The strongest brands create an emotional connection with their consumers. A relationship born of the heart not the head.
Sport has a unique emotional power. In no other walk of life do our hearts and minds become so inextricably linked to the activities of people we do not personally know, but who we admire with a passion bordering on love. In cricket alone a twirl of a bat, the tumble of a wicket, a ball smashed away to the boundary can instantaneously put us in an ecstatic or doom-laden mood. Amplify that the world over for football, tennis, golf, and so on and so on – there’s nothing else like it to engage, entertain and move the world.
Because of this, numerous brands puts sport at the heart of their marketing strategy to drive growth. Global spending on sports sponsorship is predicted to grow to £35bn this year and £48bn by 2024 (BBC News 2nd May 2019).
Sport’s unrivalled impact with audiences means that there is a world of opportunity for brands to use their association with it to deliver on purpose driven objectives. The brand affinity generated by a sports-themed campaign allows brands to deliver social messages that can powerfully drive behaviour and attitude change. Sport allows a brand to make good on their good intentions.
But how can those brands best leverage a sports campaign to land that social message?
Back up your words with deeds
Audiences have become increasingly cynical about brands that land campaigns with a social message but don’t appear to be doing much else about that cause. So much so that speaking without following it up with action is more likely to cause brand damage than brand health.
McDonald’s have been supporting grassroots football in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for 15 years through their sponsorship of those national football associations. But rather than just talk about how they’re putting money into the game, they’ve backed it up with highly visible, real-world activations that physically cement the relationship between the sport, the audience and the brand. McDonald’s provides a fun and free gateway into football for young children through community events all over the UK. These events have the added bonus, speaking purely from a business perspective, of providing a gateway into the brand for the next generation of McDonald’s customers too.
Become a fan yourself
Recent research by Copa90 and Manchester City looked into opportunities for growing women’s football. For fans of the women’s game, supporting their club or country is a shared crusade with like-minded fans that support other clubs and countries. This creates a much stronger sense of community amongst fans than is traditionally found in men’s football, and because the game is that much smaller than the men’s, that sense of community is elevated further as the players seem more accessible.
This sense of being part of a shared fan community is vitally important for both brand affinity and landing an authentic social message. Two things brands struggle to create, love and community, and one thing brands can help fans with, access to stars, should combine to truly land that social impact. By sharing in that fandom, then using that as a catalyst for the social cause, you are giving the audience every opportunity to come along on the journey with you.
Land the social message internally, as well as externally
This is an amazing opportunity to rally staff internally, many of whom will share in that deep passion for the sport. So make it as much a part of the way you act internally as well as externally, and use that momentum to create even greater levels of engagement. All of this will help to massively amplify the social impact you can make.
Think long term
In their seminal work ‘The Long and the Short of It’, Les Binet and Peter Field, the godfathers of marketing effectiveness, highlight that over time total sales uplift is better served by long-term brand building rather than short-term sales activation.
We can use their analysis to make a similar conclusion about sports themed campaigns with a social message. A short-term burst of social message activity may result in increased brand affinity and a sales uplift, but these measures will return to their base level once the campaign ends.
Longer term commitment to the social cause, whilst potentially being more of a slow burner, is far more likely to benefit the brand, sales and the cause over time.
And aside from the business objectives, any brand who is going to commit to purpose-driven objectives should be a responsible partner and stick around long enough to actually see a difference being realised.
So use this opportunity to be in it for the long-game, rather than for a short flirtation. If planned and executed well, a social message delivered through a compelling sport themed campaign can benefit long-term sales and, crucially, help to better our society.