Updated: Feb 23
Time to bring on the substitutes for the tired tropes.
How to market to football fans
Now the prolonged domestic season is finally over, it's a good time to take stock of the way we market to a football audience. You’re unlikely to find a more cynical bunch of consumers than football fans. Turning up as a brand and expecting fans to love you, is, to use the modern football parlance, ‘deluded.’ There are a few tropes that have been used in marketing that haven’t helped. Here, I pick out five examples that are long overdue a red card.
The Letter X
With its origins in fashion, the use of the letter X has been around for a long time. But it’s been done to death now. Does Rihanna’s collaboration with Puma look cooler when stylised as Fenty x Puma? Yeah, it probably does. MansionBet x MK Dons? Not so much. For the record, that’s a made up collaboration but you get the point. The lesson is sticking an X in your title isn’t a substitute for actual content.
“For Fans, By Fans”
Copa90, Ultimate Football Fan, FansBet, Football Hotels, Sportsbreaks.com and the Metro are just some to have used this messaging. Eleven Sports are the latest to tread over the most well trodden ground. The OTT streaming service launched the latest iteration of their product last week with some artwork that placed A-List talent front and centre. Quite how imagery of Ronaldo, LeBron James and Vincent Kompany represents the ‘by fans, for fans proposition’ is beyond me. The truth here is you can’t just say you’re ‘about fans’ because they’re your customers. If you don’t believe me, check out FansBet’s trust pilot review page, then see if they’re ‘for fans.’
Adverts featuring generic fans...usually filmed at The Den
Full disclosure, I’m a Charlton fan, so the home of Millwall is never likely to sit well with me. I’m not going to lie, it scares me a bit. But over the years The Den has been the go-to venue to shoot a football ad. Strangely (or not) Millwall never features. It’s always two generic teams. Often the Reds versus the Blues, the most fearsome of all rivalries surely.
This is purely my opinion but when you see actors playing football fans, it sticks out a mile. Contrast this with the way Coke activates their Premier League sponsorship. The fans look real because they are and the brand feels a part of the action rather than getting in the way.
The Social Content Merry-go-Round
Surely we’ve seen enough crossbar challenges to last a lifetime? And more keepy-uppy contests than we care to remember. When a certain video format does well, the temptation is to repeat the trick. And as an industry we’ve done that a lot.
If you’re measuring things in views, it’ll work for a while but it’s a bit like the ‘Bart Gets Famous’ episode of The Simpsons. There’s only so many times you can hear ‘I Didn’t Do It’ before you get sick of it. When you use short-term vanity metrics, like views and engagement, this is always the danger. "It worked before, let's do the same again."
But it’s not all bad, take a look at the way Mundial or my old pals at Ball Street create branded content. Start with the audience and what they really want, not tricking them into watching 3 seconds.
Official Partner Of...
The official partner status has been used as part of sponsorship for generations. However, like the use of the letter X, it’s become a lazy shorthand for trying to communicate with fans.
In the mid-90’s sponsoring an event was enough to put you front and centre of massive TV audiences. But the world has moved on and fans are exposed to more advertising than ever before and there are cheaper ways of reaching audiences than signing a big sponsorship cheque.
I’m still a firm advocate that sponsorship can have a massive impact for a brand if they have a proper strategy in place and don’t just ‘hit and hope’. But the days of people caring who their club’s official sports drinks partner is are numbered, if you want fan attention, you need to give them a reason to care.