture of them when they did.

A great way to build a sense of excitement ahead of the tournament. You could say Robinsons “served up an ace” with this interactive campaign.

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