At the Eurovision Song Contest, I secretly wonder just why the brands sponsoring the event cannot be more Conchita: creative, cosmopolitan and adding value to the whole affair
Being Austrian can be tough at times. Watching the Eurovision Song Contest is no different. The more international bunch of us even has a word to describe this peculiar state of mind of feeling ashamed for what’s going on back home ("Fremdschämen"). At the EURO 2008, it was Austrian sport pundits’ interpretation of the English language that made me cringe (think Schwarzenegger, but less sophisticated). At the Eurovision Song Contest, I secretly wonder just why the brands sponsoring the event cannot be more Conchita: creative, cosmopolitan and adding value to the whole affair.
Well-loved annual tradition
The biggest part of the ESC’s charm lies in its mishmash of daft acts, ranging from genuine stars like Cliff Richard or Katrina and the Waves, to has-beens like Engelbert Humperdinck and oddballs like the monster-dressed Finnish hard rockers Lordi. So while in this day and age, European music arguably no longer needs an artificial contest showcasing its talent, which has for the majority been cobbled together for this event only anyway, watching the event has become a well-loved annual tradition (and source of many drinking games).
The ambition did not spread to most partners, who failed to build a bridge with their sponsorship approach and add value to consumers
This year, the "Concours Eurovision de la Chanson" (you better get your French right at the ESC) is celebrating its 60th anniversary and it seemed as if Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst’s victory last year has left some narrative legacy. Epitomising her message of tolerance in the slogan "Building Bridges", the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 seemed a little bit more ambitious in tonality. Looking at it from a sponsorship perspective, however, this ambition did not spread to most partners, who failed to build a bridge with their sponsorship approach and add value to consumers.
Done so many times before
Austrian Airlines, official airline of the event, announced it was "proud to fly people from all over Europe to this unique music show" Clearly not the most innovative approach, since you would expect Austrian Airlines to, well, fly people to Austria anyway. The company also re-painted one of its planes in the official ESC artwork and hosted a "Which Song Contest type are you?" quiz on Facebook. While none of these activations are wrong per se, it’s just that all of them have been done so many times before, like many of the song entries come to think of it.
As "Official Partner", the Austrian Post’s involvement is limited to, lo and behold, providing the pigeon holes for some 1,800 journalists in the press centre, and issuing a commemorative stamp depicting the event logo. Again, you might suspect that putting up mailboxes and issuing stamps should be a core competency of mail service providers. These two examples are far from the creative approach the Royal Mail took with its "Gold Postbox" campaign at the London 2012 Olympics for example.
Subtlety has never been key at the ESC, but this year’s image films exhaust the by-gone 'in-your-face' sponsorship approach to the max
The Austrian Tourism Board leveraged its involvement by showcasing Austria to a pan-European audience. This year’s participant profile videos were shot at what seems a "Best Of Austrian school trip" destinations, with participants visiting ancient castles in Tyrol, crystal clear lakes in Carinthia or marvellous Danube landscapes in Lower Austria. Subtlety has never been key at the ESC, but this year’s image films exhaust the by-gone 'in-your-face' sponsorship approach to the max.
In sharp contrast, the city of Vienna attracted global attention with a clever campaign. The host city changed the traditional green and red figures in 47 (out of some 1,300) traffic lights, replacing them with heterosexual and gay couples. Reactions were overwhelming – we are talking about traffic signals after all – and ranged from waves of enthusiasm to harsh comments from the political right. The Austrian Freedom Party, always quick to predict the impending abolition of heterosexuality in Austria, even pressed charges against the city councillor in charge of traffic, Maria Vassilakou. Munich on the other hand picked up on the idea and announced that the traffic light couples will soon also adorn the Bavarian capital.
The campaign made global headlines, including the New York Times, the BBC and the Telegraph – a rare feat for tiny Austria and probably the ESC itself. With a simple, yet great idea, the city of Vienna has set a nice example of delivering an efficient campaign with the entire project costing €63,000 (£45,000). To compare: a double-page ad in Austria’s most influential media, the Sunday edition of the "Kronen Zeitung" (reaching 45% of Austrians), amounts to €67,800 (£48,000).
Sponsorship of the Eurovision Song Contest appears to be similar to the event itself, with plenty of uninspired contributions from a bygone era and only a handful of innovative approaches. With sponsorship spending on the rise, brands should re-think their sponsorship strategy…or develop one to begin with. Because when it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, you definitely want to be Conchita Wurst, rather than Engelbert Humperdinck.