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The beautiful football index

On Tuesday 19th June, Ed and I attended the 2018 Brand Finance Football Forum at the Brand Exchange. It’s the event at which the ‘Football 50′ report is formally launched – the Football 50 being the annual snapshot of the state of leading clubs’ finances.

As a lifelong football obsessive, talking about clubs as brands used to irritate me – and to some extent still does. But the world moves on, and it’s clear that not only are many of Europe’s major football clubs brands, they are huge brands. Indeed it might be that in future I write a longer blog, requiring more thought, research and effort, analysing the similarities between Real Madrid and Amazon, for example. Bet you can’t wait.

Anyway, bookended by interesting talks from Brand Exchange Director Bryn Anderson (responsible for the football study) and Matthew Birchall’s fascinating study of stadium design, Nuria Tarre gave an excellent and genuinely eye-opening insight into the marketing at City Football Group. That’s City Football Group, who, if you weren’t aware, comprise Manchester City FC, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and a couple of other affiliated clubs who don’t have City in their name. Yet.

It was immediately apparent to me that CFG are operating at a different level to other football clubs/ brands/ groups, mainly because they have created formal, transparent links between clubs without ruining those clubs and driving them out of business (yes, Arsenal, I’m talking about you). And, by taking an underperforming club who were lagging behind some of their rivals, they have had a relatively free hand to instil radical change on the back of their oil-money fuelled success.

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Here’s a picture of Harry Kane. No excuse required.

The group has clear objectives and is at the forefront of social media-led marketing and e-gaming initiatives, all carefully controlled and on message (compare and contrast with Roy Keane slagging off teammates on Manchester United’s own TV channel: awks!). Within Nuria’s slick presentation and accompanied by several pictures of Kyle Walker arsing around (I suspect there were cheaper right backs available last summer who are not quite so keen to laugh at themselves and generate valuable online content), the nugget that stood out for me was this: Manchester City use a “beautiful football index” to judge, after every game, whether they are playing in the style required by their Emirati overlords. Really.

On many levels, this makes sense. If you are truly creating a brand, you will have some brand values; if you have design on being a world-class brand, you’ll live by those values and stick to them – see my past post about Virgin removing the Daily Mail from its trains to see my thoughts on that.

But from a footballing/ sporting perspective, this is a real eye-opener. Next time you hear Fat Sam chuntering about fans wanting to “win games” more than anything, or Tony Pulis asking rhetorically what people mean by “attractive football”, refer them to the Beautiful Football Index. One day it might literally be in their job description to play attractive football. Their inability to supply this is, after all, why West Ham, West Brom and Everton supporters couldn’t wait to get rid of them.

Maybe the time is ripe for an enterprising club chairman to give Sam a 10-year contract and tell him to construct a “challenger brand” club, whose objectives are to stick it in the mixer at least 20 times a game and keep the grass in the corners longer, a la John Beck. After all, not all brands can be identical. This brand might attract the tiki-taka haters: Wimbledon were there years ago.

Is it time for Arsenal to revert to their true type and return to the ultra-defensive, cynical template perfected by Bertie Mee, Don Howe and George Graham? Or, more realistically, for Chelsea to sink into midtable mediocrity in front of a stadium at least a third-full of ignorant racists? They’re halfway there already. Some fascinating branding opportunities await.

Not all football clubs will be, or should be, brands. But some will have to be if they are to keep pace with their rivals. Their income, and therefore to a large extent their success on the pitch, will be dependant on attracting fans and revenue from places such as China and India, before those nations’ own leagues become so established that they don’t have to look to England or Spain for football. That might not be true for Enfield Town FC or even Swansea City, but it will be for those at the top of the Premier League.

Why? Because the other unstated but self-evident truth that emerged from Nuria’s talk is that a European league is inevitable within the next five to ten years – something  Sir Alex Ferguson also believes. CFG’s business model cannot possibly sustain the prolonged disappearance of its flagship club from the Champions League. The damage to the brand would be too great. Assuming they’re not permitted to continue spending with impunity or gaming the Financial Fair Play rules (and if they keep winning the Premier League by 19 points, the other clubs will make sure they’re reeled in), they, and the other biggest European clubs, will need some sort of guarantee that they will always be playing each other.

I suspect the Champions League as we know it will soon become a two division midweek European league comprising six clubs from England, four from Italy, Spain and Germany and the odd Ajax or Porto to keep the smaller nations sweet. The top two/four/eight will go into a knockout stage and the Champions League Final will still exist.

In the meantime, I will be at the new White Hart Lane, watching England’s best footballers play the entertaining, enthralling and exciting football that is at the heart of the Tottenham Hotspur brand; my enjoyment only tempered by their other distinctive trait: that of managing to cock things up when it seems impossible.

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Glory, glory…er…cranes

 

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Torque of the town*

May 4, 2018 4 comments

We’ve been working with Torque, one of the UK’s leading supply chain companies, for two years now. After naming and branding Bzar, their online marketplace, and producing some striking and effective trade ads for the main business, we were let loose on their corporate website, which needed refreshing and bringing up to date.

We began by conducting in depth interviews with the various heads of department, getting direct insight from the people who really matter on what they’d like to see included in the new site, and, equally importantly, what they wouldn’t.

From those pearls of wisdom we crafted some copy that is sufficiently detailed to provide their customers and potential customers with all the information they need to know without being too verbose and daunting, then put it all together in a simple, contemporary design which reflects Torque’s dynamism and fashion industry expertise.

From start to finish, the job took just over three months and is, in the words of Torque’s Operations Director Stewart Firth, “Fresh, punchy and a significant improvement on what we had before”. Take a peek here.

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Some old media, yesterday

From our point of view, the demand for simple, templated websites with CMS that’s easy for clients to update themselves is great, but only if care is taken to ensure the brand’s values, tone of voice and identity are applied with care and consistency. Lots of agencies can build websites, but not all of them build websites that build brands.

*Torque don’t allow puns on their name, so don’t tell anyone you’ve seen this, ok?

Delete your account

March 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Long before ‘Delete your account’ became, fleetingly, the online riposte de nos jours, I knew, somewhere at the bottom of my cerebral hard drive, that committing so much personal information to various anonymous dotcom entities was something I might possibly look back on with regret.

I deleted my rarely used but occasionally browsed Facebook account back in 2009, but had to take it out of mothballs for professional reasons. It’s hard to develop an app for a platform you’re not on.

Anyway, here we are nine years later and I’ve just set the wheels in motion to delete my Facebook account all over again. During those nine years, my interactions with Facebook have largely comprised blocking any ‘friends’ who have shared content from Britain First, blocking friends whose posts break my fairly relaxed inanity rules, blocking friends who post pictures of their children in school uniform (harsh, but you know… standards), blocking friends who share anything that’s obviously ignorant/ written by a Russian bot, and trying hard not to block friends who simply overshare on an industrial scale. Yes, I can be a judgmental arsehole. So what?

In short, my feed had become a sorry list of work-related and/ or sponsored posts, interspersed with various sports teams/ bands I follow. Nothing I couldn’t find elsewhere – specifically on Twitter – in more succinct form.

I’d never posted my birthdate on Facebook, having once read that it is sensible to limit how much relatively hard to find personal information one should share, but that was torpedoed by some friends wishing me a happy birthday via the medium I’d tried to avoid. I’m sure they have an algorithm that picks up on clues like that.

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Buuutttt… he looks so cuddly

Anyhow, my vaguely uncomfortable relationship with Facebook took on a more pronounced form when, shortly before Trump’s election, a friend explained to me at great length why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be President, listing a number of reasons about which I had heard literally nothing. You know, the child abusing, FBI-murdering rumours that you could only find where he did – on Facebook.

I challenged the veracity, but he insisted it was true: “It came from a story in an American newspaper.” Reader, it didn’t.

You may know this already. You may know that Boris Johnson admitted inventing the “EU bans bendy bananas” story. That’s because, like me, you read stuff in “the mainstream media”, that much maligned ‘blob’ which actually comprises, by and large, credible news organisations staffed by intelligent, principled people. Not fake shit that’s posted to your timeline because you’ve shared content from Britain First or UKIP.

Back to the point. It’s ironic that in the week Facebook finally got round to banning the traitorous, ignorant, racist and inflammatory inadequates at Britain First, the Cambridge Analytica story was confirmed. Guess what? Facebook is, on balance, a bad thing. I’d explain why, but if you’re reading this, you’ll probably know.

In the meantime, I’ll be on Twitter for Bob Mortimer’s lists of cat names, and train delays in real time. See you there…

Fancy that!

December 13, 2017 Leave a comment

What with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and plagiarism being legally dubious, we were delighted/ furious to see that the BBC’s graphics team have obviously started following our social posts for Moskovskaya.

Not massively dissimilar, we reckon. What do you think?

Moskovstakingpart

 

Feeling social?

December 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Social media isn’t necessarily right for all brands. Certainly, as my old mate* the Ad Contrarian has loudly proclaimed, many of the claims made on behalf of Facebook and its fellow data thieves a few years ago have turned out to be rather empty.

It transpires that social is a little more like old media than many people once thought. Maybe that’s why it’s taken this long for Breakfast to produce its first (a brief dalliance with the Phone Co-Op aside) fully-formed social campaign, for our favourite vodka, Moskovskaya.

In partnership with hungry upstarts Studio Appetite, we have been producing some ads (there’s no more appropriate term) for two or three months now, and having some fun while doing so.

(You’ll need to follow the brand on Facebook, Instagram or twitter to see the animated bits, links and accompanying text. Sorry.)

Having avoided being too vocal on the merits or otherwise of social media for building brands, I have now progressed from interested observer into an advocate of treating these channels as opportunities. They offer brands without big budgets (or even medium-sized budgets) the chance to reach a potentially massive audience with a relatively small spend.

We’re not mistaking our ‘likes’ for customers, or expecting our audience to become evangelists (the world has more than enough of those at the moment). But we are (we think) producing good work for a genuinely distinctive, strong vodka brand. It might take us a while to conquer the world, and we might not achieve domination via social alone.

But we’re in the game. And enjoying it.

*He’s not a mate: I’ve never met him. But I’m pretty sure we’d get on.

Ban Kingsley

June 24, 2015 1 comment

I love football. I am very fond of the work of the artist David Shrigley. I always enjoy mischievous subversion in art, and its inevitable corollary, the Twitter-storm. I am, however, at best ambivalent about mascots.

Which is why, although I’m a day or so late (which in social media terms is a decade), I am thoroughly enjoying the brouhaha surrounding the unveiling of Kingsley, the new mascot at Partick Thistle FC. This is he:

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I caught a glimpse of Kingsley in my Twitter feed yesterday, but other than recoiling slightly, didn’t spend any time following the story. I wish I had. Kingsley has become quite the celebrity during his short life so far, accused of doing everything from making children cry to “bringing shame on the good name of mascots” (according to H’Angus the Monkey, something of a legend among the mascot-aware). Is that a hanging offence?

Mascots traditionally interact most with children (and inebriated adults), but are seen by everyone. Surely the best mascots, like the best children’s films, should appeal to kids on one level but to adults on another (as H’angus the Monkey does to a certain extent).

Usually, those responsible for commissioning mascot design tend to forget this dual audience and default to anodyne, cuddly creatures but Partick have gone to the other extreme and created a mascot who forces people to think after their intial reaction. Admittedly the thought is likely to be “What in God’s name is that?”, but still. And, if upon further research they discover that Kingsley is the creation of David Shrigley, they will either ‘get it’, be inspired to seek out Shrigley’s work, or express irritation and annoyance on Twitter, to the amusement of the first two groups. All reactions are equally valid and add a few stitches to life’s rich tapestry.

Either way, any mascot unveiling that can produce this on a national newspaper website can’t be all bad. (I love the fact that he crumples.)

As for me, I am now pro-Kingsley, for the reasons stated at the beginning of the article. He’s replaced the Tampa Bay Rays’ rarely seen Recycles McGee as my favourite mascot.

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But I’m not sure that David, or Partick Thistle, have quite got it right. Because ultimately, if a mascot does terrify children, one has to assume he is not quite fit for purpose, even if “the sun after it’s been out all night partying” is a fantastic conceit for a furry club emblem.

Unless… the unveiling of Partick Thistle’s new mascot would not normally be a story in Glasgow, let alone worldwide. So if Thistle are trolling us, well done: Kingsley is the best piece of brand awareness marketing I have seen for some while.

 

Online revenge

February 20, 2013 Leave a comment

anonymous

Have you been watching Charlie Brooker’s brilliant but disturbing Black Mirror series? No? You should have been. There’s one episode left of this series – the others are still online – and I can highly recommend them.

Charlie uses the series to posit some beguiling possibilities for the development of social media and the internet, and to dramatise the impact it might have on our lives. Some of his seemingly more outlandish suggestions are already being brought to life (excuse the play on words) …liveon.com, anyone?

And only the other day, I heard an employer confess that they spent ages researching potential employees on Facebook before they arrived for an interview. Not sure that’s entirely ethical, but it’s hardly surprising.

Every week seems to bring another example of social media’s power, from the stunning YouTube footage of the Russian meteor to Rupert Murdoch’s recent revelation that Page 3 might not, after all, be long for the pages of the Sun.

However, closer to home, we Breakfast-ites were amused by this story:

http://wallblog.co.uk/2013/02/15/agency-takes-down-clients-website-and-replaces-with-a-letter-in-dispute-over-bills

We’re used to seeing companies get called on poor customer service on Twitter and Facebook, but actually using the company’s own website to slag them off for non-payment is taking things one step further. I’ve always loved a good revenge fantasy (remember Michael Douglas’ D-Fens in Falling Down?) and you can imagine the rush the designer got when he put this live…