Events present a huge opportunity for connecting with an audience, and the sporting arena holds particular appeal for brands seeking to engage current and potential customers in the most relevant way, at scale
According to PwC’s 2011 ‘Changing the Game’ report, global revenue from sports sponsorships will increase from $35bn in 2010 to $45.3bn in 2015. Not surprising when you consider that Coca-Cola set aside an additional $400m in marketing budget to ramp up its advertising around the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
So why are sporting events so key for brands in this interconnected world, and who is best placed to advise marketers on global campaigns around sporting fixtures?
I recently caught up with MediaCom Sport’s director of partnerships and brands, Misha Sher, for his take on the significance of sporting events from the perspective of a major figure at a leading global media-buying agency.
Recognising that sports sponsorships are of growing importance for clients, MediaCom created a special division to cater to this critical element of communications – and in-house expertise has been vital to creating such a comprehensive strategy. The division focuses on delivery, acquisition, activation and measurements for clients such as Shell, Audi, Subway and Procter & Gamble to maximise their investments in sports sponsorship.
In addition, Sher manages talent rights and works with sporting and humanitarian figures such as Pelé, as well as one of the biggest stars in football today, Neymar Jr. MediaCom aims to develop authentic brand partnerships that allow brands to elevate their marketing initiatives, which is particularly relevant around events such as football’s World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Why are sporting events so important for brands?
Misha Sher The media landscape has evolved and there are many more touch points in the consumer journey than ever before. It’s clear that sport is playing a big part in that evolution, particularly when it comes to major fixtures.
Increasingly, brands are turning to events to engage their customers, and prominent sporting competitions have the potential to do this on a big scale. The way in which technology has evolved and the way consumers engage with tournaments such as the World Cup has changed, an evolution that is down to both the adoption of technology and the increasing use of social media.
It’s very rare to have such a big audience, one that is so engaged and potentially open to communication. This is why it’s no surprise that brands are very active in this space and are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Consumers are watching the game live, as well as following what is happening via their mobile devices, and they are very receptive to brand messaging.
Where do you start in the planning stage?
MS The key is to have a thorough understanding of the client’s objectives and to develop a close working relationship with all other agencies, from creative to PR, to ensure that there is seamless execution. This interconnected approach is crucial for every campaign, and being able to pull everything together, in real time, is absolutely vital. Many of our teams use Mediaocean’s systems for this very purpose.
Has the planning and execution of global campaigns become more complex today?
MS The number of touchpoints in the consumer journey has grown exponentially, which has made planning global campaigns considerably more complicated. Again, the reasons for this growth are the adoption of technology and the use of social media. Technology has evolved to become a central part of our lives and more people are using it, with increased access to the internet, although adoption does vary from market to market.
Brands need to adapt in real time and maintain a two-way dialogue with consumers, across all platforms.
Which brands do you feel have had success in sporting activation and why?
MS Traditionally, brands such as Coca-Cola and Nike have been at the forefront of sports marketing, although many others are becoming more sophisticated in this area. The successful ones tend to be those that understand their audience better than others and are able to activate their assets in a way that engages consumers.
We experienced this first-hand when we worked with Coca-Cola across various markets, building on a partnership with Pelé to maximise media impact and engagement across multiple touchpoints. In a campaign to launch Copa Coca-Cola [an international youth soccer tournament] in the Middle East and North Africa region, the client used Pelé to engage with consumers, strategic stakeholders and employees by activating the partnership across all available channels.
By putting content and engagement at the heart of its strategy, Coca-Cola was able to connect with consumers wherever they were, giving everyone the opportunity to connect with the brand. Similar initiatives were introduced in Algeria, France and Chile, where Pelé provided Coca-Cola with a unique asset around which it could build meaningful connections with consumers.
What do brands need to bear in mind when activating global campaigns?
MS One of the challenges with such campaigns is activating them on a global level while also making them relevant to each territory. Brands need to understand how individuals consume content in different territories, and the tools they use for this engagement. Also, brands need to have something to add to the conversation that consumers will appreciate in their specific region.
The way in which consumers make purchasing decisions, as well as the customer journey, varies across different regions. For example, when planning for the World Cup, we knew that Brazil was an incredibly socially connected country. Across its population of around 200m, there are more than 280m mobile devices. This means that in Brazil it is natural to lean heavily on mobile content.
Sher also noted the importance of an agency having a system in place to carry out day-to-day business across all media channels. Co-ordination between various specialist divisions, as well as other agencies involved in execution, is critical to ensure that clients gain maximum impact from their campaigns. Last, but not least, it’s important to share best practice across markets so that successful ideas can be replicated where appropriate.
There are several key lessons we can learn from Sher’s experience. Agencies are constantly looking for new ways in which to compete and get ahead in the ever-changing global marketplace, and brands themselves are challenging their agencies to become more connected, co-ordinated and efficient so that maximum impact on campaigns can be achieved.
The same is being asked of technology vendors – the ability to seamlessly connect and provide ‘joined-up’ data is essential to keep up with the technology available to the consumer, and to truly be able to plan and track their path to purchase.
Stuart Smith is Vice-president, client service UK and Ireland, Mediaocean
First published by Marketing Magazine on 24 November 2014