While the Aussies and the Indians fought out a truly captivating summer of cricket, and the Big Bash pumped out live action on a seemingly endless loop, another battle has been raging to capture the hearts and wallets of fans around the nation… the Summer Sponsor Wars.
Cricket Australia has no shortage of brand partners looking for leverage. ‘The Sport for All Australians’ has 14 official commercial partners. Add to this the countless broadcast and media partners, plus myriad individual BBL/WBBL team sponsors, and there’s plenty of competition for fan attention during a crowded calendar of live games.
It’s been a bumper summer for ratings, with both FTA and pay-TV broadcasts reaching record levels. So, let’s take a highly subjective look at some of the best (and worst) campaigns that caught my eye while watching from the comfort of my couch.
The Heavy Hitters:
If you watched even just a minute of the international series, you couldn’t have missed Alinta Energy. It’s awareness, awareness, awareness. They’ve got logos all over the men’s shirts and they keep pumping out TVCs featuring ‘awkward but hard-not-to-like’ Aussie cricket stars. (Tim Paine’s melodrama in the kitchen deserves extra credit. If only his DRS reviews were so compelling.) Alinta’s ads are weirdly cheesy, but they work. They make simple fans like me smile – maybe it’s the fearless embrace of great athletes acting badly. As a challenger brand looking to break into a brutally competitive national energy market, I’m sure awareness amongst cricket fans will be through the roof.
The Colonel wins again, through sheer consistency, relevance and focus. Bucketheads have become an icon of summer, and it seems any trip to a BBL game is incomplete without a branded fried-chicken tub on your dome. This year, KFC teamed up with TikTok to create a 3D Buckethead branded effect and challenge, so maybe the days of bulk landfill giveaways in stadium are slowly coming to an end. Let’s hope so. KFCs combination of retail ads, massive virtual signage and contextually relevant cricket-themed brand ads mean you can’t help but associate the feel-good factor of the shortest form of the game with the fast-food brand. Well played.
Although KFC did miss one juicy full toss outside off stump… Andre Fletcher – aka ‘The Spiceman’ – made headlines all season for his on-field swagger, cooking skills and very sticky nickname while strutting around for the Melbourne Stars. Could Andre have become the ‘Secret Herbs & Spiceman’ for an innings or two? Yes! Got ’im! Gone!
Toyota continues to be ‘Good for Cricket’, demonstrating their long-running support for local clubs around Australia. It’s a crowded community space out there, with multiple brands vying to be known as positive influencers on society through sport. Toyota’s Big Bash broadcast integration tactics included the Bash for Cash, donating $500 bucks to a local cricket club every time a six is smashed. This gives the 7 commentators something to chat about as the ball sails into the crowd, plus a nice personal touch by bringing in everyday members of the cricketing community. It’s all adding up, too. With Toyota having raised almost $800,000 for local clubs already this season through the Bash for Cash and its annual Good for Cricket Raffle. Nice, Gary!
The Middle Order:
‘Official Hygiene Partner of Cricket Australia’ – I must admit that the Dettol One-Day International Series was not a naming rights deal that rolled off the tongue. Their ‘rev-up-speech’ TV ad drew my attention to the fact that in an age of Covid-19, we may need to disinfect our cricket bats between shots. ‘Bat. Bowl. Dettol’ – I mean, over rates are already slow.. this might make the game even longer! While the ad was a little dry and disinfected, it makes sense. You can’t deny the timing and the appropriateness of the partnership, with thousands of local cricket clubs out there adapting to new health protocols to stay safe. Cricket Australia can make sure that the Dettol brand is top of mind to these participants and administrators.
Smartest logo placement has to go to Rexona, who in a first for cricket sponsorship, has branded the armpits of the umpires. Apparently ‘pitvertising’ has divided opinion, but I for one am all for it. The highlight moments of the game involve the umpire raising his arms high for all to see, and no one wants to look at sloppy sweat stains. Added to the wacky buy is a good ad that builds a brand story, and a healthy broadcast integration deal that ensure the commentators are regularly chatting about underarms and the brand that protects them.
Comm Bank is in the game again, continuing to support women’s cricket, but they seem a little quieter this season. Perhaps they spent all their sponsorship pennies last summer, snapping up Warnie’s baggy green for cool $1m to support bushfire relief. Or maybe they went all-in during the ICC Women’s World Cup (back in that long-forgotten pre-Covid past) when they cheered the Australian team to glory with an epic rendition of a retro classic, ‘Come On Aussie Come On’. After all that noise, this summers’ community focussed TVC struggles to cut through the clutter.
I have no problem with cold cuts. I love a good charcuterie board and yes, I do have some difficulty with the correct pronunciation. But do we really need Hans branded share-plates, piled high with salami, kabana and strasburg, sitting untouched in front of the Channel 7 commentary team while they discuss test-match tactics?
Fujitsu’s loyalty to former Aussie captain Mark Taylor as a brand ambassador is admirable, and his promotion of air-conditioning products for more than 20 years of hot Aussie summers makes sense, but did they have to drag poor Lisa Sthalekar into it? This year’s TVC took (former) athlete acting and bad cricket scripting to a new low. Hopefully you missed it and we can return to the glory days of Mark Taylor plucking his ukelele as the air-con cools his sweating brow.
At a time when the McGrath Foundation was worried that their traditional ‘in-person’ fundraising would be decimated by COVID at a reduced crowd SCG… they raised more this year than ever before. The Pink Test thrived through simplicity and a digital-first focus. 150,000+ virtual Pink Seats were purchased by fans, generating more than $3,000,000 for breast cancer nurses. A social sharing mechanic and deep broadcast integration made sure that cricket fans around the country knew what was happening and knew what to do. The simplicity of the message made it so easy for fans to take action and they felt great about being involved.
Top tactics for a sponsorship summer:
So what do we learn from watching how the various partners rolled out their messages to fans on the couch this summer?
Consistency is king. Building an association between sport and brand takes time and discipline. With so many sponsors coming in and out of the space, a clear and consistent sponsorship platform is key. Building on the good work you did last summer is a lot easier starting a new sales pitch from scratch.
Contextually relevant wins. Give your cricket fans respect by showing that you ‘get’ the game and share their passion. Sure, you can sell your product with hard retail in and around the game, but it works better with an authentic nod to those who love it.
Quality ideation and production help. I know this is an obvious note, but players are not actors and rights-holders are not brand custodians. There’s a fine line between ‘charming cheese’ and outright cringe and getting professional athletes to understand and promote the virtues of your product is not as simple as putting them in front of a camera. The wrong script in the wrong production hands is a recipe for wallpaper or worse.
Clear channel plans. Know what you want to achieve and use the right sponsorship channels to move the dial. Not all assets are created equal… some do a great job for awareness and association while others can get deep into connection and brand story. Have clear objectives and laser focus.
Full disclosure: Alinta Energy & Toyota are both Gemba clients. Gemba had no involvement in the creative or production of the Alinta TVC campaign.