A Dose Of Reality At The ICC Champions Trophy

I’m worried I have a problem and I think you might be worried that you have it too. Surely, it’s an issue that has crossed the minds of everyone who works in marketing. You see, having been in the industry for 5 years now, I’m concerned that I might be losing my grip on reality.Whenever I engage with sports and entertainment – be that at an event or experiencing content – my mind is trained to look for the marketing. I actively seek it out and try to make sense of it. Why is this brand advertising here? I wonder what they paid for that shirt sponsorship? What is the story they are trying to tell consumers? How is their campaign messaging building over time?

This isn’t how a normal person thinks. A normal person, to be frank, doesn’t really give a damn. True, they notice to an extent what brands are saying and doing but, I suspect, only when it is highly relevant to them and is absolutely unavoidable.

There is clearly a danger here for marketing professionals, bombarded as we are with marketing content. The industry press is full of ideas that are derivative of other brand activations; you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a profession we gain more inspiration from case studies than new, deep audience insights.

If we fail to think as consumers we will create work that, despite being clever and creative, doesn’t always relate to ‘normal’ people on a genuine level. Forget what will look good in the industry press or win awards, what matters is that the reality of consumers’ lives is front and centre of our thinking. We must try our very best to see the world through their eyes and ‘be’ the consumer… and last Monday at an ICC Champions Trophy game (Bangladesh vs. Australia) I tried to do just that. Let’s call that version of me Punter-James versus the one speaking now, Marketing-James.

What follows is an account of what I mentally noted down as Punter-James. I’ve attributed times to make it easier to follow. But of course, Punter-James was watching the cricket, chatting to friends, and drinking beer, so these specific times are largely fictional.

Exited Oval train station. Every advert space is taken up by adverts for an Asian TV channel. Totally irrelevant to me but certainly noticeable due to the sheer amount of it.

Entered the ground via the Vauxhall end. Went to the first beer stand by the gates, a mobile one. The only beer served is Kingfisher lager. Weird, not something I’d choose but it will certainly do.

Seated and now with empty glasses. Agreed that the beer was surprisingly good. Shall we get another? Yes definitely. Nice enough to buy in the future. Better than Cobra? Not yet sure.

An advert for Oppo mobile phones flashes up on the big screen. Who are they? Asks one friend. No idea, I say. Don’t give them a second thought. Second pint is going down nicely – quite smooth, better pace myself on this Kingfisher stuff.

A friend cracks out the M&S snacks, some bacon and cheese sausage rolls. Deliciously unhealthy. I really should shop there more often.

Another Kingfisher? Whose round is this?

Bangladesh are all out. I notice that when there’s a wicket, a car covered with lights in the far corner flashes in different colours. Guess it must be a Nissan given all the branding around the ground. No clues as to why there is a car pitch-side within range of a big 6. Reminds me of a school match where the windscreen of a parent’s unfortunately parked Jag was smashed.

It’s raining and, after a few minutes wishing it away, we head inside the ground. Battled the queues for a coffee. They’ve run out of milk. Acrid and black it is then.

Back out for the Australia innings. One friend, a little bored, is inspecting her ticket. “I’ve never heard of MRF Tyres” she says pointing at a tiny logo. You and me both.

It’s raining again, hard, so we head home. Oval station is overcrowded so we walk down to Stockwell instead. A very wet end to the day.

And that’s it. Those were Punter-James’ interactions with brands on a rainy Monday at the ICC Champions Trophy.I’ll be honest, it was a sometimes a little hard to keep Marketing-James from invading my thinking. I had to stop myself remarking that (interestingly?!) Kia, title sponsors of the Oval, had their branding removed for tournament partner Nissan. And now, back in the office, it’s obvious that the Oppo and MRF Tyres sponsorships are targeting the global, largely Indian, TV audience through signage. Likewise, that Kingfisher was only on tap because they are official partners of the ICC Champions Trophy.Punter-James didn’t comprehend these things though. Naming rights partners on certain historic stadiums often don’t get cut-through – to him this had always been The Oval. The unrecognisable brands in the stadium were merely white noise. Irrelevant. The Kingfisher beer was if anything a nice surprise, he couldn’t remember what lager is usually on tap.In all honesty, the one positive sponsor experience I took from the day was that Kingfisher lager is pretty good. It was effectively a pourage deal, however, and I learnt nothing more about the brand. Perhaps some level of relevant experiential activation would have deepened my ties and sentiment towards them. Punter-James will likely still get a Cobra next time he has a curry.

In fact, that day I came across no real experiential or targeted social touchpoints – I appreciate that this Monday group game wasn’t the biggest draw and my experience may be unreflective of more important matches. However, there were clear times where Punter-James might have valued a brand stepping in; for example, during the breaks in play for rain. On a very basic level, a branded umbrella or poncho would have been massively appreciated. But more than this, a brand could have truly owned that moment. Instead of milling around for a coffee, Punter-James could have been engaged by a compelling experiential activation – one which took his mind off the weather and conveyed a strong, relevant message about that brand.

True, Nissan were doing something but it took Marketing-James to trawl through the industry press to work it out. If you’re wondering, it was, “An intelligent car that connects fans to the excitement of the live matches by reacting to the big moments in real-time.” It is a moot point how many fans felt connected to a car with flashing lights. This activation is reportedly part of a larger global campaign; although, Punter-James left the Oval none the wiser about this and with no inclination to explore it further.

I’m not saying this was a particularly scientific or objective exercise. Nevertheless, doing it reminded me of three key lessons:

  1. In all likelihood, consumers won’t have seen your previous marketing activity. A logically phased plan looks great on a page but the majority won’t experience it from start to end. When they do dip into it, however, a brand must grasp that moment.
  2. That moment where a brand interacts with the consumer – whether that is experiential, through content, on social etc. – must engage their passions and/or needs in an authentic way.
  3. By understanding consumer journeys and touchpoints, in this case across a day at the cricket, brands can make these interactions happen at the most efficient times and places. This could impact the sponsorship rights they negotiate and budget they allocate. For example, to create an experiential area that comes to life when it rains.

These lessons can only be enacted when you make every effort to truly understand your target audience. At Synergy, we work hard through qualitative and quantitative means to uncover deep insights about consumers. These insights form the basis of creative strategies across every channel.

Occasionally, however, it is good to go a step further and channel your inner Punter. Trust me, Marketing-You will be grateful. Compared to our perfectly formed marketing bubble, reality is a far more inspiring place.