The launch lowdown: how brands tackled the summer of sport

England cricket fans, let’s forget we got our bottoms slapped by 251 runs in the first Ashes Test. It doesn’t matter. Stiff upper lip. Blitz spirit. Something about the NHS. Watch out Australia, we’re coming for you at Lords.

This summer – or *shudder* winter, as it’s called Down Under – there’s been a slew of new bits, bobs, odds and sods when it comes to sport. New attitudes, new products, new approaches. Some are empowering, some are tearful and others are just a bit weird.

Here’s a few.

Victoria Bitter Tea plays on the Pom stereotype.

Launched ahead of the Ashes, this new Victoria Bitter Tea is the warped child of Australia and England. Owned by Carlton & United Breweries, VB’s best known for its boozy endeavours – so naturally, this latest invention is a tea with, er, hops in it.

To promote the launch, VB shrewdly shared this ‘How To Pronounce Victoria Bitter Tea’ YouTube video, delivered in robotic Queen’s English.

OK, fine. It’s funny.

Playing on both British and Australian stereotypes, a pint and some biscuits accompany the tea box’s promo shot – obviously. But given the Ashes go down at least once every other year, and launches take a good old while to deploy and gain momentum, it’s hard to make an impact – and even harder to keep the ball rolling once the series ends.

VB made an impact. It’s not like 251 runs were impact enough. No.

Four Winters and Mazzetti pay tribute to our Andy. It’s a bit weird.

In a comeback rivalled only by AC/DC and Nigel Farage, Sir Andy Murray bounded onto the tennis circuit in June, winning the men’s doubles title at London’s Queen's Club.

Following a career-threatening hip operation, it was a cause for celebration. And celebrate was just what ice cream firm Four Winters did – partnering with Mazzetti Balsamic Vinegar, it offered an edible tennis ball at its Gloucester Road store. Priced at £5, the limited-edition ‘Break The Serve’ treat was available during Wimbledon, combining ice cream, strawberries, balsamic vinegar, chocolate and caramel sauce in one handy, tennis ball-shaped treat.

And if your name happened to be Andy, you got to nab one for free! Limited to one serve per Andy – steady on – Break The Serve was available at the flash of an ID. I’m sure they’d have broken the rules for Sir Andy himself, though.

Indian cricketers are behind the curve, but ahead. Kind of.

During this year’s Cricket World Cup, India’s cricket elite had more on their minds than mere wickets and runs. Spinner Yuzvendra Chahal launched a lifestyle brand, Cheqmate, while legend of the game MS Dhoni was seen sporting the logo of his own lifestyle brand on his shoes.

It seems 2019 is the year Indian sports personalities embrace fashion and lifestyle. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a massive deal in the UK, but that’s because the stray cat down your street probably got a sponsorship deal for kicking a can in a straight line. It’s not as common in the Indian market, but since 2016 the number of athlete brands has more than doubled.

And what’s so interesting about these launches is the genuine understanding of the brands’ target market: teenagers saving up from odd jobs and young adults fresh out of college, according to Indian business title, Mint. They don’t have tonnes of disposable income to throw at seven variants of the same sneaker, so the majority of these brands are keeping the price tag low and avoiding the pitfalls of a more exclusive, premium label.

No, they’re not Air Jordans. But they’re not trying to be. After all, only 3% of UK customers believe celebrity endorsement makes a launch stand out. Perhaps that percentage would be much higher in India – after all, their team players are pretty much hero-worshipped, the nation following their every move. Still, in an age of overpriced tat and tenuous links between famous faces and the products they’re pedalling, this is a breath of fresh air.

Despite Piers Morgan’s best efforts, women’s football is starting to be treated like men’s.

Megan Rapinoe. Piers Morgan. One vegan sausage roll. Whoever punts it the furthest wins.

It’s great to see women’s football is starting to get the airtime and recognition it deserves. Fandom reached fever pitch this year with England’s Lionesses even featuring on Lucozade Sport’s limited-launch bottles.

But behind the glitz, glamour and knee-grazing, there’s a darker side. A side we’d rather not see. The Asian Football Development Project introduced the #FearlessFootball initiative, aiming to end the maltreatment and abuse of women on and off the pitch.

Launched following reports of abuse of women within Afghanistan’s football community, #FearlessFootball’s launch was backed by former England international women’s players Eniola Aluko, Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey and Katie Chapman, as well as former US international Yael Averbuch West. A tonne of former men’s football players also stepped up to the plate.

Along with a Change.org petition setting out a declaration of principles for football’s governing bodies to adhere to and protect women, #FearlessFootball is proof we’ve come a long way, but there’s still quite a way to go.

So go on. Sign the petition. And watch a bit of cricket while sipping on your weird beer tea.

251 runs, though.

251.

George Roberts is client services director at launch marketing agency Five by Five

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