A view from James Kirkham

Five media learnings from Euro 2016

So another tournament comes to pass. Before brands claim their respective victories, what really happened with modern media consumption during one of the greatest sporting...

What can we learn and what will help us in the future? 

1. Media narrative can move quickly – destiny can be changed. 

Early in the tournament, mobs of Russian fighting squads and boozed up English hooligans clashed in the Marseille sunshine with horrific consequences. Every major newspaper and magazine led with how they saw things unfolding and how they wanted audiences to consume the news. They went for saturation coverage with the horrors, the shocking imagery and the vilification of fans through association with the unsavoury minority. This could have stuck and tarnished the tournament for good, but it became clear that a mainstream media narrative does not have to be set in stone. On the contrary, Copa90 started receiving hundreds of individual messages from fans around the world, telling us we had an obligation to tell the true story of fandom at the tournament. We were compelled to act quickly. Our motto was to ensure we said what we saw, but that we should also include the incredible celebratory good vibes brought by fans at the tournament. So we launched a hashtag, #HereToHaveFun, and set about documenting the scenes of coming together which an international tournament facilitates. It wasn’t hard to find, and the narrative swiftly moved on from hate, anger and vilification to genuine positivity.

This demonstrated that lazy journalism can be transformed into something more vital. You could not argue with the countless bite-sized videos shown and shared of scenes of fan celebration and expressions of positivity. 

2. Old media planning and buying can stink.

There were countless examples throughout the tournament where media had been bought months ago without a real appreciation of how to be current when it dropped. Quite simply, things change, and the notion that you can entirely pre-purchase and pre-plan a schedule six months prior to a major tournament feels as outdated as some of the media executions. The obvious fallout came with England’s meek exit. Ads using expensively purchased football talent Joe Hart felt comically archaic juxtaposed against his latest failings between the sticks. We know younger audiences look to swerve the interruptive ad spots, and their decisions get validated; outdated creative extolling the virtues of the safe goalkeeping hands appeared in and around a match where his skills were anything but. A decade ago, this could be forgiven and forgotten, but in 2016, when the world is always on and reactive is part of our daily diet, it feels light years away and is willfully ignored (or worse, ridiculed). 

This wasn’t the only culprit of the misjudged moment either. A yoghurt brand’s association with Team GB at the Rio Olympics also risked damaging itself through simply being a poorly timed launch. The audiences were all focused on Euro 2016, England’s exit and, at most, looking forward to Wimbledon. Therefore, a creative execution talking about Team GB simply wasn’t in the current vernacular of the audience, who were not yet warmed to the notion of cheering on British competitors at an Olympic Games still more than a month away. 

Savvy audiences now need everything in a relevant, agile and intelligent fashion. Anything less just won’t do. 

3. Twitter is hanging in there before its big "what next".

Many media commentators and journalists have been sniping at Twitter and speculating about its possible demise. But for major broadcast events, where large audiences come together around a common subject, it still stands tall. Contrary to what you might have been told, the ebb and flow of an evolving tournament is perfect fodder for our changing opinions and comedy-infused commentary worth sharing with followers and friends. The immediacy of the medium and chance to share collective opinion allows for it to play an even greater role than normal. Sunday night’s final was perfect Twitter diet too, and a rather worrying example of our modern times when over 20 variants of a "Ronaldo’s Moth" account sprung up within minutes of the pitch action. What this demonstrates is our continued desire to collectively come together, joking our way around a virtual water cooler and trading memes, insults, jokes and more. It isn’t perfect, but it is the best we have right now and a precursor for what is to come. With Twitter’s high-profile purchase of live NFL rights, the notion that you can stream content directly into the white hot melting point of discussion and let it reverberate will have significant repercussions for the sports rights holders worldwide. For Twitter, this perhaps can’t come soon enough.

4. Snapchat is shoulder-barging television out of the way. 

Snapchat has landed, and within sport this is arguably even more dominant than other verticals. This is such a visceral and vital platform, moved from being solely about urgency to now being the key descriptive element of the unfurling story. Everything can be so emotive, which means as a consumer you can dip in, view, taste and really see it. Countless millions have now become addicted to the little snapshots of content that get through Snapchat and which cannot be consumed anywhere else. They’re more raw, more authentic and, as such, may be more important than anything else. A major sports tournament is difficult to convey alone through a familiar stale studio format which is decades old, but Snapchat has given a generation who can’t be there the clearest glimpse yet of what it might actually be like. As the platform opens itself up to more advertising money, the biggest challenge is how it can keep the charming raw virtues which are making it so difficult to put down. 

5. High-gloss spots can still cut through, just.

Euro 2016 showed that there is still room for the very best brand spots, as long as they’re crafted with absolute love and skill. Wieden & Kennedy retained its lofty position at the top of the more traditional advertising tree by putting together a fantastic spot featuring Ronaldo and the boy who he temporarily swaps bodies with. One of the most shared ads of the whole year, it had an epic quality but that didn’t stop people consuming it in droves and telling others how good it was, too.

These spots feel less frequent and certainly less the staple of a modern sports fan – we simply don’t bother to seek them out like we once did, so one or two longer-form filmic ad spots of absolute brilliance can make it through, just. Beats too with its pastiche of Prodigy’s Firestarter came close, but suffered from the English player’s curse – with prime talent Harry Kane having such a disastrous tournament, it was impossible to marry up the fictional art with real life and accept things as rosy. If a brand spends millions, as with Nike, and plans it correctly, then beautifully crafted make believe predicated on the reality concurrently unfolding will always have a place. We’re less bothered in general though, so trying to be a part of this privileged adland top table is a difficult thing. 

James Kirkham is the head of fooball content specialist Copa90.