Robert Dwek writes about the overhaul that meant Umbro got full value
from its Euro 96 football push
It is tempting to think that Umbro’s Euro 96 co-sponsors - the likes of
Coca-Cola, Vauxhall, McDonald’s, Carlsberg and Snickers - enjoyed the
benefits of an uneven playing field. After all, they are enormous and
have vast marketing budgets, while Umbro is merely big.
That’s why Umbro decided at an early stage that an integrated campaign
would help it out-manoeuvre its giant-sized rivals.
Along with its TV commercials, Umbro also ran specialist press ads,
posters and in-store promotions to support its pounds 3.5 million
The football-focused sportswear company had been looking at ways to
leverage its limited marketing budget since it began working with DMB&B
and its sister promotional marketing agency, IMP, four years ago.
Umbro has been around a long time, but, until recently, had not worried
unduly about marketing. At one time, not even the mighty Adidas saw the
need for prime-time TV advertising. Then along came Reebok and Nike,
brimming with attitude and an apparently bottomless marketing budget.
Umbro realised that it had to respond or risk being relegated to the
The overhaul was timely. A few years earlier the company would have
equated having a ‘more meaningful brand’ with the need for a bigger
advertising budget. But Umbro’s soul-searching coincided with the coming
of age of integrated marketing, which was on its agenda from the start.
‘The first two years were quite a steep learning curve,’ Peter Draper,
the brand marketing director of Umbro, admits. ‘Our agencies were not as
tight as they should have been.’
Things have come together since then. Draper is now much more
comfortable with Umbro’s positioning and speaks warmly of the
‘telepathic’ understanding between Umbro, DMB&B and IMP.
Today, Umbro claims to be a football-mad sportswear company, passionate
without being frothy; new laddish, but understated rather than brash.
‘We are targeting a very particular audience and we think we understand
it pretty well,’ Draper adds.
He believes that the appointment of sister agencies helped the company’s
integrated strategy. ‘We wanted to be sure that the promotions people
were talking to the advertising people, and vice versa, and that
everything was being driven by the brand values.’
Julian Ashley, the account supervisor at DMB&B, says that brand
vigilance doesn’t need to be constricting. ‘Strategically, we are all
singing from the same hymn-sheet but we are not tied down. There’s no
formal diktat telling us we must work through the line. The ideas come
first, and the execution second,’ Ashley observes.
The Euro 96 television ads, which featured the slogan, ‘Umbro, the heart
and soul of football’, were placed for maximum impact on a limited
budget. It was a ‘follow the fan’ strategy, intended, Ashley says, to
give Umbro a presence at all the big matches. Sizeable TVRs were notched
up for some games, especially in the STV region.
The same more-for-less strategy was applied to posters, which were
bought line-by-line rather than centrally, so that Umbro had a high
profile in the vicinity of key stadia. Football magazines carried
Umbro’s press ads.
Ian Millner, the account director at IMP, also emphasises the idea-
above-execution approach. ‘Our role in the promotions we have created is
to give retailers a unique extension of the ‘heart and soul’
proposition. We wanted to make the positioning as involving as possible
so that it hit a trigger with football fans. To do this, we had to work
very closely with DMB&B.’
Umbro ran tailor-made in-store promotions in all the major high-street
sports shops. The aim was to score goals with the trade, as well as
influencing the consumer.
For example, the sports store, Lillywhites, displayed a hi-tech machine
in its window. Shoppers could use it to measure their ball-kicking
skills, with the highest scorers winning match tickets.
The Olympus and Sports Division chains ran Umbro promotions that were
tied to local radio competitions. First Sport, meanwhile, gave away
envelopes containing coloured cards with all Umbro purchases. If the
card was red, the customer won a footballing holiday in Italy; if it was
yellow, they got tickets to Euro 96. Intersport, Allsports, G. T. Sport
and Stylo Instep also ran various Umbro promotions.
Millner describes the promotions as ‘unquestionably one of the largest
exploitative strategies of a sponsorship’ that Umbro has ever done. They
cost, he says, pounds 400,000-pounds 500,000.
‘There’s no point in us putting together a piece of communication that
doesn’t sit comfortably alongside the advertising. The messages must
reinforce one another,’ Draper adds.
So what did Umbro hope to get out of its Euro 96 drive? ‘We wanted value
for money out of this campaign,’ Draper says. ‘We wanted to cement our
relationship with the trade and, at the same time, drive home our brand
values to the consumer.’
Umbro believes that it was up there with the big boys in terms of
impact. ‘Carlsberg has said that it spent around pounds 20 million on
this tournament,’ Draper says. ‘We’ve spent pounds 3.5 million on the
sponsorship and probably about the same again on the integrated
campaign. I think that we’re competing very happily for a share of the