Modern Marketing B2B Marketing Cannes Lions

Cannes Lions Preview: Creativity at fever pitch - how to activate data, AI & automation in sports advertising

By Michael Nutley | Writer for The Drum

June 13, 2022 | 7 min read

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Sport is a massively powerful and versatile vehicle for marketers. It brings together huge audiences, can be as enthralling to watch as any drama, yet just as enjoyable as short clips and highlights of the main action. And for brands, there’s just as much value in being involved in the pre-game excitement and post-game analysis as there is in the game itself.

spirable sports marketing

The sports industry is changing as streaming grows - how should marketers respond?

The problem is that elite sport is so expensive that it’s out of reach for all but the biggest brands. Until now.

Want to tap into a new sporting audience? Join The Drum and Genius Sports in Cannes at the Reddit Explorer Club on Wednesday 22nd June. Register your interest now.

“More and more brands are tying into sports, and it’s becoming a lot more accessible,” explains Lauren Evans, CMO of data-driven creative platform Spirable (a Genius Sports company). “It used to be that multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals were the only way to go. But now brands are finding much more fluid ways of tapping into the action for men’s and women’s sport. You of course have to be aware of IP and usage rights, but there are now ways brands of all sizes can join the conversation and tap into this highly engaged audience, without being a headline sponsor. ”

Exactly what these methods are will be the topic of conversation during our on-location panel with Genius Sports on Wednesday 22nd June during the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Register your interest in our Cannes 2022 panel with Genius Sports here.

The session will bring together Olya Dyachuk, data-driven marketing director, Heineken; Dominic Carter, senior associate director, MediaCom; Kate Easterling, Global VP Creative Experience, Essence; along with Genius Sports’ Evans, to talk about how brands can combine live data, digital channels and emerging technologies to take advantage of the power of sport.

A turning point for marketing

There has been a clear shift towards digitally-focused sponsorships in the last few years, accelerated by the pandemic – brands like Nike and Heineken are great examples of how these digital activations can be brought to life, not only through ads, but also valuable digital content and experiences.

“The market is changing. Fans aren’t just going to live events, they’re streaming it on their mobiles, watching highlights on-demand, commenting on the live action on social media and engaging with their favorite teams and players all year round, not just in season. All this lends itself nicely to digital content and shows marketers they can connect with fans in different ways across the many channels and formats they now spend time, 365 days a year.”

According to Evans, today’s fans require a different marketing approach, one that’s no longer linear but made up of a collection of moments that together create a snowball of continued excitement, engagement, monetization, and retention. To create these moments, brands need to create hyper-relevant content. They need to target new and global audiences, create more multi-channel fan experiences, and use first-party data to create more meaningful connections.

“With data and privacy a big concern for brands, it’s more important than ever to be creating valuable content in the moments that matter,” she says. “People don’t want to see annoying ads, they want never-seen-before insights and real-time information and action that match the excitement of sport. Data and technology can help bring this to life in a highly automated and scalable way – creating more engaging and real-time content that drives maximum performance, at the lowest cost.”

Register your interest in our Cannes 2022 panel with Genius Sports here.

Capitalizing on the Euros

Evans highlights Heineken as one of the brands doing great work in this space.

“Heineken ran a really exciting, data-driven campaign around the Euros tournament last year,” she said. “There were a couple of parts to the campaign to create the most compelling story, before, during and after the matches. Their initial goal was to drive table bookings at local bars, so countdown data was used in combination with the relevant fixtures, and the ads acted more like content for fans by automatically displaying the upcoming games, who was playing and at what time, and showed your nearest pub depending on your location.

“Then, during the games, a series of in-match moments – like goals and score updates – were used to create real-time relevance. Lastly, post-game, the winners were shown. These data-driven ads performed really well, driving nearly two-times return on ad spend. Meta also ran a brand lift study with the campaign, which showed it achieved two-times higher brand association, proving its impact along the entire funnel.”

Sport for all

There are two main things that Evans wants people to take away from the Cannes session. One, fan engagement should be part of every brand’s marketing strategy, and two, that marketers need to change their approach to match the way fan behavior has changed.

“Sport is important for any brand,” she says. “Regardless of whether you’re a sponsor or not, it’s a great way to engage a really passionate and genuinely global audience. And it should be something that you can use to create a loyal consumer base, whether you’re a big multinational or a smaller ecommerce brand.

“Then the second point is about activating on that. Marketers can’t keep doing the same thing, because it’s not going to work in the same way. They need to consider this new fan journey. And because it’s more fragmented and more digital, a lot more content is going to be needed, and there’s a lot more live information that needs to be fed into that content to make it interesting. And that’s where the technology comes in.”

For Evans, the beauty of this way of using sport for marketing is that it weaves together branding and performance, as the Heineken example shows.

“Sport can help you achieve your marketing goals, because of the way it plays out and the unique levels of passion it attracts. You can engage potential customers, you can convert them, and you can retain them, all by using sport as a conduit.”

Want to tap into a new sporting audience? Join The Drum and Genius Sports in Cannes at the Reddit Explorer Club on Wednesday 22nd June. Register your interest now.

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