Manchester United Vs Liverpool.
The fixture is by far one of the most built up and talked about games in the Premier League calendar.
Passionate debate flows for days, even weeks, before discussing who has the best team, players, history and fans. When Manchester United and Liverpool play each other, the focus is purely on the game between these two behemoths.
However, this all changed last Sunday. Yes, there was a big focus on the teams and the result, but the limelight was well and truly stolen by Paul Pogba, through a cohesive online and offline activation.
For those that didn’t see this, I have explained the unfolding events below followed by my own thoughts and considerations regarding the execution, along with the implications this may have on the future of athlete marketing.
The #Pogba Emoji
A Pogba emoji was launched on Friday at approximately 5pm (GMT) with a simple tweet from Pogba himself, and the emoji activated using #Pogba.
Within two hours, close to 80,000 tweets featuring #Pogba were posted before it trended worldwide. Over the course of the weekend #Pogba will be used more than 500,000 times.
Almost predictably, the next post featured content promoting his new hairstyle, but also highlighting the reveal of his new logo and launch of his signature range with Adidas. The club supported with their own tweets of support using the hashtag as did Adidas.
So far so good, and whilst mildly exciting, we still had not seen the full showpiece.
On Sunday at 4 pm, we saw the true scale of this activation, with #Pogba appearing on one of the most valuable assets in world football, the Old Trafford LED board during the Manchester United Vs Liverpool game.
So what does this all actually mean?
Clearly the activity divided opinion, some Manchester United fans celebrated Pogba and his ego, whereas many fans were left embarrassed by this new era of marketability and showmanship around a player’s image.
For me, there were three fascinating aspects of interest around this activation.
1) Online Vs Offline. Or both?
Firstly, I think this once again is a great showcase within sport for an aligned online and offline approach using traditional media approaches, which neatly conforms into owning the football buzz across a number of days.
Manchester United and Adidas are not the only ones to do this, but like them or loathe them, with the Pogba launch over the summer they have executed two player and brand focused campaigns with aplomb and have set the benchmark.
What I also found fascinating is I believe this is one of the only occasions where the direct impact of LED messaging within a stadium can be truly tracked and identified (through Twitter at least).
Whilst the use of #Pogba had slowed down through Saturday and Sunday, we can see a huge spike of up to 70k tweets between kick off at 4 pm and 5 pm. I believe this is an indicator of the impact and conversation started around the #Pogba digiboards, which stimulated discussion and use of the hashtag online.
This will no doubt come as some relief to those who may have started to doubt the impact of traditional sponsorship assets such as LEDs.
2) Player power
Secondly, I believe this has further advanced the growing status and importance of player power, over and above the salaries that usually dominate conversations.
With the ever increasing marketing priorities around top tier players, I would think there are reasons to believe that the LED time could be something that was written into Pogba’s Manchester United contract.
I believe this could be a possibility as although the club will have a need to promote their star asset, it would be an interesting move to do this ‘voluntarily’ mid-season and communicating messaging which alienates the squad.
Whereas, a contractual obligation enforced by Pogba’s agent wanting to exploit his commercial saliency and ensure he becomes the world’s #1 commercial athlete would make a lot of sense. With such a valuable asset, which was not assigned to any commercial partner in form, I struggle to believe there is no wider objective.
What will this hold for player power in the future? As salaries rise and players demand for global marketability continues, I can see this being the start of a more common theme amongst the A-List.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2017
This argument is supported by Dan French, an industry insider and co-founder of Clifford French, a leading independent and integrated sport and entertainment communications agency.
“As well as player power, this also supports the fact that the commercial team is now the biggest voice at Old Trafford and not the manager! I challenge whether a player specific campaign like this would have been approved under Sir Alex Ferguson’s time,” he explains.
3) True partnerships
Lastly, I think this was a great demonstration of collaboration and true partnership between 4 distinct parties, Manchester United, Adidas, Twitter and Pogba.
There seemed to be a benefit to all parties through this activation, which based on its impact is refreshing and something often overlooked within sports marketing activations.
Adidas and Manchester United: a dream match
For Pogba, Adidas and Manchester United the chance to once again challenge sports marketing traditions on such a global scale proves the value and marketability for each party.
Following the theatre around the Pogba transfer announcement over the summer, Adidas are clearly pushing Manchester United to be bolder and play more within Adidas’ boundaries, something Manchester United never truly did with Nike.
Interestingly, I think there is a very interesting dynamic with Pogba’s relationship with Adidas. Adidas clearly foster great relationships with their assets, which also goes for Pogba, where he describes himself as “Proud to represent @adidasfootball across the world!”.
Twitter are also a big winner, where brands are seemingly flocking to other platforms, the ability to collaborate with the world’s biggest club and maintain the platform as a number one destination for football conversation and news definitely shows intent.
With China being such an important market for Manchester United and Adidas (and perhaps Pogba with one eye on the rising wage slips over there!), it is also important to note there was no Pogba emoji on Sina Weibo, so a fantastic exclusive win for Twitter.
In summary, yes he may have given away the penalty to Liverpool, and was fairly anonymous throughout the game but that was not the point. Paul Pogba made people talk about him and made people feel even when he was at his very worst. A monumental display of ego served only to create conversation and buzz, adding to his current stature as the games most marketable player.
I would say the following are key takeouts from the activation, and thinking that leads to us at Social Chain continuing to push the boundaries:
The activation is Marmite, that is Pogba’s style and that is the reputation Man Utd embrace (you either support them or you don’t), but what they did do is get everyone talking about one moment and one player. They made people feel either way, which is certainly the mantra we push here at Social Chain.
Don’t be afraid to collaborate
Four strong parties collaborated for one big impact so explore these opportunities for mutual benefit and maximum results. Through careful strategy and calculated risks the true synergy of all involved can be explored.
Push the envelope of traditional
This activation went to show that although typical assets and media are being used, by being innovative and having a cohesive plan, in this case talent, a social first, product and scale, this melting pot can bring about something much bigger and much more exciting.
Richard Johnson is Social Chain’s sports accounts director and an integral part of the Sporf team. Check out Sporf on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for more fast, witty and entertaining sports content, as well as the biggest stories
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