Marketing Briefing: Brands set to focus on influencer and OOH activity at Wimbledon

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Wimbledon means strawberries, celebrity crowd sightings and Centre Court meltdowns. It also means an opportunity for marketers to catch the eye of viewers and casual audiences drawn to the most prestigious event in tennis.

Sports tentpole events have been cited as one of the main drivers behind rising ad spend this year in reports by IPG’s Magna and GroupM, and last week’s Cannes Lions festival was dominated by sports stars and sports marketers. Though the Olympics and Euros will take much of the limelight, marquee moments like Wimbledon are also worth keeping an eye on.

“It’s a big summer moment, a big iconic British moment,” said Steve Martin, founding partner at specialist agency MSQ Sport & Entertainment.

Wimbledon coverage is broadcast to U.S. viewers via ESPN, where demand is high. According to a Disney spokesperson, advertising revenues on Wimbledon coverage are 7% higher than 2023, with 92% of its inventory already spoken for, though the spokesperson didn’t share exact cash amounts. Brands booking ads include tournament sponsors such as Rolex, but the rise has been driven in part by an influx of new advertisers; 30 new brands had put budget aside for Wimbledon, including Bose, Haleon PLC, and Nutraceutical Wellness.

In the U.K. — where the event is a major moment on the cultural calendar — it’s only available on the BBC. For big spenders, that’s not a problem – including long-standing Wimbledon advertisers such as Evian, IBM, Ralph Lauren, Range Rover and Lavazza.

Evian, for example, is running a major summer campaign created by creative agency BETC Paris, including OOH activity set to run during Wimbledon, depicting British tennis star Emma Raducanu.

“Brands want to be around that because of the eyeballs on it, but it can be very hard to jack from a brand perspective,” Martin added. Accordingly, advertisers with tighter budgets will likely turn to reactive out-of-home (OOH), PR or influencer activity.

The former option presents a tried and tested route. Steve Cox, director of marketing at JC Decaux U.K., said the OOH media owner holds inventory placed near railway stations close to the venue (OOH inside London Underground stations is managed by Global on behalf of Transport for London), plus roadside billboards, including digital screens with programmatic capabilities. The latter represents 5-10% of JC Decaux’s current revenue ($3.8bn in 2023), Cox said, but was the fastest-growing part of its business. “It’s pretty much doubled every year for the last three or four years,” he added.

Advertiser interest in digital and programmatic inventory adjacent to events like Wimbledon was helping the company, and the wider OOH sector, recover from hits taken during the pandemic lockdowns. “Demand has now reached pre-COVID levels. That’s really encouraging,” he told Digiday, without providing exact figures of this success.

Surrounding the Championships, commercial advertisers typically favored venue-adjacent inventory while ambush brands were more focused on OOH elsewhere in London and the U.K., to attract more casual fans, Cox said, without naming names. Programmatic inventory enabled advertisers of both stripes to harness topical moments (such as a U.K. player progressing deep into the tournament), he added.

Influencer marketing spend should rise to $24bn by the end of 2024, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. But James Hacking, founder of social agency Socially Powerful, suggested that influencer channels had been under-used in previous years at Wimbledon.

“Sponsors have missed huge opportunities in years gone by, by not attempting anything that people can remember,” he told Digiday in an email. “What about thinking outside of the tournament walls to create content that people want to watch, share and talk about?”

The venue itself presents content-creation opportunities, particularly for creators on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. And those creators don’t even necessarily need a ticket. Brand ambassadors could just harness the crowds that frequently gather to watch matches outside Wimbledon’s historic courts.

According to Mae Karwowski, chief executive officer and found of influencer agency Obviously, tennis is “having a moment on social”, with several cultural trends colliding in time for Wimbledon, including a renewed spotlight on tennis fashion in the wake of Zendaya-starring movie “Challengers,” and the “tenniscore” trend emerging on TikTok.

“The fashion and beauty angles this year are going to be a lot more ramped up than the normal,” she said. And they’re accessible to advertisers outside the sponsorship cordon. “You can sponsor a lot of that content without it being an official sponsor,” said Karwowski. “You’ll get people searching for Wimbledon, but you’ll get picked up. That’s part of the standard playbook of beauty brands operating around a cultural moment.”

Those overlapping trends, and younger audiences’ preference for viewing sporting events via short-form video platforms — a Deloitte study from March found 47% of Gen Z consumers in the U.S. said they preferred social video and live streams over TV coverage — are being noticed by brands. 

Given the exclusivity of the Championship, influencers can “democratize” Wimbledon for viewers, Luke Barnes, EMEA president of specialist influencer agency Influencer, told Digiday.

“When you picture Wimbledon, you picture something quite exclusive. Not many people can go and experience it. Therefore, there’s a real opportunity for creators to make it more accessible,” he explained. “Creators offer people another way for people to experience the event.”

Influencer investments might imply spend as low as £5,000 ($6,300), or as high as £1m ($1.27 million), he added.

Influencer activity at other tennis events suggests that playing up, or playing with, the circuit’s perceived exclusivity, can pay dividends.

Karwowski points to work by U.S. Open advertisers Grey Goose and Amex last August. While the credit card firm’s Centurion Lounge has become a fixture destination for creators, the vodka brand promoted a tennis-themed melon cocktail dubbed the “Honey Deuce” at the New York event which proved a hit with creators. Marketers at rival brands were likely paying attention, she added.

While official sponsors might have their activity locked by now, Karwowski said clients often arrange influencer activity close to the start of an event. Barnes also said he was anticipating a last-minute rush from advertisers upping spend on creator partnerships. “As usual with tentpole sports things… it’s incredibly last minute and reactive,” he said.

3 Questions with Rob Bloom, chief marketing officer of Aston Martin Aramco, a Formula 1 team

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Two thirds of Aston Martin Aramco’s revenue comes from sponsorships. As CMO, who’s your primary customer — potential sponsors, or fans?

We don’t have gate receipts, we don’t have a stadium to sell, we are reliant on sponsorships. [But] as a chief marketing officer, my number one focus is on fans. We recognise that Aston Martin has huge appeal as a 111-year old global brand icon, [but] from the road car business point of view of Aston Martin, [there is a] very niche target audience. The opportunity of Aston Martin Formula One is to use that amazing brand equity to grow the fan base globally.

So we’re focused on how to bring more fans into our team. We talk about being the most inclusive exclusive brand in world sport. It’s a really interesting paradox that just helps us retain our brand positioning, but opens up the team to invite in the global fan base. We are the fastest growing team in Formula One from a fan base perspective through every measurable. Ultimately that does ladder up to be more attractive to consumer brands and technology brands to come into the sport.

AMA has both B2C and B2B brands as commercial sponsors. How do you measure the impact of those sponsors?

We’re really focused on return-on-objective. A key measure for one brand could be a side note for another. 

Brand exposure is still typically a really important measurable and we report based on broadcast exposure, social media exposure, even general media exposure. Working with Nielsen on areas like broadcast exposure has become the standard convention in sports — there’s a benefit to the consistency of reporting. Hookit is a brilliant company that really does help us get under the skin of what’s the exposure value generated for our partners through the lens of this sponsorship. We also start to dig into things like sentiment and propensity. We do our own global band surveys to really understand if a sponsor’s target customer is more likely to spend with the sponsor, through the lens of the sponsorship of Aston Martin’s Formula One team.

Are there any metrics you’d like to add to that measurement toolbox?

There isn’t such an established convention for measuring third party media coverage. I think it’s important that when you report that number, it doesn’t feel like it’s come out of nowhere, [that] it feels it’s got some roots and substance to it. I think the industry can get better at measuring the true value of third party media exposure.

By the numbers

Despite repeated extensions to the deadline given by Google to support cookies in its Chrome browser, a recent study by pollsters YouGov suggests most marketers still don’t consider themselves ready. YouGov polled over 200 marketers at 100 companies on behalf of content distribution platform Taboola and found them less than prepared for the change.

  • 25% was the proportion of advertisers surveyed who said they were “completely prepared” for cookie deprecation.
  • 46% of those surveyed said they were pleased with the deadline extension.
  • 44% of advertisers responding to the survey said they planned to shift ad spend into different channels altogether; of those, 59% were prioritizing search and 55% digital native ads.

Quote of the week

“We’re moving past the hype and getting into who’s actually delivering and shipping, and who’s just talking about it.”

— Lee Brown, global head of ads business and platform at Spotify, when asked at Cannes what point the marketing industry is at on the AI hype cycle.

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