By steve howell

July 20, 2022 | 6 min read

As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Steve Howell of sports marketing agency Dark Horses provides the commentary for our Euro 2022 advertising match report. As he gives us his views on the creative, will football win out over patronizing ‘adwank’?

Advertising often has way more sway than we realize, particularly when it comes to sports sponsorship. The type of brand that gets behind a sport, the sort of budget they plow into marketing that sponsorship, the work they create and the message they spiel – it all contributes to the perceived collective view of whatever sport they’re sponsoring.

For women’s football, this is more pertinent than ever. As the game grows with sell-out crowds and mainstream coverage, what a brand says about the sport has the power to push for parity with the men’s game – and to drag it unwittingly back into the doldrums.

There are many marketing sins brands can fall foul of (seven of which Dark Horses has outlined in a report) when trying their utmost to accelerate progress. These include reinforcing misconceptions, trivializing important issues and even just coming across a bit patronizing when really not meaning to at all.

With all eyes on England flying high at this summer’s Euros, are the brands that are harnessing themselves to the tournament helping, or are they actually harming the growth of the game? Will football be crowned champions, or will ‘adwank’ ruin the game?

Visa ‘When more of us play, all of us win’

Visa is a convoluted mess or unfathomable laziness. It’s like it was created by an AI bot that was fed with thousands of articles about women and football and then, after much procrastination, finally spat out a sentence that while grammatically correct made no discernible sense to a competitive competition featuring only professional, elite athletes.

If it was up to Visa, everyone would get a fucking medal. The execution is even worse. Maybe it had maxed out its Visa card on the AI bot and this was all it could afford.

Early lead for the opposition… Football 0 - Adwank 1.

EE ‘It’s not her problem’

EE has extended its ‘Hope United’ campaign to tackle sexist hate online. And it’s a punchy, supremely shot film that hits as hard as a Lucy Bronze freekick. In the film, it shows all the problems that footballers might face, from balancing motherhood and training, untimely periods and horrific injuries, before landing the one problem that stops with men – sexist hate.

The male football cameos are perfectly placed and add to the narrative rather than overriding it – something that a lot of brands haven’t nailed in recent times.

Football pulling one back… Football 1 - Adwank 1

Heineken ‘12th woman’

Heineken has stuck TV reality show winner Harry Redknapp and One Show presenter Jermaine Jenas in some T-shirts with ‘woman’ written on them as part of the brand’s quest to reduce gender bias. It means well (and that’s obviously worth more than not meaning well), but it somewhat trivializes the problem it’s trying to mitigate.

This frivolous approach can easily become distracting, leading people to debate whether ‘12th man’ is sexist or not, leading others to scream it’s woke gone mad. All along, however, we could be showcasing how brilliant women’s football is, particularly at reducing gender bias.

They’ve restored their advantage… Football 1 - Adwank 2.

LinkedIn ‘Follow in her footsteps’

LinkedIn has forced the 67-year-old former England player Carol Thomas to walk 30 miles from Crewe to Manchester to demonstrate the importance of a visible female role model, accompanied by the hashtag #FollowInHerFootsteps.

While Carol is slugging it out through rural Chesire, this prophetic idea makes me think that today’s players are just paving the way for the next generation of talent, which only reinforces the ill-conceived notion that women’s football isn’t really that good. So, while I’m sure Carol has done a lot for the game over the years, those blisters are probably all for nothing.

We’re in danger of it becoming a landslide… Football 1 - Adwank 3

Nike ‘Never settle, never done’

Nike has gone full Nike for its campaign, ‘Never Settle, Never Done’. It has an envious talent roster of the best players in the world, with Hedgerberg, Putellas and Williamson among many more putting in a performance.

It’s fast-paced, intricately edited, with an array of wonderful transitions that stitch the scenes together like only Nike knows how. But the cherry on this cake is its out-of-home campaign that projected adverts on Tower Bridge, Battersea Power Station (main image) and the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s big. As big as it should be. But it made me think, where the hell are all the other major sports manufacturers?

Could the comeback be on the cards…? Football 2 - Adwank 3

Dettol ‘Matchday rituals’

Dettol has gone full product demo for its England team sponsorship, showcasing how its hand soap and surface wipes fit like a keeper’s glove into your match day ritual. And it works nicely, building excitement and anticipation for the tournament like only a sanitizer brand can.

My slight gripe – and it is slight – is that it went with two young girls as the main fans of the football when it could have been even more poignant showing a little boy supporting as well, but I think I’m being harsh. It’s nicely shot, with some elegant wipe pans and crash zooms that give what could have been a dry script some real dynamism and energy.

Last minute of injury time, but did it cross the line? VAR says ‘goal’… Football 3 - Adwank 3

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay top of their game.

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