It was the summer of 2008 and British football fans were fed up. All four home nations had failed to qualify for Euro 2008. There was gloom all around the British football scene, and the England manager had been sacked.
Mars had partnered with The Sun in its "believe" campaign for the 2006 World Cup, but with no UK team in the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland, it seemed that there would be no opportunity to repeat that campaign's success.
In the words of Andy Walsh, the media director at Mars' media planning agency, MediaCom, there was "a football-sized hole in the activity plan".
The answer was to get the country looking on the bright side - the award-winning Mars "balls" campaign, a national kickabout with Mars bar-branded footballs.
Mars needed "to find partners who could harness the mood of the nation", according to Charlotte Reich, the strategic partnership director, newcast, at Mars' media buying agency, ZenithOptimedia. "It wanted partners with real optimism and a sense of fun, but who could also provide real scale for the Mars 'balls' campaign," she says.
The partnership with The Sun worked on building on the brand's "work, rest and play" mantra, the national summertime kickabout was designed to get people playing, to inspire the next generation of footballers and create a feelgood buzz around Mars bars and football. The call to action was: "Your country needs you. Get playing!"
Peter Marsh, the head of FMCG at News International Commercial, headed up the project for the newspaper group, working with the campaign manager, Ben Crocks.
Mars provided 100,000 branded footballs and 1,000 hours on Powerleague football pitches for the "Mars balls get Britain playing" promotion.
A microsite on thesun.co.uk invited readers to get involved, backed by impactful advertorial features in the print newspaper and teaser ads for the six-week promotion, which included a free Mars bar for every reader.
The microsite invited readers to apply for free footballs and free bookings of pitch time, and to upload video footage of their own football skills. The best entries were invited to take part in a five-a-side match involving presenters from the radio partner talkSPORT, including the former football stars Ian Wright and Alan Brazil.
The site was rich in videos about kickabout skills, with footage from leading football personalities. There was an online viral game and free mobile applications. One feature invited fans to create their own badge for their Facebook page.
The microsite attracted 25,000 unique users per week and there were 8.3 million ad impressions, while 3,600 users created badges - a high figure for a time-consuming application. Sixty-one per cent of those who saw the campaign saw it in The Sun print version, 24 per cent saw it on thesun.co.uk and 15 per cent saw it on both. The ball giveaway was 3.3 times oversubscribed and 790,000 Sun readers said they had had a kickabout. There was a positive effect on brand equity scores, with a 10.3 per cent rise in those agreeing that Mars "makes me feel good" and a 10.9 per cent sales uplift - incremental sales were worth £5.3 million.
The campaign won best collaboration at the 2008 Media Week Awards.
The Sun and Mars have already built on this success in this year's Mars "bounce" promotion, built around football, cricket, rugby and tennis.
To see more digital images, go to www.nmauk.co.uk/digital