MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Carling's defection to music seems to be perfectly timed

In marketing and advertising, as with most things, timing is of the

essence. With hindsight, Carling's decision not to pay the mega-bucks

demanded by the Premiership to renew its nine-year sponsorship looks

exquisitely timed. As City traders would say, it has got out at the top

of the market.

Whether you look at TV audiences or the growing belief that the game is

about to split itself asunder again, football's gravy train looks, in

Robert Maxwell's description of the print unions, to have hit the

buffers. So, Barclaycard's decision to hand over millions to take over

from Carling looks less felicitous timing-wise.

As our sister publication, Marketing, reported last week, Carling has

decided to hitch its bandwagon to a new vehicle - music. The news

surprised me, partly because it looked as though Carling was pumping the

money it previously spent on football into TV, and partly because, at

least in terms of the scale with which Carling is doing this, it is

moving into uncharted waters.

Carling has signed a long-term agreement with Clear Channel, the owner

of More Group and various radio interests, but also a serious promoter

of concerts and the owner of venues such as the Hammersmith and

Manchester Apollos. The exact details of the deal are, as yet, fuzzy,

but Carling will get naming rights to tours by the likes of Britney, U2

and Destiny's Child and pouring rights to concerts. It may also be able

to add its moniker to venues - hmm, the Carling Black Label Hammersmith

Apollo really rolls off the tongue.

But while the devil is always in the detail, it's the idea of

associating Carling with music that has real resonance. While other

brands have gone the same route before - remember when the Hammersmith

Apollo was the Labatt's Apollo? - they've mostly been niche brands

exploring niche associations with sub-genres.

That's fine for brands that want to position themselves at the cutting

edge. Carling, however, is a mainstream brand and in the Clear Channel

roster of artists it looks as though it has found a mainstream fit that

is appropriate.

The demographics are interesting too. For all its mass appeal, the

football audience is overwhelmingly male and conservative. If Carling is

to grow, it has to reach out to new audiences that are younger, male and

female, and more adventurous in their thinking and tastes. Within the

broad framework of that ambition, however, different artists will expose

Carling to different audiences.

Pending its forced sale by Interbrew, Carling's future is uncertain -

which may put a question mark over this deal. But Carling's track record

in sponsorship is second to none. Not only was it quick to spot the rise

of football as a marketing medium, its wholehearted exploitation of that

sponsorship in every possible way was exemplary. That augurs well for

this deal.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

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