Opinion

Will sports marketing get over the demise of lad culture?

Shifting fan culture and an increasingly 'mobile' society is leaving brand association with sport in the dark ages, yet the marketing opportunities have never been greater, writes John Owrid, chairman of sports app developer Sporting Mouth.

Meteorologically speaking, sometime in late May of this year we’re in for a football front that will last until mid-July. Should any home nation or Ireland actually win Euro 2016, you can add another month to that as the approaching system could be uniquely drenching the British Isles.

If you happen to be responsible in any way for helping brands to do business in this downpour and profit from a football bubble, then a cautionary word of advice.

Whatever you do, be aware that you’re entering a universe of marketing cliché more uniform than a linesman’s trousers, where the commercial characterisation of football culture remains stuck in a Pantoland populated by cheeky bloke ads, propped with sofas, pizzas, beers, mobiles and a big telly.

Beautiful game, crashingly ugly marketing.

Football culture remains stuck in a Pantoland populated by cheeky bloke ads, propped with sofas, pizzas, beers, mobiles and a big telly

Marketing to both sexes

However, there are signs that the lad script is wearing thin. Just before Christmas, Carlsberg – a sponsor of the Euros for the eighth consecutive time – said that its marketing focus would appeal to both sexes.

"We want to show that lad culture is not something we are about," it boldly announced. "The brand is now about being intelligent, clever and appealing to the widest audience possible."

Only time will tell whether Carlsberg actually will buck the laddish trend.

If there’s one industry that has a vested interest in the preservation of lad culture, it’s gambling.

Football Betting

Regardless of the huge growth in football betting, driven by mobile technology and in-play product features, little has really changed from the opaque windows of its past. It remains an activity largely done in private. Yet bookmakers are exceptionally keen to characterise gambling as a socially acceptable component of supporting football, tapping into lad culture to prove the point.

The sight of groups of blokes on screen with mobiles reacting to in-game action is a sweet picture if you’re a betting company. It infers that gambling is becoming more social, more communal, indeed more public, or another way of saying more acceptable. So expect to see more of these scenes on screen next summer.

Football has a long association with lad culture. However, like lad culture itself, it is subtly changing. It’s progressively becoming richer and more intelligent each season. The rise of the women’s game along with tougher measures to combat racism and homophobia are shifting the sterotype, all be it slowly.

Meanwhile, The Lad Bible, which has become part of the media landscape as the 12th most popular website in the UK (above both The Guardian and The Telegraph, and only one place below Twitter), appears to be undergoing a religious conversion.

Writing in Vice, Clive Martin says "it's shifting its mindset to a new-left perspective, where Owen Jones or Jeremy Corbyn or Frankie Boyle is every bit as much of a legend as Adam Richman, Mario Balotelli and the thousands of unknown lad soldiers pranking their girlfriends with exploding ketchup and throwing Goldeneye-themed stag-dos".T

The rise of the women’s game along with tougher measures to combat racism and homophobia are shifting the stereotype, all be it slowly.

The rise of the women’s game along with tougher measures to combat racism and homophobia are shifting the stereotype, all be it slowly

Brands need to rethink

Like a Christmas season without festive paraphernalia, football marketing may seem unimaginable without its ‘laddist’ clichés. Yet with the game – and even lad culture itself – moving on, brands that use sport to reach their audiences need to have a serious rethink if they’re to use this channel to better effect.

So where should they start?

It might help to imagine what it would be like to transpose fan behaviour onto consumer brands. If you could, you’d have legions of super consumers, who knew everything about your product, its variants and your R&D plans.

They’d know all the gossip and rumours about where your company was heading, even the people you were trying to recruit. They’d know about your finances and have strong opinions about which assets to keep and which ones to ditch. They’d have practically religious views about your brand identity, your communications channels and whether they approved of your partnership strategies. And to cap it all they’d let you know all this with barely any effort on your part. 

What you’d learn is that fan behaviour is characterised by the highest common denominators, not the lowest. And it’s clear that tapping into this would be hugely valuable to brands, yet most still rely on hackneyed one-dimensional traditional sponsorship by association, rather than innovative and creative activation.

Sporting and fan culture is moving on. The technology is there to keep pace and engage with it in a sophisticated and meaningful way. It’s just waiting for brand sponsors to wake up to this shift and treat fans like grown-ups.