The Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R managing partner Tony Harris is rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect of getting stuck into a brief that involves two of his favourite things - beer and football. Last week, the agency beat Carlsberg's UK agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, Soul, St Luke's and the Danish incumbent, DDB Copenhagen, for the task of developing an integrated global campaign to advertise the brand's sponsorship of Euro 2004.
Standing out from the crowd of football-affiliated brands is no easy matter, and is crucial to Carlsberg's brand heritage, which explains why Carlsberg asked both roster and non-roster agencies to present ideas for the task.
RKCR/Y&R will be the creative workhorse behind a campaign that will be rolled out in up to 50 countries where Carlsberg is drunk. The agency won the pitch with an idea that Carlsberg claims will work across all media, be it TV and other traditional above-the-line formats, packaging, promotions, beer mats, direct mail and online.
The agency will present a bank of work to Carlsberg's regional marketers, who will choose which ads and activity should run in each territory, with the effect being a mix-and-match, but comprehensive, exposure for Carlsberg in the run-up to the tournament. The sponsorship deal already includes on-site branding and some commercial airtime, but other media spend will be handled by individual regions.
Starting work on the creative concept for a product that won't see the light of day until next June - Euro 2004 kicks off in ten stadia in Portugal - may seem a bit premature. But Carlsberg, and the other headline sponsors that have each forked out around £15 million for the right to associate themselves with the tournament, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's, have much to do to make sure their marketing campaigns have the right cut-through and impact to make that investment worthwhile.
Carlsberg is one of the most experienced companies where sports sponsorship is concerned. Apart from deals with the FA in the UK, its relationship with the UEFA-organised tournament alone spans 15 years, and it has already signed up to sponsor Euro 2008. The last tournament saw sales increase 11 per cent for the duration, and a continued 5 per cent uplift over the year, so clearly the company feels the investment is worth it.
Harris says Carlsberg is a brand utterly in sync with its target audience.
"Carlsberg not only has the heritage with the game, but also benefits from the fact that beer is seamlessly linked with football. It's a perfect fit."
Distribution is also a key factor. Because the brand is available in a wide range of markets, it is enough for any advertising and marketing creative idea to work in ways other than brand-building. "The brand is already known to consumers, so we're not on an educating mission - we are simply reminding them of Carlsberg's affiliation with the tournament," Harris says.
The Soul creative director, Bruce Crouch, agrees that Carlsberg is right to continue its high investment in football sponsorship. "Carlsberg has an inherent right to football sponsorship, and its track record goes back many years, both in national and international tournaments and teams," he says.
St Luke's executive creative director, Al Young, adds: "Carlsberg fits with football because it adheres to the principle that sponsors must bring something to the game and the fans - beer."
Crouch adds: "The further away from the event a product is, the more a sponsor is seen to be 'buying' the fans' loyalty. Carlsberg has no worries on that front, as beer is one of the first things on their minds."
As well as numerous brands that pay top dollar to reach the public through sport, the value of sports sponsorship and marketing is clearly appreciated by those with the purse-strings in advertising too. Only this month, Dentsu and Publicis Groupe teamed up to form a company, iSe, which will compete with Interpublic's Octagon sports marketing company.
With such vested interest in the sector, Carlsberg will be looking to RKCR/Y&R for creative that will stand above all others, including those companies that have no official links with Euro 2004, but will jump aboard the football bandwagon.
For evidence of football-themed marketing activity at its peak, take last year's World Cup, where unofficial "sponsors" such as Nike were just as prevalent as rivals who paid for the privilege, such as Adidas. And Coca-Cola's global TV ad "World Cup of Fans" is another good example of creative that works wherever you are in the world.
The ad was simple; a montage of the brand's previous World Cup campaigns to the soundtrack of Blondie's Atomic.
RKCR/Y&R and Carlsberg are predictably coy about the nature of the creative that won the pitch, but Crouch is sure the agency will not have trouble coming up with an idea that works globally.
"Football is a universal language that inspires similar behaviour wherever you're watching it in the world. That's why the Coca-Cola ad worked so well, because it mirrored the kind of passion shown in front rooms and bars across the globe and everyone related to it. Whatever it comes up with, RKCR will be looking to recreate that sense of passion that exists among fans," he concludes.