Sports marketers on why Australia doesn’t have a cultural marketing moment like the Super Bowl

M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment's Richie Butterworth, Havas Sport & Entertainment's Francis Coady, MKTG's Matt Connell and Prism's Shannan Quinn share their takes on what the closest thing Australia has to the Super Bowl might be, and suggest what Australian marketers can learn from one of the world's biggest cultural marketing moments.

As Super Bowl LV takes place between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, marketers, creatives, brands and more tune in from around the world, not to see a 43-year-old Tom Brady defy the laws of physics (well maybe also for that), but for the commercials.

The Super Bowl, first held in 1966, has become synonymous with some of the most innovative and iconic advertising ever to air on television.

And although it was widely reported that uptake on the coveted 30-second spots during the coverage was initially slower than usual, there’s little doubt that the USA’s unique, cultural marketing moment will be just as impactful as ever in 2021.

There’s always going to be plenty of commentary around the “ludicrous” amount of money it costs to invest in a 30-second spot, MKTG managing director APAC, Matt Connell, tells Mumbrella.

“Scale is the important thing to consider, and one of the interesting things is that it’s often more about the actual entertainment of the half time show than the sport.

“I think everyone in the industry gets excited about the creativity, whether it be Budweiser, or other brands famous for producing big-budget Super Bowl ads that can last the test of time in terms of advertising creativity.”

Connell says that the reason why Australia doesn’t currently have anything that can match the Super Bowl in terms of marketing moments is more to do with scale than anything else.

“Just because of the population and the size of the advertising market, which is at least 10 times the size of this market.”

MKTG managing director APAC Matt Connell

M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment’s head of sponsorship, Richie Butterworth, agrees that the scale of the US audience and population is difficult for anyone to match.

“To be fair to Australia, not many countries around the world have a moment like the Super Bowl,” he says.

“The size of the market in the US and the global attention the Super Bowl brings makes it attractive for brands to look at it as a global marketing initiative and not just a US-focused campaign.”

Shannan Quinn, managing director of Group M sport and entertainment agency, Prism, says “it’s an easier conversation and decision” for marketers to invest in a Super Bowl ad than anything Australia can offer because the ad will be “viewed by four times the population of Australia”.

Global brands advertise in the Super Bowl as they know they will hit a very diverse audience and can therefore justify the investment in the creation and talent of a well-produced spot. If you compare this to the AFL Grand Final, which has a peak audience of around 3-4 million people, it just doesn’t add up,” he says.

But MKTG’s Connell says it would be selling the Australian ad industry short to say we don’t have cultural marketing moments of great significance in sport and advertising.

At its 2021 upfronts, Nine said it planned to make State Of Origin the Super Bowl of Australia, but Connell thinks that the ‘race that stops the nation’ is closer in terms of the cultural impact.

“The obvious one, we’ve got the Melbourne Cup. It’s a moment in time in our sporting calendar that does demand pretty significant partnership and sponsorship investment, and big brands get behind it as a fairly significant marketing event.

“The same can be said for the AFL Grand Final. I think the fact the [Victorian] government chooses to give us a public holiday on the day before the grand final talks huge volumes about how much that means to society and the community.

“There’s now more touch points than ever in terms how brands can activate around an event like the grand final, or the Boxing Day Test.”

Havas Sport & Entertainment Australia’s general manager, Francis Coady, points instead to the Australian Open, which gets underway today in Melbourne.

“The sheer scale of the entertainment acts performing at halftime and the global audience reach of the Super Bowl are very hard to emulate in a small market, however, the sophistication of brand integration at the Australian Open over the last few years has presented a good example of where we can develop as a marketing community,” he says.

“The NBA is also a wonderful breeding ground for best in class examples of the nexus between sport and pop culture.”

Havas Sport & Entertainment Australia’s general manager/executive producer Francis Coady

Advertising around Australia’s major sporting codes and events are generally dominated by partners and sponsors, so do sports marketing experts believe the strength of some of these major partnerships is a barrier to advertisers securing placement during live sports in the way that brands buy one-off spots during the Super Bowl?

“They’re paying premium for that first ride, first access to events like the ones we’re talking about,” Connell says.

And while he believes that brands will always want to pay upfront to give themselves “the best chance to protect their investment from other brands in the same category”, Connell reiterates that the increasing number of touch points with fans will make it more difficult to monopolise the category when advertising during sporting events, even for official event partners.

“It’s near impossible for a brand to protect its investment in one particular code, so Toyota’s ability to protect against every automotive brand is near impossible within the AFL.”

As a result, “there’s an ever-increasing” way for brands to get associated with sports and events, whether it’s in a legitimate way or as an ambush.

“I think Australian brands would love nothing more than the ability to be as big and as bold as what some of these US-based businesses can do around events like this,” Connell says.

Now those brands are “finding ways to be as impactful without the big budget, and marketers are trying to find that opportunity to deliver that impact in a powerful way without the big city budget”.

Prism’s Quinn points to the “fragmentation of how media is consumed” in Australia as a key way in which barriers to securing placement during big live sporting events are falling.

For a traditional TVC spot during a high-profile game, it can be difficult and expensive, but it’s not impossible. There are a plethora of ways a fan can consume and access sports or any given game which means there is a magnitude of ways a brand can advertise in live sport and reach consumers, and it’s not always the obvious ones that get the best cut through,” he says.

Butterworth agrees that despite not being afforded opportunities of the same ilk as the Super Bowl, Aussie brands have in recent years begun to be “much more creative and brave with their campaigns around key events that attract more than just the traditional sports fan like the Australian Open and State of Origin”.

M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment head of sponsorship Richie Butterworth

In addition, there’s plenty that Australian marketers can learn from the Super Bowl, Butterworth explains.

“High-quality production, uniqueness and unpredictability are what the Super Bowl ads and campaigns are known for, and that is why they are always highly anticipated and create talkability across the world, so for brands in this market continuing to be brave and challenging themselves to do things differently is a key takeout.

“I also believe the broadcasters and sports rights holders here in Australia can take some learnings from the approach that has been taken with the Super Bowl that has resulted in the sponsors and advertisers being celebrated – which has then driven the competitive nature from the brands to want to be a part of the Super Bowl.”

Coady posits that there are some “two major learnings” that Aussie marketers can take from the Super Bowl.

Firstly, they should work harder to “provide brand support and integration to the entertainment experiences at live games”. Marketers also need to “better utilise the power of pop culture talent, both local and international, within TVCs that are broadcast during that sporting code season.”

Quinn adds that brands can learn from the specific tone that Super Bowl advertising often uses, as well as the “big chances” brands take.

I think our industry can learn a lot from this bold, brave approach and investing in big ideas and use live sport as an opportunity to replicate this lateral thinking and use it as an avenue to talk to the huge fan bases in a non-traditional way.”

So without a clear Super Bowl equivalent to associate themselves with, how do marketers and their clients choose where to spend their money, especially with such a wide span of professional sporting leagues around Australia?

Butterworth explains that for M&C Saatchi Sport and their clients, it’s important to go beyond just “slapping a logo” on a sport or event.

“It needs to be based on the objectives of the brand and what they’re looking to achieve from being involved within the sport, as well as the audience they are trying to connect with,” he says.

“However, the ability for a brand to play an authentic role within the sport and not just be a brand slapping a logo should be the most important element, as it will allow the brand to have a genuine connection with the fans of that sport, which will ultimately allow them to achieve the business objectives they set out wanting to achieve.”

Coady says that Havas takes an approach that places social and economic impact at its core.

“We use the Havas Sports & Entertainment global market auditing approach to build out our clients’ KPI’s and then apply in-depth analysis of each code, including but not limited to, their level of sophistication around marketing the code, their approach and relationship to fan loyalty, their engagement with community and First Nations People,” he explains.

“At Havas Media we believe it is so important to create work with meaning that supports social and economic impact. As we audit partnership opportunities, we ensure this philosophy is shared.”

With fans already back at most sporting events, 2021 is looking to be a more exciting proposition for brands, and sports marketers are feeling optimistic about the year ahead. There’s also the Olympics on the near horizon, assuming it goes ahead as planned.

Butterworth says M&C Saatchi Sport and its clients are approaching the year with “optimism and excitement”.

“Covid has unearthed some amazing stories of resilience and passion from the grassroots to the professional level, so we are working with our brand clients to celebrate these stories.

“Events like the Olympics bring the nation together, so we are hopeful the Tokyo Games do happen, which will in turn provide an exciting opportunity for sponsors to showcase how they have supported the amazing Olympic athletes, and will be a part of the moment of Australia coming together around the Olympic and Paralympic Team.”

Planning more than a few months in advance will be difficult, Quinn admits, but at the same time, there’ll be “huge opportunity for our clients to harness what they learnt last year and try alternative avenues in fan engagement via non-traditional ways.

I see 2021 as a year of evolution not revolution when it comes to how our clients are approaching the seasons. They, as well as us, are far more experienced, based on our 2020 learnings, as to what challenges may be presented to us and our industry.”

Prism managing director Shannan Quinn

Connell warns that despite the positive outlook, ongoing lockdowns and travel restrictions for sporting teams will mean that “there’s going to be a high degree of caution, so it’s a fine balance and I think that’s going to stay with us throughout the year”.

“Last year, especially within our business and some of our commercial relationships, that the demand for sport is still there. The industry is getting set up for a COVID normal season, and the AFL in particular are planning for a relatively normal season with average crowds and attendance,” he concludes.

“I think we’re more organised this year, there’s not as much of an unknown about it, so we should take confidence from that because we can manage. But I don’t think anyone can say with confidence that it won’t be a year without its challenges.”


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