Before anyone had even heard the words Covid-19, economists were pondering the possibility of a recession in 2020. Fortune magazine reported last year: “Two-thirds of business economists in the U.S. expect a recession to begin by the end of 2020.” Their predictions were that the next recession would be severe. Of course, no-one could have known what lay in store. When it came, it was sudden, but its impact will be felt for a long time. The European Commission is projecting that Ireland's GDP will contract by 8.5% in 2020.
The main question economists are now speculating about is what shape the recession will take. The best-case scenario is a V-shaped recession where the economy contracts and then expands again quickly. All previous epidemics have resulted in V-shaped recessions which is a positive indicator, but given the current backdrop of other major international events such as Brexit and an American Presidential election, what type of recession we will have is unpredictable at this point in time.
Whatever awaits us, however, there are lessons we can take from our previous experience.
When the recession hit in 2008, it followed a period of exceptional wealth in Irish society. The recession was initially met with a grudging acceptance that we had “all partied”. As a country, we entered the recession in a significantly different frame of mind than today. The beginning of the 2008 recession saw a wholehearted embrace of frugal living. The car parks in Lidl and Aldi were full of top-marque cars and both brands experienced a surge as shoppers became increasingly savvy and relished the bragging-rights of a bargain find. Those changes have been permanent. Today, more than 50% of what we buy is own- brand. Aldi and Lidl, both previously considered outliers in the Irish retail space, now take almost €1 out of every €4 we spend on groceries.
The uncertainty of our surroundings also heralded a return to home comforts. Sales of baking supplies and comfort foods like custard skyrocketed. The trends in those items were shorter-lived as people soon realised that they couldn’t really cook and regained some confidence in spending on small luxuries.
Meanwhile, as spending in 2008 decreased due to necessity and caution, people’s savings grew as a reflexive reaction to recession. While this made sense, given that savings give people peace of mind that they can weather job losses, it also cools the economy and means that retail and other markets take longer to recover.
This recession, however, may not follow the patterns we’re familiar with. According to U.S. economy expert Kimberly Amadeo, “Economic recessions are caused by a loss of business and consumer confidence… As confidence recedes, so does demand.” Consumer confidence is down, but confidence generally has also taken a major hit. People aren’t just afraid of spending their money in shops, they’re afraid of being in shops. As the new normal continues into autumn and we operate under the spectre of a second wave, confidence is likely to fall. The impact this will have can hopefully be offset by rallying calls to support local businesses and the release of pent-up demand, but as the months drag on, brands are going to have to take significant steps to tempt customers.
The types of businesses people support are also likely to change. Supporting local has been a growing movement, but nothing reinforced that message more to people than seeing shutters down while on their local walks. The importance of local towns will be underscored as people work from home and the locus of their world moves out from cities and towards their local communities. Where money is spent may be the biggest shift post-Covid as we see local businesses benefitting more than international chains. Christmas will be a difficult period for retailers as the throng of people in shops and pubs seems unthinkable now. This will provide the more creative people in the market with a chance to innovate and stand out.
The recession is unlikely to spur the trend of a return to comfort foods again, given that our collective early forays into banana-bread and sourdough (adopted as a consequence of needing wholesome activities during lockdown) have made baking passé already. Our Instagram feeds can only hope there won’t be a second wave of banana bread.
The savings trend is already repeating itself. By the end of this year, households will have up to €15bn extra in their bank accounts through lack of opportunity to spend and concern for what lies ahead. Unlike in 2008, when the 15% fall in consumption matched the fall in household disposable income, this time the drop in spending will go well beyond any reduction in income. Even those left unemployed by the pandemic had incomes cushioned by State payments softening the impact to the economy. How this extra money will be spent remains to be seen. It is likely to cause some inflation in the property market as pent-up demand, exacerbated by being locked down with flatmates or parents, can finally be released. It may also benefit the hospitality sector as people choose to fly the flag and 3 staycation instead of flying abroad. However, it is likely to be summer 2021 at the earliest before we see how this will play out.
Arguably the biggest change this time of pandemic and recession will hearld is a swell in support for Government and institutions. In 2008, many a planner, including this one, told you that faith in institutions had dropped to unprecedented lows. Abuse scandals, bailouts, and generalised anger at national decisions left people bereft of any authority figure they could cling to. Covid-19 has, in many ways, healed that wound. We may not trust the old institutions of the church and the banks but confidence in the Government, particularly in comparison to some international counterparts, renewed a sense of faith that we have a leadership which can be trusted. How this will continue is unknown but recent political opinion polls suggest a ground swell of support and confidence in the leadership that got Ireland through the worst of the pandemic. The faith in the people who staff our health system has also risen to give people new figures in society who can be respected and revered. The outpouring of goodwill for Dr Tony Holohan is a stark example that there are people in Irish society who reflect the best in us, and that we need to acknowledge them. Our pillars of community may have changed, but they are still there in Irish society, a fact that seemed unlikely in 2008.
What marketers learned from the 2008 recession still remains relevant and will hopefully guide us through the challenges of the next year, and while no two recession are exactly alike, there are some stalwarts that have reoccurred time and time again.
Things move fast in a recession. Consumer priorities change; the market is easily shaken. What seems upbeat today will be tone-deaf next week. Having a strategy that can track evolving consumption patterns and be fine-tuned is vital.
It doesn’t need to be at the same levels, but companies that continue to invest in brand and take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to their marketing budget emerge from recession stronger and with greater support than brands which abandon their base in difficult times.
An honest evaluation of your portfolio to assess which products or services will be fit for the new consumer mindset and which won’t is essential. The possibility to innovate to meet changing consumer needs has never been more relevant than in this recession. It won’t just be a change in spending patterns; how people live their lives has fundamentally changed. Companies need to ready themselves now to kill what’s not relevant and ideate to fill gaps in customers’ needs.
Anxious consumers, even those economically unaffected by the recession, will want brands that are a safe, comforting choice in difficult times. Demonstrating through brand that you have empathy - and backing those messages up with actions - will retain customer loyalty.
Although it is unclear how long the recession will last, it will at some point end. Brands that have maintained presence and relevance throughout it will be well positioned, but even those brands need to plan for a changed consumer. People’s confidence generally returns 1-2 years after a recession ends. Brands need to start planning today for how they can serve their customers in a post-Covid, post- recession world, because the only certainty is that the consumer that emerges from this remarkable time will not be the same.
For the full research deck, relevant quotes and learnings – click here.
SMEs are a huge part of our economy and how they’re doing points to how we as a country are doing. While everyone has been affected by the year’s events, SME owners in particular are at a clear crossroads.
This week, we take a look at this audience to sense-check how they’re feeling, what’s on the horizon, and indications moving forward. Read on for the five key take-outs from our conversations with business owners.
Uncertainty was palpable across all conversations. No matter the industry, everyone was at a loss about what’s going to happen and what they can do about it. There was comfort in knowing that everyone is in the same boat - but it meant many business plans are out the window.
Because of this uncertainty, the level of anxiety was incredibly high for this audience. Without solid plans, it’s difficult for them to get loans or project the future beyond the next few months. In addition to this, most SMEs told us they were close with their employees and not having answers for them was cause for stress. Many SMEs realised their impact on the economy as well, worried about the ripple effect on the community from their staying closed.
The past few months offered us time to slow down and reflect. This was welcome in some ways. Normally, this group is snowed under day-to-day and spending all their energy on their businesses, so a minute to re-evaluate was appreciated. While there was uncertainty, a sense of positivity and a feeling that they are becoming more efficient was felt too.
While we talked to all different types of business owners, the consistent theme was the ability to adapt. Having a smaller business with less employees meant the ability to turn around quickly. That agility is paramount right now and is being baked into future plans. For example, one architecture firm we spoke with previously had focused on the travel industry; with the likes of hotels being their main clients. Now, they’re shifting focus to offices to design socially distant spaces.
Naturally, there was a lot of discussion around the future. With an impending recession on the horizon, this group wasn’t unaware of the global situation. Having been through a recession recently however, the conversations around this were overall positive, with some understanding what steps need to be taken. This feels different from the last crash – as it’s likely not just the EU who’s in it with us, but the world. Therefore, there was a lot of hope that we will actually weather the storm and come out stronger than we were before.
For the full research deck, relevant quotes and learnings – click here.
With phase 3 of returning the country to normal well underway, and with news just out that phase 4 has been deferred a couple weeks, what has our mood been like as a nation? What are some of the key triggers affecting this? Let’s dive right in and see…
With phase 3 of returning the country to normal well underway, and with news just out that phase 4 has been deferred a couple weeks, what has our mood been like as a nation? What are some of the key triggers affecting this? Let’s dive right in and see…
As we can see from the latest instalment of our Mood Tracker above, there was a significant peak in optimism on the 7th of July at 9am, with the launch of the Covid-19 Tracker App. Users took to their social media platforms first thing in the morning to promote and encourage others to download the app, congratulating the Department of Health and the HSE, and stating
'this app will be huge in controlling this disease.'
This coming together and rallying on social has been something we have seen drive the optimism and pride in the country over the recent months, and once again this is another example of how we use social to unite and drive positive feeling during these turbulent times.
Another key point of conversation we are seeing over recent days surrounds the introduction of a restaurant deposit fee. While many restaurants have had to make this difficult decision to introduce a ‘deposit system’ or a ‘cancellation fee’ in order to combat no-shows, we are noticing that this is being met with a stark contrast of both reluctance, but also encouragement from consumers. One angry user took to Twitter to state,
'restaurants will be doing without my business, have never paid for a meal in a restautant in advance and won’t.'
Other users have 'zero issues with this' and see it as 'no big deal.'
One small restaurant business took to social to state that a weekend of no-shows was 'devastating' to them, and 'deeply inconsiderate.' This was met with hundreds of comments of support from users encouraging the deposit fee and reprimanding this ignorant behaviour of users not considering the effect of no-shows on business,
'such bad manners and little regard for all those working hard to keep customers safe and bring a little bit of joy back into our lives.'
While mostly positive, as mentioned there are some conflicting views to this, with some supporting this no-show behaviour,
'People are afraid of Covid 19. There is no guarantee that bars are safe. Not everything is about profits. 32 new cases today. It is still a serious virus. People have the right to be nervous,'
while others believe that
'loyalty to local businesses needs to be earned, not demanded.'
Many other small businesses offered words of support to their peers, fearing that by offering a deposit they come across as 'the worst in the world,' but that they 'just have to hope for the best in people during this diffcult time.'
It’s hard to avoid the real sense of ‘impending doom’ among users online at the moment – with phase 4 being pushed back, many are fearing that
'Ireland are definitely going to be hit with a new wave.'
This thought process is reflected in the mood tracker, where we are seeing relatively low levels of optimism among users over recent days, with anger and frustration taking its place. As mentioned in the previous edition, Travel continues to be a huge factor that is driving this unease and anger amongst users,
'we were told to hibernate for 3 months, now we’re being told to have staycations, but they’re letting any Tom Dick or Harry into the country.'
Some believe non-essential travel is
'a smack in the face to all of us who have lost loved ones during the pandemic'
'stopping businesses from opening but letting anyone and everyone in is ridiculous.'
What is also interesting is the role that some believe marketing is playing at the moment when it comes to travel,
'I think in the society we've made, almost nothing taps into the reward centre of your brain like travel does. You can't make up for it in your home like a pub, or a restaurant, or a cinema. Marketing has literally convinced it's essential for our SOULS (and maybe it IS),'
but it is believed that
'tempting them at the cost of public health is deeply cruel.'
On the whole, it’s been an interesting few weeks of developments in the country as we further move through this 'new normal’, and we look forward (with a hint of apprehension…) to seeing what’s next. TBC.
Marketing has always been a full contact sport with winners and losers. For the most part, we're playing a zero sum game; when you win, your competitor loses and vice versa. Currently, the Darwinian parts of our marketing are even more magnified, and decision-making under this pressure is hard.
But to quote the famous Kipling poem:
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs... yours is the earth and everything that’s in it."
Given the human cost of this pandemic, it might sound trite to talk about opportunism, but away from the critical health issues, the reality in business is that opportunism is exactly what many of us should be thinking about right now. We can use this period to our advantage. We can embrace the challenges of weathering the short term and galvanising a brand for the long term.
There's no recipe for a recession like this, characterised by lack of supply and demand and caused by an enormous black swan event. But there are things that you should be keeping in mind as we go deeper into the second half of 2020.
Judging whether to advertise right now is more than an economic decision. The advice of marketing science needs to be tempered by the wider commercial, social and ethical realities.
It’s hard to justify investment in advertising when many organisations are facing low demand or cash flow problems, and at worst are laying off staff or struggling to survive.
But if you have the budget, the current situation is an incredible opportunity. In investment, they refer to this as 'buying the dip' - buy when the market is fearful and take advantage of the bargains on offer.
That's the way we should be thinking, with the caveat of 'if budget is available'.
In a market downturn, there can be a tendency to play for immediate sales, but this should also be tempered with a broader focus on brand building over time. Advertising’s role is about both delivering sales today but also about priming people to buy tomorrow. If you have the budget, the move with the best long term return is to put money into brand building activity now and reap the benefits later.
Think of it as pre-emptive investment ahead of the curve, designed to put you in good position for a sharp rise in demand when people start to spend again.
This pandemic has acted as an accelerant for existing trends. The average person is being driven by circumstance to interact with, download, or buy from a digital service that they likely wouldn’t have otherwise. Research indicates that 1 in 3 of all online grocery shoppers since lockdown restrictions were introduced are new to online grocery. Household penetration for online groceries has grown by 3% points to 9.5% in April 2020, and the cocooning age group over-index for uptake of online shopping.
This will push businesses to speed up their digital transformation. So take the chance now to prepare your business for this. Analyse the weak points of your digital offering and take inspiration from recent examples of offline companies that have been forced to become creative with digital delivery services.
It’s also likely that we will see the advertising oligopoly of Amazon, Facebook and Google harden as smaller publishers find it hard to remain viable. This trio has the cash not just to ride out the storm, but to actually invest and grow from it. So ask yourself if you have in-house expertise in tactics like Google shopping, Amazon search and maximising Facebook view through? Or can your agency help with these critical tactics?
Other media trends include the maturation of gaming as a media vehicle, with Twitch, YouTube and Steam all seeing upticks in viewership. Gaming is already bigger than cinema and music, but brands are still only starting to become aware of its potential.
There is also a general broadening of the social media landscape, with TikTok in particular becoming a breakout star, offering a brand new self serve advertising platform. This new opportunity is currently under-priced, unsaturated and ripe for targeting a hard-to-reach younger audience - 40% of those on TikTok aren’t on Facebook.
While not everything has changed, some important elements of consumer behaviour and media consumption definitely have. So be agile and adjust your strategy accordingly to reflect this.
There’s also a huge amount of media value in the market at the moment. Those with deep pockets will deliver huge ROI by negotiating favourable rates and agreeing long-term deals now.
If you can afford to take the long view, cold strategic logic would indicate it’s beneficial to strike now when your competitors can’t.
Seize on underpriced media opportunities. Now is also an incredible time to invest in medium/long-term partnerships with quality, trusted, diverse publishers or news brands. If you negotiate intelligently, you'll be able to deliver tremendous value.
Share of voice is the brand’s share of the total communication expenditure in the category (i.e. share of the total investment made by all the players in the category). The basic tenet of SOV/SOM analysis is that share of voice correlates with your % share of market.
Given the current situation, overall advertising spend across markets will likely drop in 2020/2021, meaning incremental SOV will become slightly easier to deliver. This is an incredible opportunity if you have the cash to do so. The cost of SOV falls during a recession, and data from Peter Field from the last recession shows that brands who invested in SOV in 2008/9 derived huge gains.
This is the biggest ‘zero based budgeting’ experiment in the history of marketing. In many categories, media spend has dropped to zero. This provides excellent, clean conditions and a controlled environment for testing what happens when we start to switch media back on.
Have you a hypothesis that search is driving a large proportion of your incremental online sales? Then test it.
Have you a hunch that TV isn't performing? Test that too.
Maybe you believe that a switch from a ‘traditional’ media mindset to a more connected approach that reflects your customer’s journey might be more effective? Now’s the time to trial that.
We can now track the real impact of our spend in a simple way. So use this time as an opportunity to really understand where your media budget goes. Hone in on non-working spend and try to understand what’s good ‘wastage’ and what’s merely waste.
Ever received a hug from a CFO? Me neither. But imagine if you went to them with the revelation that, by doing a deep dive into your current media management process, you’ve found hundreds of thousands euro worth of savings that can be put back into the business. That might just do it.
Because of the complexity of the media value chain, the number of agencies and vendors and middle men involved, there’s huge value to be had in simplifying and cleaning it up. So take that opportunity now. A simple review where you engage openly with your partners should kickstart the process. Ask them a series of questions to understand how they're currently remunerated, what they're optimising towards, the steps they are taking on your behalf to maximise the proportion of your spend that actually reaches a human, and how they’re planning to alter your media strategy post-Covid.
Now is also an opportune time to examine whether you can take some of your media strategy, planning or buying in-house. Could social, search or programmatic be delivered internally with a small, nimble, cheaper team? Would you be able to drive strategy in a more consistent way with an in-house senior media person?
The opportunity to build a first-party data strategy that reduces the need for reliance on others should be a part of this consideration. Do you have a customer data platform and could you use it to better target, to deliver more relevant, timely communication, or to personalise CRM for your customers? Or are you leaving this to your agency or a third party to manage?
Now is a great time to re-consider and take a step back while asking some tough questions of those around you.
At the beginning of lockdown my neighbour gave me a small bag of sunflower seeds, which I potted inside and eventually moved outside. They’re now over six foot in height and flowering, which is just fab.
Why am I banging on about some sunflowers?
They’re opening up (with big yellow heads) as the country opens up as well. But while these plants may have a set cycle they go through, we don’t yet know how our economic cycle will play out. This week’s reading list looks to identify how we’re looking forward to what this economic future holds for all of us.
Economist David McWilliams has identified a softer economic marker in what he calls the Craic Economy. Simply put, it’s the economy of face to face interactions and fun, that places like bars and restaurants afford us. His ‘craic bail-out’ posits a way to support small businesses to help us all have the craic again.
The Craic Economy covers bars, restaurants, hotels, comedy clubs, the performing arts, theatre, conferences, festivals, gigs, nightclubs and so on. Income in the “craic economy” hasn’t just fallen - it has dropped to zero.
The Craic Economy is based on people - robots are no craic. It is people who make the Craic Economy dance, and unemployment in the Craic Economy has sky-rocketed. The Craic Economy is incredibly creative, and in terms of Ireland’s brand, it’s where we’re truly world- renowned. http://www.davidmcwilliams.ie/the-pandession-is-destroying-irelands-craic-economy/
As we move into a life of living with Covid 19, this app may be with us for a very long time.
Although initial uptake was strong we're still to see how people will use the app, and also what they are giving away from a data perspective. Economically how will technology blend to ensure our safety and will it provide a key for consumers to engage with services in a different way?
It is far too early to call the COVID tracker app a success. It has had a successful launch, but some studies estimate that we need about 60% of the population to download and use the application for it to be effective in helping to stop the disease spreading. It remains to be seen how people will use it, and if the app will be an effective part of the overall contact and trace system. We should be provided with this usage information in a timely manner.https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0720/1154327-covid-tracker-app-ireland-technology-privacy-data/
This look back on the lessons from Cholera provides amazing insight on the ‘full system approach’ needed to tackle a pandemic. The economic relationship between the developed and developing world is stark, illustrating the importance of global co-operation.https://www.theguardian.com/society/audio/2020/jun/08/cholera-and-coronavirus-why-we-must-not-repeat-the-same-mistakes-podcast
The European Economic Forecast offers a really in-depth analysis of the economic future of Europe. Although a dense read, it does offer a very comprehensive view of how our collective economy has been affected.
Data for the first quarter confirmed initial estimates of a sizeable economic impact despite confinement measures being introduced only around mid-March in most countries. GDP contracted by 3.6% in the Euro area, and by 3.2% in the EU as a whole. While economic disruptions have been broad, first quarter data also confirmed the highly asymmetrical nature of the impact across countries and industries. For the second quarter, all screened indicators suggest an acceleration of the contraction in economic activity with persisting differences across countries and industries.https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/economy-finance/ip132_en.pdf
They say sports without fans is nothing, and as players, clubs and organisations take tentative steps back into playing and broadcasting events, sports starved fans are turning to their screens instead of stadiums.
So as streaming sites and social media become the new playground, what does this mean for sponsorship? The ball is in the sponsors court and for those who want to play the long game, it’s a time to re-evaluate and reshape activities with an increased focus on online and virtual elements that deliver on what all good sponsorships should do, which is to create a meaningful connection with fans.
While this might seem like a reaction to the current climate, there were always reasons to make the move to a more digitally focused approach.
Viewing projections show that more time will be spent on digital platforms than on linear TV for the first time this year. Performance metrics can be measured and tracked showing clearer ROI. Creative optimisations can be delivered in real time, allowing for more personalised and impactful brand activations. New channels offer ways to reach and engage with new audiences, and maybe most importantly sponsors and fans can come together in support of their teams.
This level of insight, interactivity, and creativity means that despite the lack of action there is on the field, there is an exciting time ahead for sports sponsorship for those brave enough to push the boundaries.
The new pre-match build up seems to focus more on tests than teams, but for fans they are solely focused on the game as it happens. More than 80% of people dual screen while watching a match, turning to social media to express their opinion or get the live clips, goals or updates from other matches. This is clear because you see sporting events trending each week and topping annual trends, beating the likes of The Oscars or The Grammys.
It’s a testament to the power that sport has in capturing the attention of both fair weather and ultra-fans alike. But despite these hundreds of thousands of messages of support, they are falling on deaf ears at the ground, as the roar of the crowd has been replaced with the sound of silence.
There is an opportunity here to use social media to break the disconnect between fan and player, the extra man that so often drags teams to victory is missing, and needs to be shared. For example, interactive pitch side-boards allow brands to plug-in and share messages from social media in real-time, providing a place for fans to share their message of support in reaction to the actions on the pitch.
This innovation not only gives back to fans, it gives them a reason to engage with you pre, during, and post-game, turning passive consumption into active participation in the game.
Although, real-time updates are nothing new, with XBox showing how they decoded the beautiful game. It’s the combination of sponsors providing a platform for fans at the stadium wherever they are in the world that makes this a unique opportunity.
In addition to this, with the advancement in virtual advertising overlays there is the possibility to deliver regional, multi-lingual, dynamic advertising. This will enable sponsors to share multiple variations of personalised creative, helping fans feel like what goes on around the action is as much of a talking point as what is happening on the pitch.
Whether a ball being kicked or a race being run, sponsors should look to what resources are available to them to continue to be associated with the athletes and teams they are sponsoring. Players, athletes and personalities have never had this amount of time on their hands. The knock on effect being that fans have been so long without getting updates from who they follow.
At the beginning of lockdown we looked to the past, but now fans want something new. A glimpse behind the scenes, interviews with key players, an insight into new fitness regimes and a welcome into their homes have begun but fans want more. There’s a curiosity to seeing stars you usually see competing on tracks, in pools or on pitches in a more human way, and with the expectations in production values lowered, there’s permission to share what might not be as polished as usual, but is authentic and real to the times we’re in. Sometimes more is more, and while we’re waiting for coverage to start again, content is king and should fill your newsfeed.
That said, as we move out of restrictions and look ahead, how content is shared can become a whole new experience. Nike have shown the future of kit apparel with 'Nike Connect.' This technology enables fans to access early team news, exclusive content and unique events all through NFC built into jerseys. Sponsors need to look ahead and see how content can be delivered through other aspects of the physical world, creating memorable moments for fans through social and digital activations that provide exclusivity that will build a connection between your audience and your brand.
The rise of esports has been often mentioned as an opportunity to reach a new audience of fans who have the same passion as ‘traditional’ sports fans, and with gaming events now selling out stadiums, player profiles getting bigger, and rumours of esports being added as an Olympic event, there has been no better time to consider a sponsorship strategy for the sport of the future.
In fact with COVID-19 stopping live sports in its tracks, esports has escalated the scale of growth even further, with brands adjusting to continue in some kind of normality. MLB, NFL and the Premier League tapped into the popularity of esports by hosting gaming events, combining a mix of gamers and professional athletes and streaming them across multiple sites. With chat rooms and social media abuzz, the same excitement was brought on as if you were experiencing the real thing.
Others were lucky to have virtual aspects already built into their training regime and could show their schedule seamlessly. Formula One drivers for example took advantage of driving training simulators to bring races online and fans closer to the drivers. The popularity of which has led to the decision to stream live Grand Prix’s on gaming sites like Twitch, once the season resumes.
In adversity, new tactics have led to growth in sports, drawing in new fans to both the real and virtual worlds. Gamers are reaching the same level of following and admiration as the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s of the world, and as this continues sponsors should look to take advantage of the influence of their social status, the potential for in-game activations, new digital placements and the opportunity to get onside a tight-knit, loyal community who live their lives online but have a massive global reach.
Sport brings out the kind of raw emotion that is second to none, without this, there is a massive gap to be filled. And while it might be some time before we feel the kind of anticipation, euphoria or heartbreak that comes with any sport, there are ways in which sponsorship can continue to provide a connection between athlete, club and fan. The rules might have changed but it’s a level playing field and with a focus on leveraging social and digital communities, profiles and innovations, sponsorships can continue to strengthen and grow as a critical brand tool.
Hairdressers, pubs, restaurants…just some of the hot topics of our virtual and socially distanced conversations over the past few days as Ireland lifted much of the harsh lockdown restrictions in Phase 3 of reopening the country. Now that we are starting to really delve into this “new normal” way of life, though, how has it been affecting our thoughts and feelings?
Not surprisingly, optimism was the prevailing emotion being felt in the lead up to the 29th of June, the day in which we saw the country regain a real sense of normality. Users were expressing their joy and anticipation that some aspects of their social life can resume again - finally the time has come to visit our favourite restaurant and catch a friend for a coffee. Many also took to social to wish businesses luck that were due to open again on the 29th.
However, interestingly we saw a significant spike in ‘fear’ on the 27th-28th of June, the days before the country was set to loosen the lockdown restrictions. When we dive into this emotion, we see that tourism and overseas travel is the root of much of this fear and worry. Users are concerned that with people choosing Ireland as a holiday destination, the virus may begin to spread rapidly once again. In particular, a point of contention for many is UK newspapers promoting Ireland as a “safe” destination for holiday makers. Many were taking to Twitter to urge Dr. Tony Holohan to "keep control of the borders from US and UK visitors please." Another user expressed fear about both the issue of travel, and the opening up of pubs -
“scared out of my life with the thoughts of this virus being re-imported also the pubs re-opening.”
For many, there is the belief that if we allow travel in and out of Ireland this summer,
“we will be in trouble again by October.”
The flip side of this ‘tourism anxiety’, is that we are seeing many users complain that they feel it would be better value for money for them to go overseas, rather than have a staycation in Ireland. For example, one user stated:
“It’s cheaper to fly to France than take the train to Cork. Bananas. Plus once you’re on the continent, everything is cheaper.”
Others are taking to social to directly call out hotels and destinations in Ireland that they believe are overcharging customers, concluding that
“people will keep going abroad when prices are like this at home.”
Feelings of anger and sadness saw some minor peaks during the last few days of June - one key driver of this was ‘RTE Investigates’, which portrayed Ireland’s frontline battle against Covid-19. These feelings peaked at 10pm, after the show was aired. Users deemed it ‘powerful’ and ‘extremely sad’, and took to social to urge anyone who has 'grown complacent' about the virus to watch it immediately:
"Anyone who thinks COVID-19 is a scam or couldn’t affect them needs to watch #rteinvestigates and if you didn’t respect the work frontline @HSELive do and have done for us, you will after that, fantastic people.”
Other users took to social to exclaim their frustration over the rights of nurses in the country,
“Can we PLEASE never let our nurses have to fight for what they deserve, ever again!”
Feelings of fear were also apparent once again after the airing of this programme, with some believing that we are moving too fast in easing restrictions,
“If anyone has any doubt about the havoc that #COVIDー19 can wreak on our lives, please have a look. The last few days have worried me. I think we're moving too fast…Hope I'm wrong”
Pride, which was once extremely high at the onset of the pandemic, had begun to dip in recent weeks. However, as we can see above, this emotion is gaining strength again as we move into July. Most recently, this feeling has been in response to Dr. Tony Holohan stepping back from his role as CMO. Social media platforms were busy with many users showing their appreciation and pride in Holohan’s efforts during the pandemic,
"If there was an Irish version of a knighthood, he should be first on the list. Best wishes Tony and family.”
As always, it’s a real mixed bag of emotions that we as a nation are feeling. While the restrictions being relaxed in the country have been a source of positive feeling, this does not come without its anxieties and fears for many. It will be interesting to see how this continues to shape our thoughts as we continue to navigate our way through this ‘new normal’. Watch this space...
For many, lives are planned around their favourite team, band, or comedy show. With lots of that coming to a halt this year, for this week’s research, we speak to live event lovers. Understanding what they miss, what they’re doing to recreate the buzz and their thoughts on live events in the future. Read on for our five key findings.
Fans have adapted their homes to listen to their favourite band live-stream, or people have spent time watching old highlight footage of their team on YouTube or streaming a play they had booked to see – but it’s just not the same. Many thought they’d never miss the overpriced pints and extra-long queues for the loo, but without it there, is something missing? Live from the couch just doesn’t bring the same buzz.
The common link throughout all types of events was the feeling and the buzz of being with thousands of strangers, united around one shared interest. While yes people can all tune-in to the same event from their couches, there’s something about being there and engaging with the crowd.
With artificial cheering, virtual conferencing and mannequins in the stands, it all feels a bit like everything is turning into a video game… and not in a good way. Lots of people mentioned events shifting to some weird episode of Black Mirror and wondering how much things will shift into alternate realities.
In whatever shape events take place and allow spectators to attend (digital health passports, temperature checks, wearing masks, etc), this group is open to them. For live event lovers, it’s a fair trade – giving their personal information or following safety procedures allows them to feel safe at the places they love and feels like it’s the only way to move forward.
Discussing how things were, sponsorship was always a given at venues and events – with some more natural tie-ins for certain brands than others. No matter what way we get back to events, there’s an opportunity for brands to step in with new ways of sponsorship other than being wallpaper for some. People are open to new ways of experiencing things (because they have to be), so right now presents an exciting opportunity for brand sponsorship.
For the full research deck and additional thoughts on brand sponsorship – click here.
I’m not sure about you, but the thing I’ve struggled with most in lockdown has not been the confinement, home-schooling and lack of pub-poured-pints. It’s been the ever moving goal-line, the absence of being able to look forward to big life events with any certainty. The holidays abroad, the weddings, the days out at Croker, the concerts, the arts/food/music festivals, the big movie events – all on hold. Sure, we have a road map to re-opening some of this, but whispers of second waves have prevented us from properly rescheduling the big events, the ones where the collective buzz of thousands of people enjoying something in unison is irreplaceable. So we make the most with what we have, and for now, that remains in the virtual world.
While that virtual world can only ever be seen as second best to the real thing, in some cases, the video conferencing technology that almost everyone has adopted by now, from kids to the elderly, has enabled a more inclusive celebration of events, where the dialogue is no longer one way.
By the time the Irish Times had announced "Covid-19 shuts Irish culture” in early April, the global creative community was already doing what it does best, getting creative. New technologies had to be embraced and new skills learned.
The majority of the gigs I booked pre-covid are still awaiting re-scheduled dates, with next year being the most likely time frame. The annual Electric Picnic trip was surely going to go ahead, with it being so late in the year? Alas no, it’s gone too. Ireland isn’t alone, Glastonbury was set to have it’s 50th anniversary celebration, and Coachella was replaced with #Couchella where they encouraged people to get dressed in festival-fashion and watch a documentary on the festival, 20 years in the making, from their couches.
One can only imagine how frustrating this sense of uncertainty is for musicians struggling to make ends meet, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting creative and continuing to entertain and comfort us when we needed it most.
From the ad-hoc shot-on-phone living room concerts on Instagram Live and Twitch, to the highly produced “event” concerts, streamed live on TV and YouTube simultaneously - artists haven’t stopped performing for their fans. The Intel sponsored Other Voices – Courage series has shown how production quality for live streamed events doesn’t need to be compromised in these socially distanced times - the acts, locations, sound and photography have been simply breath-taking to watch.
But the real differentiator between these “concerts” and their pre-covid counterparts, is that the artists now have a direct dialogue with their fan base through live chat. Acknowledging the love (or hate - which is always entertaining), taking requests, giving guitar lessons and in some cases collaborating with fans to write new songs, with fans offering lyrics & chords in real time (as you can imagine, the results have been mixed).
While some ticketed music events have moved into the virtual world (both Fortnite and Minecraft being the main “venues” ), the majority of artists are still looking for new ways to reach their fan base, and support themselves. Hopefully brand sponsorship can help with this.
The welcome return of team sports on TV over the past few weeks has brought many of us great joy (especially this patient Liverpool fan). With all eyes back on sports, brands who have been in it for the long run with their sponsorships, can return to showing their commitment through the thick and thin, while getting brand exposure once again. The stadium experience has changed significantly though, with artificial fan reaction noise filling the empty stands and dividing fans. Technologists have been looking for ways to make the experience a little more “real”, with virtual crowds augmented into seats, and smartphone apps that allow you to add your voice to the audience.
While some brands have been “pausing” their sports sponsorships or redirected it to good causes (Budweiser moved all of its sports investments into helping the American Red Crosses blood drives via disused stadiums), others have pivoted into virtual spaces. In turn bringing the fans a little closer to the their sporting heroes.
Santander (sponsor of La Liga) moved into sponsoring an egaming event - headlining a FIFA 20 online tournament using players from the actual clubs themselves. The Twitch live stream, drew over a million viewers and allowed fans to engage with their favourite players.
Tour de France winner and Ineos backed Geraint Thomas raised £360k for the NHS as he cycled for 36 hours over 3 days on the virtual training platform Zwift, allowing fans to join him on the ride in VR.
Nike, like a number of brands, used the athletes they sponsor to challenge stuck-in-lockdown sports enthusiasts to show them what they’ve got through fitness challenges using the #playinside hashtag. They also gave away their ‘Nike Training Club’ app free of charge.
The parade, the mother of all festivals, the ultimate community binder. Nothing beats the camaraderie of being together in one place. There’s really no substitute.
Let’s be honest, without a parade in sight, St. Patricks Day was a bit of a dud. Sure there were flags waved and mini garden parades, but it wasn’t the same. We did the best with what we had, but we were all still reeling in our fresh new reality at that stage.
Did we take the learnings and upgrade the virtual parade experience for Ireland’s second largest parade –Dublin Pride? Most definitely.
This year’s celebration took place under the theme ‘In This Together’, and while it was a massive disappointment for everyone to not be able to celebrate on the streets, the show must go on. A small, socially distanced parade along O’Connell St. marked the occasion to honour the frontline workers (accompanied by a small convoy of sponsors such as Tesco and An Post), but it was the virtual events that really shone.
A tonne of events took place online over the month, from the virtual parade to concerts, talks, exhibitions, walking tours, pet shows, Pride Wellness Workshops and Ceillís - all living in digital spaces. Bank of Ireland hosted an online discussion about Safe Spaces for the LGBT+ community, and as Darius pointed out in our last edition, a national survey conducted by BeLonG To has shown that now more than ever LGBT+ young people need to feel safe and supported.
Hopefully in the future with technology enabling this new way to engage with Pride festivals, it will make it more accessible to those who, for whatever reason, can’t attend in the real world. Giving access to celebrate who they are and get the support of the community from wherever they are in the world.
Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, but we’ve spent all this time becoming pros at video conferencing and live streaming - so, it’s not going away, no matter how much restrictions loosen. Our lockdown time has shown how events can translate online and it’s opened up their accessibility to wider audiences and enabled a new level of two-way dialogue that didn’t exist before. We can expect opportunities to engage with audiences/fans/communities through digital events to increase far into the future. Brands should re-evaluate their sponsorships and ensure they are in front of eyes in both the real and virtual worlds.
While our public houses and venues have been closed, we’ve learned that live music doesn’t live or die because of them. Artists have found new ways of expressing themselves beyond traditional ticketed events. So, what does this mean for the future of gigs? Well quite possibly, when venues open their doors again, we could be given the option to experience concerts in person or at home on your smart TV/computer screen. We now know how to run these live events online at a high standard, so why not continue doing so?
The person in the cheap seats has a voice. In some ways, it’s easier for us to get closer to our favourite bands, artists and sporting icons. The interactions we have with them during online events is evolving and becoming even more personal.
Like most sports fan, I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to sports documentaries over these past few months.
Three in particular – The Last Dance, Diego Maradona & Lance – made a lasting impression on me and I realised they all share something powerful. They provide a raw, unfiltered perspective on the life and mindset of a player.
As a fan, I get to peek underneath the polished exterior and learn about what makes them tick as human beings. To get an insight into how they think and feel and understand what drives their actions. To know not only what makes them great, but also what makes them flawed.
I think there’s something truly magical about being able to see both the legendary icon and the ordinary person at the same time.
It raised an important question for me, how can sports sponsors deliver more of that feeling to fans on a regular basis?
It’s why people get names printed on the back of their jersey. It’s why people pay thousands for match worn boots. It’s why people wait for hours to watch the players transport arrive at the stadium.
No matter what the sport is, fans idolise the players and want to feel closer to them.
But, in many sports, fans and players are growing further apart for a couple of reasons:
1. Player salaries have skyrocketed.
2. Media training is compulsory for many players, so interviews are often dull and full of clichés (‘we play for the team / one game at a time’ etc).
3. Players social media accounts are typically run by agents and used to promote products and services to fulfil sponsorship obligations.
The gap between fans and players is now bigger than ever before. This makes it difficult for the everyday sports fan to connect with the players they admire.
Sports sponsors have an important role to play in helping to re-establish the relationship between fans and players by consistently providing rich access, insight and perspective.
Ironically, it was during a period of no sport when sponsors upped their creative game with player engagement. Fans were given the opportunity to watch, listen and interact with players in new, meaningful ways.
Paddy Power livestreamed a golf event with some of the top sports players and tv personalities competing against each other.
Santandar Bank launched the La Liga Santandar Challenge. A player from each La Liga club participated in an live FIFA2O Tournament with all donations going to charity.
Telstra created the Australian Dice Football League where Australian Football League (AFL) players battled it out in a dice-throwing game that was designed to mimic a football match.
While this type of content was in direct response to the full stoppage of sport leagues around the world, I believe it has opened up new doors for sports sponsors to explore how they get the most out of players and sponsorship assets by putting creative thinking at the fore.
In essence, livestream (Youtube, Twitter, Twitch) can feel much more authentic. There’s often some hiccups along the way, but that’s part of it. Fans get to see what players are like, warts and all. This raw and honest can often lead to nuggets of golden content.
Longform gives fans an opportunity to better understand the personality of a player over an extended period of time. Podcasts, which are naturally longer and casual, give great insight into what a player is really like because ultimately, the medium follows the flow of a natural conversation.
Sports sponsors must consider how they enable fans to engage with players. Twitter comments or polls, chat functionality, audio questions – there are tonnes of ways to do this. It offers another way for fans to feel part of the experience.
With the likelihood of sports events happening behind closed doors, or with less capacity, for the foreseeable future, sports sponsors will have to continue to be creative in how they utilise their sponsorship assets and how they approach sports in general.
An example of this is the virtual Tour De France which is kicking off this month. Race organisers have strongly stated that this is not a lesser version of the race, but is an alternative way to proceed with it given the global situation.
The reality is that major sporting events like the Olympics, Euros and Ryder Cup (all of which are happening next year) might be run very differently to what we normally expect. Sponsors must anticipate, plan and act on this.
With lockdown measures lifting and live events resuming, it’s a good time to reflect on all things sponsorship, from the ways it is expected to change to the value it offers brands. This week’s reading list looks at some industry predictions for sponsorship, how the pandemic is impacting influencer culture, a clever brand example, and last but certainly not least, the importance of advanced measurement.
Our Covid-19 Emotion Tracker has given us insight into what consumers think about sponsorships but what do the industry experts think? A recent survey by SponsorshipX asked professionals across the world for their thoughts on the future of sponsorships. The report covers the return to normalcy, the impact on budgets and innovations to consider. One surprising finding from the research was that Esports is not being considered as a viable sponsorship: less than 5% of the experts were investing in it. The full report is available through a webinar. Watch it here.
Speaking of sports sponsorships, a nice example of a brand who have previously innovated in this space comes from Corona – the Mexican beer, not the virus! The brand sponsored Club de Cuervos, a fictional football team at the centre of a successful Netflix series of the same name. Corona not only integrated itself into the series through branded jerseys and stadium signage, it also brought the sponsorship into reality by covering the football matches on its social media and by creating real-life jerseys and special edition cans. With the current pandemic driving people to stay at home and watch TV more, Corona shows a successful way forward for brands to contend with the rise of ad-free streaming services. Read more here.
The impact of Covid-19 is no doubt being felt sharply among one group in particular: online influencers. With cancelled events and travel bans, most of them are being forced to pivot their content and swap the beaches and brunches for the living room couch. In an article for The Guardian, Katie Bishop writes that there is an even more significant shift beyond the change in content:
“The marketing model that makes up most of an influencer’s income is falling apart, with brands pulling out of lucrative sponsorship deals and advertising revenue plummeting. As we face a new economic era, it is unclear whether the aspirational lifestyle lauded by influencers can emerge unscathed. Could Coronavirus provoke a reconfiguration of the influencer age?”
While we know sponsorship is a key activity in brand building, unfortunately we don’t always know how effective it is. According to the Association of National Advertisers, only 37% of marketers have a standardised approach to measurement and only one quarter of practitioners understand the business return of their sponsorships. In the February issue of Admap, Tom Goodchild argues that brands should evolve their measures beyond the usual aspects of media exposure and awareness and outlines three steps for brands to take when approaching sponsorship measurement. Read more here.
We're all hearing the resounding echo of ‘finally!’ as the lockdown starts to lift and our worlds start to look more familiar again, and as with all communications, our reality is often reflected in what we consume. It’s refreshing to see brand communications reflect that which is happening in society and culture. We’re seeing production options open back up, we’re seeing the narrative and tone shift into one of positivity, and a sense of escapism and freedom is creeping back onto the airwaves. We’ve been busy launching brand communications back into the world.
As lockdown eases we’re all itching to get away and have a jolly good time again, and in the summertime that means holidays! During Covid-19, Fáilte Ireland have been supporting their colleagues in the HSE to ensure our country had the best possible response to Covid-19. And whilst the campaign, ‘Hold Firm’ that we helped them develop, continues to keep our country safe, Fáilte Ireland have now been able to turn their attention back to the core of what they do, that is promoting domestic tourism. This is something that keeps the heart of our economy pumping.
Holidaying at home has never felt so attractive, and it was with that attitude that we were able to get stuck into creating a campaign, that we could only describe as giddy to get stuck into.
With the excitement of the country opening back up again, our ‘Make a break for it’ campaign encapsulates this. The campaign took a remote crew across counties all over the country. The piece brings us on several fast-paced journeys across the country with families and friends, giving the viewer the nod to get out there and enjoy a trip to one of Ireland’s many holiday destinations.
Everyone can relate to that pre-holiday feeling of pure excitement. It’s not just a national feeling it’s a worldwide feeling. ‘Make a break for it’ captures this universal feeling against the beautiful backdrop of Ireland.
With most of the country at a standstill due to COVID, ESB Networks continued to keep every home, business, shop and hospital powered. We saw many businesses across the country turning off their lights and shutting up shop. Fortunately, as we’re coming out of lockdown, those lights are beginning to shine again with many businesses operating as usual as the restrictions have eased. We’re delighted for many reasons, we can now enjoy the many things we’ve missed, we can also show you our new work depicting the essential work that ESB Networks does for our country every day, work that’s never been more important. To encapsulate the role ESB Networks play in our everyday, a track was created using a clever use of sound that encompassed the ‘music’ of everyday life. Music that without ESB Networks, wouldn’t be possible.
Without the ability to shoot any visuals, our track was then brought to life using stock visuals that had to be matched up precisely to every beat. Sound designer, Denis Kilty, and Rothco’s very own in-house wizard, Gabriel Teixeira, were more than up to the task, with more than a little help from the meticulous Sam Caren.
The result is an uplifting and joyous piece of music that builds from what you see on screen, before breaking out into a chorus of bright vocals – giving us a little taste of just how ESB Networks keeps the country humming.
2020 was the summer of Covid-19, but it’ll also be remembered (by a very particular audience) as the summer White Claw hit our shores in Ireland & the UK. With alcohol sales reaching new highs as everyone battened down the hatches to stay home, it was an unlikely yet optimum time to launch this groundbreaking drink. And also it is very satisfying to see a brand we helped create, and have worked on for over four years now, return home. Similar to state-side, White Claw’s launch here has been a phenomenal success. As the weekly trip to the supermarket had become the highlight of our week, the new addition to the drinks aisle was a more-than-welcome one. A wave of pure refreshment.