February 25, 2012

Last Thursday, the Sponsorship Summit 2012 was held in Croke Park. A series of talks and discussions took place around why sponsorship works, and how to execute it properly. There were a number of key lessons. The audience was told that there has to be a good cultural fit between the brand and sponsorship asset. Think Guinness and Irish Rugby . It’s not enough anymore to badge an asset with a logo. A good plan should make the most of the sponsorship, and consumers’ should be excited and involved. Musgraves brought to life it’s partnership of the GAA with ticket sales at local stores, the use of characters from their TV ads in store to entertain young fans and buses organised to bring supporters to games.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the day was integration. A fantastic case study, which I would urge anyone to investigate further, is P&G’s sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics. Stemming from a key insight that consumers are in fact aware that brands such as Olay, Gillette and Ariel are part of a larger group; a decision was made to promote the P&G brand itself. Giving access to billions, the sponsorship of the Olympics is one with huge potential. P&G is highlighting its association with a number of moving ads, incorporating the ‘Proud Sponsor of Mums’ tagline. Ticket giveaways and the use of the P&G/Olympics logo on products are aimed at driving consumer loyalty and sales.


P&G and the Olympics brings to mind OMD’s own strategy of insights, ideas and results. With all three interdependent, it’s a useful reminder that although an idea may seem ‘nice’ and may even be something that a client has ‘liked’ in the past, it needs to be grounded in insight and driving results for the business in the form of sales, market share or stakeholder value. With many brands proud to showcase success achieved with best practice, others need to make sure that they don’t get left behind.



Brand X Factor

October 11, 2011

With the live shows now started, X Factor is well and truly back!

A new judging panel this year means things are a bit different. But, hold on, are they? At the audition stage, we still had the good, the bad and the ugly. The sob stories remain. And Louis continues to make some shocking decisions (Kitty? Really??) Even the Welsh woman with the handbag came back this year for another shocking display of her vocal talent – or lack thereof.

With Gary having taken on the role of Simon, it seems the X Factor formula which works so well has been cemented. And now with X Factor USA on our screens, the show is hard to avoid. But is it too much? I have one friend who literally can’t cope with the sob stories, and insists on hitting mute when they come on. Is this a growing trend? Does X Factor need more of a makeover?

Well, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the 1980’s, Pepsi introduced the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ with many consumers preferring the taste of Pepsi to Coke. Coke reacted by introducing ‘New Coke’, replacing the old recipe with a new one. Coke’s CEO described this as ‘the boldest single marketing move in the history of the consumer goods business’. Unfortunately, it also proved to be a disastrous decision, with Coke going against the brand values of authenticity and tradition. Millions of fans claimed the new formula tasted like furniture polish and sewer water.

This year, X Factor contestants are set to star in the M&S Christmas TV ad. The deal is worth millions, and the ad will feature contestants singing a contemporary version of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. For now, at least, it seems the X Factor success story is set to continue. Sob stories included.


We presented the current Adidas and Nike YouTube campaigns in the last two Monday morning ignition 5s, and they got me thinking about the future and especially the future of celebrity.

The market is saturated with famous people (we know this), not only in magazines, they are judges in our TV programmes, talking in our twitter feeds, endorsing the products we choose.

Cheryl Cole is last year, this year who will it be? Amy Huberman, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Charlie Sheen….

…Charlie Sheen?? Why not?

The Charlie Sheen #Winning public ‘breakdown’ got me thinking about celebrity too. He is sticking two fingers to the world, ignoring everyone and everything he ‘should’ do, screw endorsements, fronts etc – ‘I am Charlie Sheen and I’m #winning’.

In many ways he is winning – he is ignoring celebrity norms and expectations, and I suspect this may mark the threshold of when marketing moves from celebrity obsession into non celebrity obsession – or at least takes a small breather from it.

There is something extremely valuable about a product or service etc that doesn’t need celebrity to give it that premium je ne sais quoi. Eg Dove. It is certainly safer anyway….

…which leads me to the Adidas versus Nike argument.

Adidas are going the celeb route – featuring tens of big name stars in its current ‘Adidas All In’ campaign – Beckham, Messi etc. Great ad and you wouldn’t want to blink because you’ll miss a score of famous faces.

They are talking up their street/music credentials with Katy Perry and BOB big name stars. The ad has a great soundtrack and is nicely put together.

But Nike (although they certainly spend millions on celeb endorsements), have taken the higher ground, and retaliated with the ‘Nike Better World’ campaign two weeks later. I think it’s a more powerful message?

1.       They recycled their collateral to make a ‘green ad’

2.       They are making the world better through sport, fighting depression and discrimination

3.       They are making the world better even for the haters

4.       They don’t rely on celebrity to create a powerful message

A good time to think about messaging and whether a profound and thought out message can be more powerful and moving than a billion dollar celeb endorsement…

Watch the video – it moved me


Apple, Guinness and Nike are all brands who have all successfully, over time,  shown us who they are, without having to tell us.

Building Brand Equity

I’ve been involved in some interesting brand deep-dives recently, and the same thing has been coming up again and again and again. In a world of brand-savvy consumers who are crying out for authenticity, brands who are trying to build brand equity need to stop telling us who they are and start showing us.

A clever comrade in advertising arms argued recently that Dunnes Stores is an example of a brand that has been left behind in this regard. Dunnes tell us they’re better because they’re Irish. Is that good enough anymore?

Do we believe that something can be better by virtue alone of being Irish? Well, no, not really.  For that matter, we’re not really sure we can put our finger on what makes one supermarket ultimately better than another. There’s lots of things that matter to us, including buying Irish. Ultimately,  if Dunnes want to centre their communications around the fact that they’re Irish, that’s fine. That’s as good an attribute as any upon which to hang your hat. But we’re a culturally distinct people; there’s a rich supply of Irishisms there to exploit without having to simply say ‘I’m Irish’.

Simply put, I trust myself, so if I interpret what a brand does and says and sum those things up as that brand’s identity, I believe myself. The job of the brand owner is to nudge the customer towards the right conclusion. 

My feeling is that there is a vast spectrum on this, which goes all the way from “Buy me, I’m X”, to a brand so perfectly identifying and embodying X that they never need to talk about it. Yes, getting it right is where the magic is; Apple, Nike, Guinness, these are all brands that perfectly embody their own values, and appear to do so with ease. Some brands, (Jamie Oliver?), try just a bit too hard and come across as a little contrived. In the modern world of branding, the ‘Buy me, I’m X’ brands come across as cheap and desperate and do little to help their own brand’s health in the long run.

Apple don’t talk explicitly to consumers about their brand values, (Simplicity, ease of use, user focused, fun & humour, memorable and different, innovative, personalisation, coherency) they just are those things, and it’s reaffirmed in every single interaction we have with the brand. As a brand, you know you’re there when people use your brand as a descriptor for other things.  This, of course, is the Holy Grail, and achieving it requires confidence, courage and no small amount of investment.



(check it out – no exhausts)

Yesterday I had the privilege of being one of the first people in Ireland to test drive the new range of electric vehicles from Renault.  The test vehicles are proto-types, not yet factory produced and are therefore one-offs, worth about a million euro each.  The event was out in Carton House and we got to drive through the estate, out onto the public road, up to a roundabout and back again.  The two vehicles they had were the Kangoo (van) and the Fluence (an executive saloon).

What are they like?  Long story short, they’re just cars, with a different engine.  Driving-wise the biggest difference was they’re left hand drive (weird enough) and they’re set up like an automatic, with just drive, park and reverse (which I’ve never driven before).  Those differences were much more noticeable to me than the difference between a petrol and an electric engine.  Which probably says it all. 

They’re also silent.  Can you imagine a city centre, like Dublin, without the roar of traffic?  I was going to say it’d be like going back to pre-combustion engine days, but actually, there were noisy, smelly horses clip-clopping around and relieving themselves all over the place back then.  This would be a breath of fresh-air and completely noise-free.  In fact, that’s one of the challenges of electric vehicles – they’ve to put an artificial noise into them for pedestrian safety.  Who’d have thought we’d have been trying to make cars noisier? 

The Gardai and Emergency Services were also out there getting training on how to deal with any potential road accidents involving an electric car (tip: don’t try putting out fires with water…).

Yesterday was a glimpse of the future.  Electric Vehicles may not be mainstream, mass-produced, today, tomorrow, next year, in the next 3 or 4 years.  But in 5, 10 or 15 years time, we’ll all be driving them.  And I wish that was now, because it’d be a far better place.

In other respects, we’ve already arrived at the future.  Car companies like Renault are now inviting as many bloggers and online publishers as traditional journalists to these kind of things.  I was sitting beside the blogger behind a new motor site called (@smokerspack).  He’s a micro-blogger who reviews individual cars that individual dealers have for sale.  So for example you could look up a second hand Golf on his site which he’s reviewed and then call down to the dealer and try it yourself.

Then when I got back to the office I tweeted a few photos of the electric vehicles and hash-tagged #Renault and #Fluence.  2 minutes later I got a direct message from @RenaultZE complimenting me on my pictures.  Now I’m following them so I get to hear the news and developments around their ZE. 

Good to see some brands trying to get to the future first, both with what they do and how they talk to you about it – after all, first tends to get all the credit.

It was a funny World Cup. An all- European final, again, which is good for European football I suppose, but it didn’t make for a thrilling match did it?

At the beginning of this campaign I wondered about the sense of brands sponsoring individuals and teams at events like these, not knowing how they would perform or what the return would be. Now it seems that, in many cases, my concern was warranted.

Some of the biggest footballing nations bowed out early. France and Italy left in the group stages – France in a blaze of embarassment, and Italy….. well, they’re a bit old now, and not very good anymore. How the mighty have fallen; France and Italy were the finalists in 2006.

England lost 4-1 in the round of 16 to a vastly superior Germany. Three of the world’s top paid footballers were in that England team; John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard. None of them performed at a really top level. Nor did Kaka, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Wayne Rooney, all of whom hold massive endorsement deals with either Nike or Adidas. In fact, the winner of the Golden Boot was Diego Forlán and I can’t find him on the top 50. By my reckoning the only player in the top ten who really performed at world-beater level was Spain’s Xavi, and he’s number ten on the list.

So what does this mean for the brands that sponsored them? In some cases, it was simply a waste of money, but for some, their deals have proved embarrassing.

Immediately in the wake of the French debacle, which their sports minister Roselyne Bachelot called “a moral disaster for French football”, sponsors started pulling activity and making threats. Financial services company Credit Agricole pulled a TV campaign featuring the team that was supposed to run until the end of June, and fast food giant Quick have said they will stop using an ad featuring Nicolas Anelka. Adidas have claimed to be “appalled and saddened” by what happened (but have retained their sponsorship, which is due to expire next year anyway). Utilities company GDF Suez says their sponsorship is now under review, despite the fact that their current deal is in place until after the 2014 World Cup.

So, is it a risk worth taking? There can only be one ultimate winner at the World Cup, but this time round there have been an unusual number of shocking disappointments and some downright embarrassments. In light of the economic realities being faced by the brands and companies aligning themselves with these properties, the question is whether or not these were risks worth taking.

The World Cup

June 15, 2010


david beckham

How easily stars are made, and how quickly they fall.

World championships, Olympics, World Cups, these events all create heroes. All the key ingredients are there; massive excitement, young, good looking people and superhuman feats of skill and strength. Think Jonny Wilkinson, Rugby World Cup 2003, think Usain Bolt at the 2008 Olympic Games. But then, think David Beckham, World Cup 1998.

Heroes and pariahs.

So, who will win out this year? And what will it mean for their sponsors? Attaching themselves to sports stars is one of the few ways that ‘male’ brands can use celebrities. But in this year’s World cup, who knows which one of these players will surpass themselves, or humiliate themselves, or be sent off following a moment of madness?

So, it makes you wonder; in a world where every cent, penny and yen of advertising spend is being scrutinised, and increasingly risk- averse brands are exerting such tight control over other elements of their communications, brands attaching  themselves, very expensively, to something that may or may not work out horribly? Well, it seems a little crazy, doesn’t it?



Apparently not according to most predictions. And Ken Ring, the Kiwi dude who supposedly predicted our last few soaking wet summers is suggesting we will face the same again this year. Read his latest forecast here. Or google ‘weather prediction Ireland summer 2010’ and you will see: it’s hard for your eyes to avoid the words ‘wash out’. I just searched for that website and it doesn’t exist…perhaps met eireann should buy the domain name or it could become the next in the market but people are only allowed to moan about the weather. It would be a sure hit.

The word weather is on our lips constantly. 2.5 million relevant Irish pages when you search ‘weather’ and not a single brand in sight. Ok there is and but very little paid for search.

A search area that should be capitalised on by a suitable brand?? I think so.

Meanwhile have a look at a typical Irish day on YouTube – ‘if you don’t like the weather in Ireland wait ten minutes’.


I now drive to work…

April 6, 2010

The car I should be driving (I work on the Renault account)

Exciting news, I know.

This development probably merits 16 or 17 separate blog entries to do it any justice, but for the moment lets try to channel and direct the immense interest and excitement that’s just been generated by this revelation to one topic: radio.  I now listen to the radio for 30-40 minutes a day as I rattle along the mean streets of South Dublin in my deceptively spacious and beautifully styled Fiat Grande Punto (first €5k in used 20s secures).  ‘Grande’ means ‘big’ in Italian, by the way.

Yes, radio.  This is not the time or place for a ‘creative Ireland’ style rant about poor ads… I’m going to go the other way with this and call for contributions to the ‘so bad they’re actually good’ radio ad category.  A cheerful angle on the appalling creative standards in Irish radio advertising.  Think Dennis Hickie’s TV gem for Wavin Piping, on radio, if you will.  Let me get the ball rolling with the ad currently airing for ‘Howl At The Moon’ bar/club on Leeson Street.  Anyone else heard that beaut? 

I’m focusing on the hilariously bad variety, because they make up an entertaining 5% of radio ads out there.  There’s also the 5% of decent ads at the opposite end of the scale which are for another time and place.  And then there’s the soul destroying, damaging-to-the-medium-itself, 90% of bland, boring ads that don’t merit any consideration whatsoever.  See my informative picto-graph (am learning from your previous post Neasa 😉

informative, visually exciting and Easter themed...

How many depressing egg puns did we all hear over Easter?  National Lottery, I’m looking at you…

This is by way of a circuitous route to the point of my blogpost – listening to the radio in the car.  I have one of those MP3 player mini-radio transmitters that allow you to listen to your ipod in the car, but it’s a bit of hassle.  30% of radio listenership is ‘in-car’ and that figure is higher again for the valuable business market.  So never mind integrated music docking systems, which are already becoming mainstream – wait ‘til the car gets fully connected.  Radio is going to have to evolve hugely or really suffer.  This is the future in-car experience: 

Aside from the really creepy glassy-eyed man driving the car (why is it the man always driving?), how scary is that future and is radio ready for it?


Free Riding

March 30, 2010


I was in the city centre the other day waiting for the Aircoach when a taxi pulled up and the driver asked, “Do you want to come with me for the same price as the Aircoach?”. I agreed. The Aircoach wasn’t due for another ten minutes and the taxi would get me to the airport more quickly.

There were already 6 people in the taxi, so with 7 people that meant that the driver was making around €50 for his troubles. Not a bad little earner. Of course, he was cheating, a little. He was using the infrastructure the Aircoach has invested in, to sell his own service.

The same principle of free riding can work for brands. It might be cheating a little, but it’s one way in which the little guys can compete. If we believe that certain brands embody certain values, then it makes sense that where one brand has gone before, another can join in. Where this extends to blatant counterfeiting, it is, obviously, illegal. But where a brand can mirror the values of a larger brand in more subtle ways, it can bask in that brand’s glow, for a relatively minimal cost.

I would argue that brands like Apple, as a best in class example, embody their brand values so completely that those values, where seen elsewhere, become reminiscent of the brand. Things are now ‘Apple-y’.

Where a more minor player doesn’t have the resources to create that sort of brand value on its own, it might make sense to free ride on someone else’s.


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