Sports marketing can pack a punch. From kick-starting conversations about race to shifting attitudes about equality and diversity, sports can jab, hook and cut across the societal spectrum to create positive change. Right now, with more people staying at home and yearning for shared human experience, live sport is a bountiful well of untapped marketing potential, but it's also an increasingly congested brand minefield of sponsors, billboards, adverts and promotions. To land a decisive blow, brands need creative campaigns that blend the emotional power of sport with widespread fan engagement. In other words, brands need live storytelling.
Live storytelling in essence
Storytelling is a traditional sports marketing ploy. Using a sportsperson's human story of rejection, frustration and overcoming the odds, for instance, can inspire fans and forge a positive connection between brand and consumer. Live storytelling takes this one step further.
Marrying human emotions with the unpredictability and excitement of live sports, live storytelling weaves an exciting, changing, unscripted narrative throughout a live sports event, which attracts viewers' attention and lives long in their memories.
Live storytelling in action
1. Standard Chartered: LFC Soundboard
In 2019-20, Liverpool were cruising to their first title in 30 years, but along came a Covid-19 pandemic determined to rob long-suffering fans of enjoying the occasion live.
However, the official club sponsor Standard Chartered had other ideas. Setting up a live YouTube channel for fans to watch alongside the remaining matches, Standard Chartered brought the stadium experience to fans' sofas by playing Liverpool songs, leading real-time chants and giving fans the chance to shriek, cheer and celebrate with other supporters and club legends. A truly unedited, unplanned, shared emotional experience.
2. Uber Eats: Australian Open
In 2019, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic emerged victorious at the Australian Open, but for me the real winner was Uber Eats, which served up ads posing as live matches.
To pull it off, Uber Eats used real players, officials, crowd shots and commentators. They copied real event graphics, mirrored live logo placements around the court and filmed with the same broadcast crew and cameras.
Even then, Uber Eats had to use the last slot of the ad break to make viewers think it was a return to the tennis—only for the player to order dinner via Uber Eats. By hijacking 14 matches in this way, every ad break kept viewers on their toes and ensured Uber Eats stayed in the minds of over 13 million worldwide viewers.
3. Mastercard at the Rugby World Cup
As a sponsor of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, Mastercard matched its "priceless" brand with a priceless Player of the Match Trophy. Blending custom tech and Japanese heritage, each trophy was moulded in origami during the match and etched with commentary of the best fan-chosen moments - captured through a bespoke Twitter API - and then delivered to the MOTM. 45 matches, 12 stadiums, six weeks, thousands of impressions.
The sky's the limit
As regional creative director of the Mastercard campaign, I've seen the potential of live storytelling in sports marketing first-hand. How the potent combination of a live match with an engaging live narrative can capture the imagination and penetrate new audiences.
But, for me, the most exciting thing is the future. We're only at the start of the live storytelling journey in sports marketing and with technological advances, the possibilities for live storytelling is limitless. Sports sponsorship is no longer about the CEO's favourite team or plastering a logo on a jersey, but about creating heart-wrenching, spine-tingling, hope-inducing stories during a live event for real cut-through. Now, that's a knockout blow.
Lizi Hamer is creative director at Octagon.