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Sports marketing in the golden age of content

THE RECENT match between the Thai women’s national volleyball team and perennial Asian powerhouse Japan sparked a lot of emotion, and virtually set social media on fire.

Unfortunately for Thailand, Japan went on to win narrowly in somewhat controversial circumstances, with the referee displaying conspicuous bias in a nerve-racking match. The significance of that loss meant Thailand missed out on a historic berth at the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro this year in the most heartbreaking fashion.
No other form of content can induce so much passion, conversation, engagement and, in this particular case, heated debate as sport. No other form of content has the power to provoke a sense of patriotism and tribalism.
Sport is directly synonymous with the words “victory”, “determination”, “perseverance”, “cooperation”, and many other terms associated with the human will, which is the reason countless millions are glued to the television whenever representatives of Thailand go head-to-head with opposing nations.
Brands want to associate themselves with the human heart, and nothing else comes close to touching hearts as the power of sports.
The Thai national soccer team have reached the final round of the Asian World Cup qualification round for the first time in history, and the women’s volleyball team are improving leaps and bounds in establishing themselves as world-beaters. Even Leicester City’s recent fairytale victory has given hope to the underdogs of the world in an era where it takes money to build success.
The great thing about sport is that you don’t have to be a sports brand to be associated with it. But brands want to be associated with the aforementioned context that only sports can induce and surround themselves with the elite group of winners that has the power to uplift the nation’s spirits.
With the Euro Championships and Olympics fast approaching, brands are vying to be a part of everyday conversations that have played a key role in the culture of modern life, especially in urban dwellings, where digital platforms help facilitate sharing of opinions around sport within groups big and small.
The business arena has evolved rapidly from pure “marketing 1.0” to what is in essence now marketing 3.0, which involves the human spirit, as previously mentioned. So has sponsorship in sports, where simply buying loose spots is a thing of yesteryear. Integrated packages have now dominated sports sponsorship, with content creation and brand activation playing an important part in driving brand awareness, association and preference. Because of the rising popularity of sports in the Kingdom, licensing costs to broadcast live sporting events have inflated dramatically, and consequently led to higher advertising rates.
In a recent interview, Tharaputh Charuvatana, IPG Mediabrands’ group chief executive officer, said: “We always strive to give the best advice to clients in terms of effectiveness on advertising ROI [return on investment]. Sporting licences have inflated three to four times this decade and it has become so expensive that unless you are a market leader attempting to create huge barriers to entry for others, we recommend that clients explore other media for consumer connections.
“When you consider the behaviour of consumers nowadays, especially when they wake up to check sports results and follow news, you can [penetrate] into their lives by considering other media, especially on digital platforms, and build content around sports that will engage consumers, simply because live sports is far too expensive to endorse.”
Cerebos, the owner of Brand’s Essence of Chicken, even though not a sports brand by nature, has always associated itself with sports, either directly or indirectly. It is a market leader in functional drinks, so using mass media to communicate brand values to penetrate across various markets and professions makes good business sense.
But when you have a limited advertising budget and prefer to engage with fans more personally, below-the-line media might be the better option.
For instance, Philips Lighting Thailand was the first to “hijack” the relevance of Thailand’s perceived unjust defeat by Japan, when it mocked the umpire for repeatedly making bad decisions (because of bad lighting), and that the tournament needed to switch to Philips bulbs for better stadium lighting.
It was a cunning and brave move by the brand, but it brought about high levels of engagement in terms of shares, “likes” and comments through humour and context, which also, fortunately, had a product role to play in. It was a great example of contextual marketing.
Needless to say, sports marketing is on top of every brand’s wish list, and with Thailand’s sporting community going from strength to strength, building a regional presence in sport can only mean brands will benefit further by attaching themselves to the values that only it can emit.

Pradon Sirakovit is associate director of corporate communications, IPG Mediabrands Thailand. Facebook: IPG Mediabrands Thailand. E-mail: [email protected].

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