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
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
- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.