Why Euro 2024 is ‘a big step change’ for the areas advertisers will rely on

For soccer fans watching tonight’s opening UEFA European Championship soccer game between Scotland and Germany in Munich, it’s not just about the scoreline but the storyline.

The big moments include retiring German midfielder Toni Kroos’ swan song on home soil, a rare chance for Premier League players Scott McTominay and Andy Robertson to prove themselves in international competition, and the battle between a once-imperial German side and a Scotland team keen to prove they’re a team worthy of respect.

Marketers, however, will be watching out for the advertisers that manage to use the tournament to tune into crowd sympathies, build up their brands and harness those unfolding sporting narratives to increase brand consideration and purchase intent. Ahead of kick-off, Digiday spoke to a range of sports marketing and media experts about which channels are likely to help marketers reach their goals at the Euros.

Timezone friendly appeal

Crucially, this year’s tournament is the first major international competition in recent years to have been staged in a timezone friendly to casual viewers (2020’s edition was played out behind closed doors, while the last World Cup was hosted in Qatar). Mike Grumbridge, client services director of integrated agency Sid Lee, said he expects a “polarization” of approaches between “anthemic … unapologetic TV ads” and digital channels.

The fact that international soccer draws huge broadcast audiences in key markets such as the U.K., France and Germany means that for brands taking the opportunity seriously, TV “is still king,” according to EssenceMediacom director of sport Alex Brown.

Even games staged in the run-up to the tournament draw a significant crowd. According to Andrea Malgara, managing partner at German media agency network Mediaplus, last week’s televised Greece versus Germany friendly match drew 45% of German viewers aged 14-49. “Football fever is on the rise,” she said in an email. “If the German team performs well, viewer ratings will certainly increase.”

Though GroupM predicts that global ad spend on “traditional” TV will decline 0.2% over the next five years, major sporting events like the Euros are exceptions to that trend, with inventory around match coverage commanding some of the highest prices in British and European advertising. Malgara estimated that Mediaplus alone will handle “a double figure million budget” across the whole tournament.

According internal estimates from IPG’s Magna, television ad spend increased roughly 20% so far in June compared to the same period last year. Much of that cash will be hoovered up by ITV, the commercial broadcaster that shares coverage rights to the Euros with the BBC.

“That is absolutely attributable to more brands spending the money that they’ve got on ITV in Euros within June,” explained Richard Oliver, managing director of IPG’s Magna in the U.K. and Ireland. Because both Scotland and England are competing at the tournament, ITV is offering higher-priced inventory around their matches and cheaper slots for other games. Oliver said it’s meant more advertisers can get in on the action.

“ITV have done a smart job in putting a sales policy in place that makes it more accessible to brands,” he said.

A case in point would be Scottish soft drink brand Irn-Bru, which, in a category dominated by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, plans to to run its tournament-marking campaign spot as U.K.-wide broadcaster ITV’s coverage of the opening Scotland game commences.

The campaign has already been running on Meta, TikTok and Snapchat, on Amazon Prime Video, and on Sky, ITV and Channel 4’s broadcast-on-demand inventory, plus some cinema. Much of that has focused on Scottish audiences, though the brand’s creative agency Leith told Digiday the campaign has attracted significant organic viewership from consumers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

As the tournament continues, it’ll be advertising against Scotland games on the broadcaster’s regional arm STV, Leith’s head of social Tom Kelly confirmed.

Influencer marketing and paid social

At this year’s tournament, many brands are increasing their spend on influencer partnerships, and increasing paid social budgets to amplify influencer content and reach viewers on their second screens. That reflects shifts in sports viewing habits since the last Euros, which took place when TikTok was barely a feature in most marketing plans.

Publicis media network Starcom is recommending brands without an endemic link to soccer focus on paid social, said Lin-sze Teh, head of planning at Starcom U.K. “We like social because you don’t have to go as big, you don’t have to have such a heavy investment around the Euros, you can still participate in the increase in viewership,” she said.

German-headquartered supermarket Lidl’s brand awareness campaign, which is set to run across Europe throughout the tournament on TV, also includes a larger influencer component. Grumbridge told Digiday it’s spending on influencer marketing more than in previous years, though he didn’t share precise figures. “It’s a big step change,” he said.

In addition to a traditional above-the-line campaign, Lidl leveraged its partner status to stage an unconventional push that leaned on its loyalty app.

The supermarket used the app to offer families the chance to get their kids into the tournament as official team mascots. (Before kickoff, teams walk out onto the field with child mascots in team kits. It’s cute.) The campaign ended up recruiting around 1,000 children, all of whom are being transported to Germany courtesy of Lidl. Sid Lee will be working to create short documentaries about their journeys, each aimed at the home markets of the kids involved.

Once edited and complete, the films will be pushed out on social platforms with paid spend behind them. Together with influencer partnerships and in-store promotion, the idea is to boost the supermarket’s association with a healthy diet and family life. Grumbridge said the loyalty app play was a means of satisfying both “customer engagement and commercial points of view” for Lidl.

Fanzones and audio advertising

For the most part, advertisers with smaller budgets will be leaving TV to the tournament sponsors. They’re not putting all their chips into paid social, though. EssenceMediacom client Chase Bank, for example, is focusing on out-of-home, programmatic OOH and retail media in a bid to focus on goodwill messages aimed at Scotland and England fans and a campaign featuring stars Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka. “Their takeover of Oxford Circus,” said Brown, “demonstrates the value of personalities.”

In any case, not every fan will be watching from their living room. So-called fanzones (outdoor viewing parties) will be hosted across Germany and many of the participating countries, hosted by tournament sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Lidl and beer brand Bitberger. With this year’s edition the first European tournament hosted since the pandemic began, more viewers will be heading to their local pub or to sponsored fanzones.

These aren’t just scaled-up pubs. For a more considered experience there’s Hotel Mundial, a viewing party and venue hosted by Mundial publisher Footballco. Sponsored by Budweiser, Marriott Bonvoy, Xbox Play and Reebok, it’ll offer live podcast recordings, video games and art alongside the matches themselves. According to a survey of readers conducted by Footballco, “almost 90% of Euros fans want to watch with friends, families or colleagues. That’s much, much greater than what we saw for the Champions League or the Women’s World Cup,” said Footballco global svp of commercial Seth Hart.

Radio has long been a reliable means of reaching soccer fans during a major tournament. But audio advertising on Spotify and podcasts, produced by radio players and publishers, have come quite a way since the last Euros in 2020, and the channel now offers more opportunities for “shoulder content” activation, said Toan Ravenscroft, Amsterdam managing director of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how the growth of podcasts pans out,” he said.

Betting brand Skybet has been running audio spots on Spotify in the months running up to the tournament, while also sponsoring select podcasts on the platform. Brands combining both traditional radio inventory and podcast ads will gain “two bites at the cherry,” Ravenscroft said, because they’ll be associated with different kinds of coverage in the same time period — and will therefore benefit from the large audiences associated with live broadcast coverage and focused communities tuning into niche podcasts.

“Increased demand for on-the-go football opinion, analysis and storytelling among super-engaged fans has seen increased advertising spend in podcasting in recent years, and all signs point towards that trend continuing due to the hyper-targeted and personalized approach that it has to offer,” Glen Durrant, senior digital manager at specialist sports agency Right Formula, told Digiday.

Contingency planning

Advertisers don’t like to leave things to chance, but in soccer there’s always room for the unknown.

Teams not expected to travel far will get farther than pundits think, spinning brand war-rooms into action. This year, brand responses to those moments will likely take place on social, rather than on TV. On the off-chance that Scotland progresses past the group stages, for example, Irn-Bru’s agency has planned in “contingency messaging” that can be deployed, though Leith’s Kelly said the brand would likely push that out on digital channels, particularly social.

Despite the potentially huge reach associated with extra-time ad slots, Starcom’s Teh said the media network tends not to hold budget back on the off-chance it can catch the eye of anxious fans. “We don’t necessarily target those moments because you’re not guaranteed the exposure. And that’s what we’re looking for,” she said. “That’s where the other channels, such as social, that’s where they come in.”

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