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Beers and bonsai with Fernando Morientes: John Reynolds goes behind the scenes of Heineken's #sharethesofa campaign

John Reynolds, a former Campaign, Marketing and Media Week journalist who now freelances for titles including The Guardian, casts his eye over the big stories in sports marketing.

Fernando Morientes, the former Real Madrid and Liverpool star, was this week filmed clipping a Bonsai tree in the top floor penthouse suite of a plush Madrid hotel.

Morientes: As sharp with bonsai as he was in front of goal

Like all good strikers, he kept a cool head and there was an unerring accuracy about his workmanship.

Morientes’ topiary skills were being put to use as part of Heineken's #ShareTheSofa campaign, the social media campaign which lets football fans interact with ex-football stars through the ShareTheSofa hashtag while watching a Champions League game.

Heineken’s involvement in Europe’s top football competition dates back to 1994 and has grown with the popularity of the competition, prompting it to switch sponsorship from its Amstel brand to its flagship international brand Heineken.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Heineken now pays out £43m a year to sponsor the competition.

The #ShareTheShofa campaign feeds into this sponsorship by tapping into the vogue around second-screening and inviting football fans to follow Heineken on Twitter and then a pose questions to former footballers – Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Hernan Crespo and Ruud Gullit have also been used – who will then answer the questions in real-time.

And it is popular: there were 1,200 questions directed to Morientes (who also fronted a Vine videos and YouTube content, including the cutting of the Bonsai tree, during the two hours Heineken had him for) before kick-off of the Real Madrid match against Galatasary.

While the campaign is not particularly innovative (Coke, Adidas and Vauxhall are mining similar territory) Heineken has been praised for laddering its #ShareTheSofa activity into its overall Champions League sponsorship.

Vauxhall, for instance, has carried out Twitter Q&As with star players as part of its sponsorship of the Home Nations, but unlike Heineken has not made it central to its football marketing.

Steve Martin, chief executive at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, said: “I think it is quite smart. It is a good platform as it transcends all markets and engages fans across the territories.”

One key factor, according to Martin, is that the ex-footballer must offer “genuine value” and not offer bland, drab replies otherwise the campaign would flatline.

In agreement is Andy Sutherden, managing director of sports marketing and sponsorship at Hill and Knowlton, who adds that the “colour of the players personality is as important as the fame of the player”.

Sutheden likens the campaign to MasterCard’s long-running ‘Priceless’ campaign, adding: “It is one of those campaigns which I believe has been different and innovative. I think they use talent well. It smacks of ‘Priceless’ by Mastercard. It brings to life fantastical opportunities which money can’t buy and bring it into the modern era.”

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Q and A with Paul Smailes, global head of digital at Heineken

How did the idea behind #ShareTheSofa come about?

The idea was the result of combining a couple of key insights. 70 per cent of UCL (UEFA Champions League) viewers watch the game at home and over two-thirds of our consumers are also online while watching TV. Twitter is also the number one social media platform being used during live TV shows and also provides us a great opportunity to directly connect passionate UCL viewers with legendary players. All of this led us to the #sharethesofa idea.

We activated #sharethesofa for the first time last April during the UCL semi finals. Fans were offered the chance to interact through Twitter with football legend Clarence Seedorf, giving them the feel he was sitting next to them on the sofa watching the game.

Did #ShareTheSofa build on existing Heineken campaigns?

It was also the result of optimising two different real-time approaches we experimented with at the beginning of the year.

How do you measure success? Do you have figures which show it has been a success?

We define success based on scale and share of voice. The match with Hernan Crespo resulted in 46.8m earned impressions, 78 per cent share of voice among UCL sponsors, and supported by countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The number of people who engage and follow us each matches increases significantly with each match, and more and more Heineken countries are also supporting the idea.

Will #ShareTheSofa run next year? Can it run more broadly within Heineken?

It will continue to run during the knock-out stages, quarters and semi-finals and will be activated on an even larger scale and with even more surprises. Once the campaign has finished, we will conduct a deep-dive evaluation to understand the broader implications of implementing this real-time approach for the Heineken brand.

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