Why the FA's England ad 'lacks passion' and needs to talk about real fans

Ahead of tonight's England match, Paul Domenet, the executive creative director and founder of Johnny Fearless, asks whether it is possible to successfully advertise to football fans.

FA campaign in the spotlight
FA campaign in the spotlight

Over the years, the idea of erecting fences at football grounds has been mooted as a way of keeping the fans under control.

Happily, this idea never properly took off. But since then a much more profound barrier has taken root between those who support and those who play.

The people who were ‘one of us’ when they were growing up stop being ‘one of us’ as soon as the galactic wages appear in their wallets and the Range Rovers appear in their drives.

The fences become an ever-widening metaphorical moat.

And that is just the Premier League and higher order lower divisions. When we approach the national side, it’s a whole different schism.

Never has it been wider than now or more precisely last Wednesday night at Wembley when the lowest crowd since the New Wembley was opened witnessed England crawling to a 1-0 victory over Norway.

Almost in anticipation of this lack of anticipation towards an England match the FA has produced a campaign to try to rally fans around the flag of St George.

It is hollow, patronising and lacking any of the passion which everyone would love to see returning to the - albeit seated - terraces.

The question remains – can you successfully advertise to football fans in general and England fans in particular?

Firstly you can’t tell people to feel something. You have to make them feel something.

Pride and Passion. Hopes and Dreams. Strength and Honour. The lines from the ads. These words are mighty emotions but just saying the words doesn’t inspire the emotions. Staged shots don’t help either.

I am a football fan and I work in advertising but the instincts of the former will always override the predisposition to analyse of the latter.

For years there have been attempts by the marketing industry to galvanise the fans of clubs and country and they have all been substituted early in the second half because they were having a stinker of a game.

Spurs had a TV ad where the fans ran out of the tunnel with the team. It made people laugh but not turn up.

My own beloved West Ham tried to sell a bond scheme to the fans. "You what? You what? You what, you f*cking what?" As the chant goes.

The problem is that we football fans just don’t buy the messages and the images.

God bless the British for being cynical about being sold to. It’s what makes our advertising so admired. And there is no body of people, which is more immune to marketing messages than football fans.

Nike got that for a brief glorious period in the 90’s. Remember the Eric Cantona ‘where am I going to find a sponsor?’ ad? Genius. Because it knew how football fans felt.

And when they mixed the man on the street/pitch with the megastars as Spurs tried to do, they got it right. In the ‘Parklife’ film, they shot it on Hackney Marshes, kept it real and most importantly they kept a sense of humour about the whole thing.

Because defeat is a regular occurrence, especially if you follow the team I do, we don’t respond to the fist-pumping, chest beating bollocks that seems to go down so well in the land that calls the beautiful game ‘soccer’.

I once wrote a line for a poster for a well-known European lager,which was rejected because it was too negative.

It said: ‘Footballers usually retire in their thirties. Football fans aren’t so lucky.’

My friends who were football fans said it summed it up perfectly.

And there’s the rub.

Maybe by being unafraid to talk about the reality of being a fan, the FA might start taking down the fences and start swelling the terraces.

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