5 lessons from Euro 2016’s guerrilla marketers

Female football player standing with her feet on ball

Last Sunday, Euro 2016 came to a close with Portugal’s 1-0 win over host nation France.

Like any football tournament, it attracted a raft of guerrilla marketers angling for a piece of the action, without the price tag of the 10 official sponsorship slots.

Twitter was the key battleground for so-called “second screeners,” sports fans who watch TV while using another device. Both sponsors and challenger brands fought for space in their Euro 2016 feed with themed content as the games played out.

We asked for a few key takeaways from marketers who weren’t official sponsors of Euro 2016.

Reactive content does well
Supermarket Iceland amassed 3,360 new followers during the course of Euro 2016, at an increase of over 3 percent daily.

While the brand had created videos with the Icelandic team in advance, social media coordinator Wendy Chung explained its off-the-cuff content — brainstormed and released during each game — performed best.

During the Icelandic team’s 2-1 win against England, the brand received over 30,000 retweets for its quip about an “unexpected result in the bagging area…”.

“In 2012, sponsors would have plans locked down by spring of 2012, but Euro 2016 is continued evidence that any company that does not have agility in their activation plan isn’t going to maximize return,” said Andy Sutherden, the global head of sports marketing and sponsorship at Hill + Knowlton strategies.

But it had to be relevant
It’s all well and good creating timely content, but winning on social media also requires relevancy. Creating content that isn’t overtly about the brand but is about the beautiful game.

Carling was one non-sponsor who created meme-heavy content around the action on the pitch. Most of its tweets had nothing to do with drinking, or beer.

Take, for example, its nod to the moth that landed on Portugal striker Ronaldo’s face during the final.

Budweiser — another non-sponsor — gained traction by sponsoring ITV Sports’ live match highlights via Twitter Amplify. This leveraged something fans really wanted to see.

It also gave away beers to fans in Wales after their team reached the semi-final for the first time in history. Note the tweet below is in Welsh, too.

Joel Seymour-Hyde, vp of strategy for sports sponsorship agency Octagon, said Budweiser stood out as it made a big, relevant statement and had the retail partnerships to back it up.

“It’s about being nimble enough to react to events as they unfold, but you also need the ability to deliver,” he said.

Personality works
Paddy Power has built an empire on ambush marketing. It paid a £80,000 fine after Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner exposed his “lucky pants” at Euro 2012, which included the bookmaker’s logo.

This year, Paddy Power has pushed out a high churn of risqué and funny content during Euro 2016.

“We want to be talking about what our punters are talking about,” Lewis Davey, Paddy Power’s PR and “mischief champion,” said. “There’s an element of risk attached to it, but we always say we’d rather get as close to the line as possible,” Davey said. “Sometimes it’s OK to beg forgiveness rather than ask for permission.”

Success isn’t guaranteed
Guerilla marketing requires a degree of good luck, too. If Iceland — a small team — had been knocked out earlier, Iceland (the supermarket) wouldn’t have been able to capitalize on its high-profile success.

And not all campaigns are successful. Analytics firm Brandwatch has tracked the success of eight brand-promoted hashtags — four official, four unofficial — through Euro 2016. It found that the four official sponsors received over 93 percent of mentions on Twitter, which came to 224,160 in total.

The three other challenger brands (Virgin Media, Carling and Lufthansa) Brandwatch tracked reached 4,740 mentions combined. Lufthansa, the airline, received just 60 mentions for its #fanhansa campaign.

Sponsors still rule
“Ironically, the ‘ambush’ community have lit a small fire under chairs of official sponsors,” said Sutherden. “Going back six years, they were lazy in the way they activated their rights. The official tag became like a ball and chain.”

While Iceland’s hashtag #ComeOnIceland outperformed one official sponsor, Carlsberg, by 8,350 mentions, it was an anomaly. Top was Adidas, with 162,320 mentions of #FirstNeverFollows, followed by 33,290 mentions of Orange’s campaign hashtag, #OrangeSponsorsYou.

Sponsors have also innovated with Twitter’s tech. For example, Orange’s activation at the Eiffel Tower, lights up with the colors of the most popular nation’s hashtag that day. There are caveats, of course. Official sponsors like McDonalds don’t have a hashtag for the tournament, and some hashtags have been used more consistently than others. But while this metric isn’t the complete picture, it serves as a good bellwether.


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