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The ability to pass on promotional values and messages in an effective and unaffected manner is one of the greatest peculiarities of sports sponsorships and sports marketing in general. The authenticity of sport products, in other words the ability to appear genuine and unaltered, is a key concept to overcome the cognitive defences of spectators: when excessive complexity and unnecessary manipulation step in, results are at risk.   

As soon as he got off the podium of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in MexicoSebastian Vettel complained about the presence on the scene of Mario Achi, the over jaunty race mascot prancing about around the drivers holding a selfie stick, eagerly trying to shoot a selfie. Annoying and offensive for the Mexican tradition: this was the final judgement of the Prancing Horse racer who, on the other hand, spent words of praise for the decision to have the winner car on the podium, the Silver Star which enabled Hamilton to win yet another world title and therefore deserves a little gratitude, doesn’t it? Last but not least, the German also showed his disappointment towards the trophies shaped in the sponsor logo, in place of which he would rather have plates, cups and more traditional, less commercial prizes.

Editor’s note: it is a real pity that the Heineken star-shaped trophy may eventually end up spoiling the look of the cup shelves at the Vettels’. To be honest, it would be appropriate to sometimes stop and think who is paying the bills for the entire show before complaining.

Mario Achi and the Mercedes elevated on the podium were two of many innovations – some major, other minor – introduced in the Formula 1 circus in the past weeks. These innovations were welcomed by both the racers and the operators with mutable enthusiasm. What about the audience? Well, they have been confused for quite a while now, may God forbid.

In the past twenty days the major Formula has experienced all sorts of changes, from the names of the racing teams (Alpha Tauri in place of Toro Rosso) to new circuits that are supposed to run around football stadiums in Florida, from self-braking cars to live TV shows on gamers’ digital television Twitch.

This is yet another load of complexities on top of a complicated sport system where the races start at  2:10 p.m., instead of 2 p.m., the teams have at hand up to 5 tyre compounds for the dry weather alone, cars feature a button to reduce the impact of the rear wing, staying in the trail of the racer before you has become a disadvantage, instead of an advantage, the car steering wheel has 17 selector switches on it, and a virtual safety car imposes compliance with a delta time which is as difficult to calculate as the orbit of one of Jupiter’s moons.

Irrespective of what F1 may think, and for the sake of exemplification, the demon of complexity is perfectly illustrated by the parable experienced by the major series of motorsport: the easiest sport in the world (where the goal is to see which car runs faster) has become so complicated to follow that the direct consequence has been the product becoming poorly effective for audiences and investors alike.

Manipulation of sports products and authenticity

With reference to the title of this post, the risk is to fall in the trap of excessive sports product manipulation and to lose authenticity, a key feature for sports marketing effectiveness.

As we reiterated on many occasions, sports marketing and sponsorships are effective in that they can transfer commercial messages drawing from the fans’ passion and the emotion generated by sport, thus overcoming the defensive barriers that consumers tend to erect ever more strongly against traditional advertising and marketing.

When we watch our favourite team playing an important match, when we get emotional watching an involving MotoGP race or when we watch a great event on TV such as the Olympic Games, we perceive the brands and the companies advertised in these contexts in an organic way, as if they were part of a positive and genuine context, and this, of course, strengthens their exposure and their presence.

Needless to say, these benefits disappear when a sports product is highly manipulated. This is true when the product is difficult to follow and also when we perceive it as artificial or affected beyond any reasonable necessity. In some way, and without any malice, it is the same difference as between a boxing match and a wrestling match, the former being authentic and the latter artificial.

The need for authenticity is ironically stronger in newer generations. Younger spectators, who are widely accustomed to social media and to less manipulated types of entertainment, get more passionately involved in superstructure-free sports, disciplines and champions. The worldwide and ever increasing success of football (a simple game which has stayed unaltered over the years) is a good example of this. The same, however, may be true for skateboarders and gamers whose success is mainly driven by their getting to the audience straightforwardly. The MotoGP circus has been quite skillful in this sense, as they managed to keep their product authentic and widely appreciated by fans all over the world, despite the very high technical level.

The recipe seems to be quite simple: for sponsorships and sports marketing to have an effective impact, and for the audience to get passionate and follow with perseverance, the sports product needs to be simple to use and it must appear as authentic. By its very nature, however, simplicity is often the most difficult target to achieve.

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