How Unilever's Sure Men overhauled its approach to sports sponsorship

Deodorant brand shifted focus away from simple awareness-driving.

How Unilever's Sure Men overhauled its approach to sports sponsorship

Unilever brand Sure Men has revitalised its football sponsorship activities by focusing on building an "always-on conversation".

The brand – known as Rexona in other markets – had been "attached too long to the awareness-driving side of sponsorship", global brand manager Alejandro Fiecconi said: "This meant we associated with very short-term timeframe activities like So You Think You Can Dance in the US and not building that always-on conversation. That’s where we see the future now."

Fiecconi was speaking at Campaign’s Future Fit conference in London.

Previously, he said, the brand’s activations were lacking in several capacities. "We found it very hard to land relevant creative for our brand that was really authentic and went beyond the functional message. So we were landing stuff that was a pure badge exercise on a celebrity or a sponsorship and too focused on traditional advertising.

"We’re a global brand but we live through the local activation teams, and the second challenge was we were doing a lot of partnerships that were either limited in timeframe or limited in geographical scope." For example, Sure Men's partnership with Formula One team William Motor Racing failed to resonate in markets that did not host a Grand Prix, he said.

"Even though F1 as a company is making an effort to increase relevance in the key audience, young adults, it still required patience and investment from our side. New tools were needed." He added that in general, the brand had been "averse to experiment, which made us static"

Fiecconi said Sure Men began tackling these problems by creating a designated sponsorship team to ensure it was treated as a strategic priority.

Then, he said, "the first thing we changed was to focus back into our brand objective: engagement. We couldn’t focus only on eyeballs, media value and awareness – we needed to drive the conversation about engagement."

Other changes included an effort to be more precise in reaching the key target audience of young men, meaning taking on board their changing media habits – such as the fact that 79% of under-25s "second screen" while watching TV, according to Google.

The third major change, in common with other Unilever brands, was to ensure that the brand’s purpose informed everything it did.

"Our brand purpose is to move more, because the more you move, the more you live," Fiecconi said. It is informed by data showing that 36% of UK adults are inactive, while in some countries that figure is even higher, such as in the US (40%) and Brazil (47%). The figures are part of an analysis carried out by the brand team and originate from several sources.

"It’s around finding and honing this human truth and using it to connect with people and make a difference in the world," Fiecconi added.

The new strategy led Sure Men to focus its activity on football, and in the past year it has signed partnerships with Manchester City, Chelsea, Spain’s La Liga, New York City FC and the South American Conmebol Libertadores tournament.

The brand chose partners that could offer global scale while "ensuring local relevance", Fiecconi said – and that meant only considering tailor-made packages. "Pick and choose what are the right assets and rights to bring your brand to life," he said.

Sure Menhas used its partnerships to deliver programmes such as the Africa Eleven with Chelsea that starts with a scouting operation in nine African countries to find promising young players. Thirty of these go to South Africa to take part in a trial, with the best 11 then flown to London to play a match against a team of Chelsea legends.

Another campaign, with NYC FC, encourages players to get involved with street soccer – a response to the fact that free space to play is hard to come by in the US.

This article previously stated Sure Men/Rexona had a partnership with F1, rather than Williams Motor Racing.

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