In case you missed it over the last few days, Manchester City’s UAE-based telecoms sponsor Etisalat scored a glorious own goal with a video that went viral for all the wrong reasons.
Etisalat’s “Celebrating victory… Celebrating together!” short was intended to congratulate the club on reclaiming the greatest prize in English football and align its brand with that success.
But the video is in its own right a sort of celebration of everything that can go wrong with badge-kissing brand sponsorship, all set to the tune of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’. And it’s done numbers – with more than 2.65 million views so far on Twitter alone.
The tone of the 2.6k (and counting) comments on Twitter is perhaps best summed up by The Sun’s Dream Team feed: “There have been multiple reports of fans suffering near fatal embarrassment after viewing the video.” The Telegraph even picked out their favourite bits and ran with a piece titled 'Everything wrong with Man City's telecommunications marketing celebration video'.
You get the idea – it’s bona fide rupture-your-cringe-pipes stuff and so out of touch with your average football fan that it has attached a wonderful notoriety to what was an entirely expected and therefore far from dramatic Premier League title win.
Etisalat’s is not the only City sponsorship deal that has raised eyebrows of late. The club has signed with Tinder to help the dating app launch its first in-depth foray into the sports market. It’s a curious link up – and an open goal for headline writers (‘It’s a match’) – but at least Tinder has not yet released anything on video. It just marked by a blimp with Tinder and City branding flying over Manchester.
So why have Tinder and Etisalat swiped right on City?
In this fragmented media age, sport – particularly live sport – has become go-to property for brands seeking consistently massive audiences. It's no surprise that sport is so attractive, but nobody likes a badge-kisser; brands need to ensure that they enhance an event, rather than devalue it with corporate graffiti.
Or, in Etisalat and Manchester City’s case, a repurposed nursery rhyme.
Etisalat has got it wrong with its collection of excruciating cliches. Sports marketing should amplify the fan experience, and that means being credible from the first whistle. Sponsorship gives amazing access to something fans are so passionate about, and yet so often we see brands scupper their opportunities and surrender their credibility.
Successfully aligning with sport means getting fans onside and actively contributing to the overall experience. Real partnerships need to be mutually beneficial and supportive, with all parties sharing common goals and values. And it’s equally important to note that, in the viral age, not every sports sponsorship or branding opportunity has to involve the titans of the game in the most high-profile events and tournaments.
Etisalat just happened to be a celebrating the richest team in the UK winning the most watched league in the world.
Seemingly the only bandwagon-jumping cliché missing from Etisalat’s badge-kissing video was that a badge was not actually kissed. Brands in sports marketing can learn from Etisalat’s viral own goal: you can only influence behaviour once understanding the relationship between fans, their teams and the sport. That's a precious thing, and brands have to earn the right to share in it.
Neil Davidson is managing director and partner at HeyHuman