Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals


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England Football Sponsorship

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile with the title “Its Coming Home” if we aren’t connected on LinkedIn feel free to add me here

As England qualified last year, in all fairness from a pretty poor qualifying group, for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, few, if any football fans expected this success. When the groups were drawn, we were expected to qualify for the first knock-out stage but probably little beyond that.

The “tactical” defeat by a second string England side against a second string, albeit still very strong Belgium side, ensured they had an easier path to navigate in the knockout stages. However, as the team has progressed so have the emotions, so have the passions and so has the feel good factor around this little old country of England.

With political turmoil and ever growing confusion around Brexit, the fortunes of a little fancied football team are helping the country. Few would have planned, but the nation and business are more than happy to embrace this. As I write this, I am awaiting the France Vs Belgium game to see who our potential final (or 3rd place playoff) opponents will be).

So I take a non-fact based look at who I believe has done well from England’s unexpected performance.

The logical first port of call is to examine the official partners of The FA. If we progress to the final, I might even look at some of the unofficial brands that have made the most of the experience.

Vauxhall

First off we have Vauxhall, who are the closest of the FA partners to the relationship we used to have when I was at Nationwide. They have their names on the training kit, I assume they have access to players and they have rights to use the official badge and players in their marketing materials. Bizarrely though, the automotive brand seems to have failed to embrace either the success or even the fact they are a partner of the FA. Whilst it may difficult and costly for a larger company with rigid processes to adapt TV creative to respond to the current opportunity, they should be able to adapt press and could definitely make more of it on their social media. If you were to look at Vauxhall’s social media channels, even Facebook, the one they could adapt to location if they were worried about alienating people, there is no reference to football or England. The imaginative content the brand could have produced shows this is a huge missed opportunity and a bit of a shame.

Nike

As main kit suppliers Nike are embedded with the FA and fans alike. You can’t see England without seeing the famous tick. Nike’s potential issue in terms of really taking advantage of the current buzz is their global accounts and their stable of countries they are involved with. Nike actually supplies kit for three of the four semi-finalists, with only Belgium bucking the trend with their adidas kit. Nike is so in to its brand with amazing executions, that genuine football fans would forgive them and still consider them part of what was going on. They could still do a bit more in terms of content and tailoring their properties for the English market, but they do pretty well.

Buildbase

Now maybe I am not their target customer. OK. I am not the Buildbase target customer, but until I looked it up, I had no idea that they were a partner of The FA and haven’t seen them at all in conjunction with this England push. Even when looking at their social accounts, you would be forgiven for not realising they were so closely aligned. Apart from a quite poor game and some unimaginative posts the brand seems to have wasted its opportunity to engage and undoubted football audience. Perhaps you can move in their stores for football paraphernalia

Mars

Mars have been involved with the FA for some time and the are great at capitalising on their relationship. They do have the undoubted advantage of selling quite a few of their products and being able to put on pack promotions and messages that are in pretty much every supermarket, petrol station and convenience store in the England. Their ATL efforts clearly align them to the football team and there is no doubt of the connection. As England have progressed, it feels their ads are more regular which shows great ability to capitalise on the mood of the nation. Bizarrely, if there is a weakness in its armoury, again it is in content and social media, where its Mars football accounts have small following, infrequent posts and low engagement.

Lidl

After a successful partnership with Sainsbury over the years, it came as some surprise that Lidl was unveiled as its new partner. The Lidl TV ads were actually fun and engaging and really use humour and the human angle to captivate an audience. However in terms of retail execution, something was awry. Particularly as Sainsbury’s still seemed to have a volume of “official” England merchandise available in store. Its presence on content on both Twitter and Facebook appear strong, however Instagram feels the poor relation. Overall though it was a good showing from the German retailer.

Carlsberg

Carlsberg extended its long-standing relationship with the England football team. With other relationships in football the brand has genuinely smashed it again. A strong branded website and great content relevant to its audience. Again, the publishing of social could be stronger but assets are strong.

Lucozade Sport

With a reputation engrained in sports its not really a surprise that Lucozade have a good take on how to run a sports marketing initiative. Their on pack materials are limited but the content they have produced is strong and lives comfortably across all social channels. They have done good work with many influencers both football and non-football related. It was surprising that there wasn’t more native video built specifically for the platforms and for others to push out and share.

Overall, of the official partners I looked at their pushing of the association with the England team is mixed. Very few have really taken the tactical opportunity of the unexpected success. None of the brands, with the exception of Nike delivered a particularly strong presence in terms of social.

I feel Vauxhall who had the biggest right to do something was the biggest disappointment. So, if anybody from Vauxhall is reading this, get in touch.

The lesson for me from this exercise is one of how to tactically take advantage of an event (that may be unexpected). Also, how much potential there is in the realms of sponsorship and sports marketing, still out there in relation to social media. Now that gives me an idea…

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo


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The Evolution of Football Sponsorship at Nationwide

The Evolution of Football Sponsorship at Nationwide

For years sponsorship has been big business. Brands clamour to associate themselves with clubs, sporting events, festivals and broadcast properties. For some brands it has been difficult to prove the benefit and impact that these sponsorships provide. However when sponsorships have been activated as a component part of an overall strategy their values, whilst not always robustly quantifiable, are often seen as intrinsic drivers of performance.

The reason for sponsorships can be varied. From wishing to get your logo/brand out to as wide an audience as possible, to being associated with something that your target audience are passionate about all the way through to providing the perception that your brand has stature, which might be difficult to evidence elsewhere.

Stage One – National

Nationwide Football League Badges

Nationwide Football League Badges

As a national brand, with the general customer perception of smaller and almost provincial provider, Nationwide needed a vehicle to back-up their national presence. Football was an obvious area, as it is the sport with the largest spectator and playing base. But rather than jump in with a top flight club that would have provided potential view of scale quickly, it was equally as likely to polarise views.

The option to sponsor the football league came up and this was seen as a perfect opportunity. After all, nearly every town and city in the country has a football club and their support is fanatical. Being title sponsors of the league and subsequently the conference provided the real ‘one of us’ feel to the sponsorship.

Nationwide did such a great job of its sponsorship, the tail of the deal lastesd a minimum of 8-12 months after Coca Cola assumed the role. By that time Nationwide was now being seen as a national player.

Stage Two – Scale

The next stage once Nationwide was recognised as a national player was to create the perception that we were a large-scale organisation to rival the Big 4 Banks (after all Nationwide was always largest or second largest mortgage lender in the UK).

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo

The opportunity to sponsor England came about. Green Flag has been sponsors but did very little with their partnership. This was a deal that could be done and for us at Nationwide to make a big impact with a premium property. The England national team was going through quite a successful period (relatively speaking).

However, as with the dilemma of polarising views that came with sponsoring a top flight club, we could be in danger of alienating whole geographies within the UK. Many high level discussions were had and the decision to go ahead was on the basis we could be title sponsors or associate sponsors for the other home nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales).

Thankfully discussions with the other home nations went well and they were also secured as partners. It is a relatively well shared notion that Nationwide approached these sponsorships a little differently and with a bit more creativity than previous sponsors. Undertaking guerrilla marketing techniques before the World Cup in France and utilising player appearances in a better way than just wheeling players in to offices.

This stage was all about creating the perception of scale or size, which according to all our research and customer feedback it did.

Stage Three – Giving Something Back

Scale was achieved and the public seemed to perceive us as a genuine alternative to the Big 4 Banks. However as a brand Nationwide wanted to embody everything that a building society stood for. At the same time in the sponsorship team we wanted to make the sponsorship more valuable and connect it at a deeper level with our customers. Nationwide as a business had adopted “Proud to be Different” as both a strapline and mission statement. This was seen as a way of underpinning our difference and benefits of coming to a building society, without using confusing financial services words such as ‘mutual’, ‘members’ and ‘Building Society’.

The whole concept was to highlight how we are different through everything we do and in every way we interact with our audience. This was demonstrated through the radio ads featuring the Little Britain actors and the TV ads featuring Mark Benton, using humour for the first time in a major campaign for a financial services provider.

We decided to take this in to our sponsorship activity and rather than using it purely as an opportunity to gain exposure we wanted to turn the whole sponsorship on its head and give all the benefits back to the customers. The sponsorship activity was rebranded ‘Sponsored By You’ essentially as a Nationwide customer you were sponsoring the England team. Your name appeared in programme ads. Your name could appear on digi-boards, you could meet the players etc.

This turned sponsorship from a pure brand and awareness activity to a channel for loyalty and customer retention. This was aided by the move into UGC and Social Media before any of the current players were either here in the UK and definitely before any of them made it big.

Summary

The evolution of our strategy at Nationwide replicates how sponsorship when done well, has evolved. To make sponsorship effective, you need to take it beyond the badging and exposure of tradition and move it across many channels and give something to the target.

Whilst sponsorship can not claim credit for the shift in mindsets of the public it was certainly a substantial contributory channel.  Thankfully throughtout the evoultion the company were willing to take risks, push boundaries and offer a creative approach.  Crticial to gain standout in my opinion.

Bring your sponsorship to life and make it part of your targets conversation. That way you can move sponsorship beyond awareness driving, to much more of an engagement driving activity.

Most people know of my experience in digital marketing, however I have masses of experience in sponsorship and above the line. However, so I don’t disappoint, the follow-up to this post will be ‘How sponsorship properties can be brought to life online’. Some of this will be from personal experience at Nationwide, whilst others will be looking at best practice.

As always comments appreciated on here or via eMail.