The logo rip-off
Coors has revealed its decision to remove its Carling sponsorship from kids’ tops two years ahead of incoming legislation. But was it a well-timed PR stunt or a pre-emptive move aimed at avoiding the ever-present threat of an outright ban on alcohol b
The drinking culture in Scotland is one of this country’s greatest concerns.
Such a topic, married to that of the Old Firm, is a sure fire winner when it comes to media coverage.
Rarely does a strategic sponsorship move by a brand make headline news,but when it comes to the Old Firm (and booze), headlines very often follow. And not always the sort a brand manager would crave.
Yet, on this occasion, it is not irresponsible drinking, nor is it sectarianism that grabbed the headlines. Quite the opposite.
Rangers and Celtic, together, announced that their sponsor of three years, Carling, had decided to remove its logo from all kids replica Old Firms shirts.
Last week’s decision was announced two years ahead of an agreement with the Portman Group to remove all alcohol sponsorship from children’s replica tops.
The decision has been lauded by those that see it as a pre-emptive move against critics of alcohol sponsorship in sporting events, yet cynics have suggested that it was little more than a well-timed PR stunt.
However, Paul Miller, sales director at Coors Scotland, says that the move was far from a media stunt, leveraging more bang for his sponsorship buck.
“If you look at the history of our involvement with the Old Firm,” says Miller, “what you’ll see is a series of different initiatives where we’ve used sports sponsorship in a very positive way. It’s about doing the right thing. We have always been responsible in the sponsorship, whether it’s the advertising – using the managers to encourage responsible drinking – or the community work that we’ve been doing. It’s certainly not a PR stunt.”
Miller continues to explain that the decision was taken six months ago, when the company initiated discussions surrounding the removal of the Carling brand from kids’ replica shirts. “We realised that there was a window at the end of this season when it could happen,” he says. “The main reason for this move is that we fundamentally believe in what the Portman code is suggesting. We could have stuck to the letter of the guidelines, but we decided to do it at the earliest opportunity. We started talking with the clubs over six months ago.”
Although the brand made headlines for the ‘announcement’, Carling, like all other drinks companies involved in sports team sponsorship, had ensured that blank strips in children’s sizes were made available to fans as a matter of course – consumer demand, however, always dictated that when a replica strip was purchased, it was exactly that – a replica of the shirt the heroes on the pitch wore. The brand is now simply publically enforcing logic and its own responsibility as a brewer.
“Carling’s decision is not news,” says Fife Hyland, chief executive of sponsorship agency Platimun One. “What would be breaking news is the ever increasing reality of a ban of alcohol products sponsoring sport. It would also be misplaced, short sighted and detrimental to Scotland as a whole.
“There is no definitive research to prove that a sponsorship ban on alcoholic products reduces alcohol problems. Banning sport sponsorship by drinks companies just feels like a lazy target for politicians, borne from a perceived incongruity of having alcohol associated with athletic pursuits. And have no doubt, a sponsorship ban on alcohol products would be the first step toward a blanket advertising ban.”
In fact, sport sponsorship by drinks brands actually offers the ideal platform to promote responsible drinking. It provides the means to deliver appropriate messages via media that fans are willing to engage with meaningfully – Carling actually began this with the Martin O’Neill and Alex McLeish campaign.
Additionally, the sporting, arts and events landscape in Scotland would be in a dangerously impoverished state without the financial backing of drinks brands. “Aside from the worrying financial support gap, the ability to attract major sporting legacy events and the subsequent tourism benefits would also be damaged if a significant commercial income stream is banned from involvement,” continues Hyland.
“This is especially pertinent in Scotland given this stream would obviously include our global ambassador, whisky. Denying Scotland’s national product a platform to support, invest and promote itself, and by default Scotland as a whole, would be a stunning own goal, even by Scots standards.”
Miller agrees with Hyland that there is no “body of evidence” to suggest that the carrying of the brand logo has increased consumption of alcohol, adding that it was not the intention of the deal in the first place.
“Our view is that sponsorship encourages brand switching but not increased consumption. Increasing consumption of the category is not one of our objectives.”
Miller admits that Carling is also considering the idea of creating a new TV campaign, similar to that which ran at the beginning of the brand’s sponsorship with then Rangers and Celtic managers Alex McLeish and Martin O’Neil, relaying the responsible drinking message.
“The kind of activity that we’ve run, with Rangers and Celtic, using their icons to get across the responsible drinking message, is the kind of thing which we think will soon be replicated to allow sport sponsorship to portray alcohol brands in a positive and productive way. It’s one thing to make people aware of the challenges of excessive alcohol consumption, but making them do something about it is something which we believe sporting icons can play a roll in and sports sponsorship can use that as a positive benefit.”