News Exchange: Moving the goalposts

News Exchange: Moving the goalposts

Our latest marketing news roundup finds brands embracing women’s football, a mobile network taking a small step towards a giant technological change, and a British institution failing to impress shoppers

Eyes on the prize for women’s football

Just as the men’s season concludes, the biggest prize in women’s football kicks off in France tonight (7 June). Tournament organiser FIFA hopes the women’s World Cup will reach a global broadcast audience of 1 billion viewers – up from 750 million for the previous tournament in Canada four years ago. It also reports that France 2019 has attracted more than double the number of accreditation requests it received for Canada 2015, which suggests a significant leap in media interest.

There has been an accompanying leap in interest from marketers. Visa is sponsoring the tournament itself, while Procter & Gamble-owned Head & Shoulders is encouraging people to ‘Join the Pride’ by sporting three lines in their hair to signify the three lions on the England team’s badge. Nike’s latest ‘Just Do It’ campaign stars some of the world’s best female footballers and the sportswear giant has also launched its first football shirts made specifically for women. Meanwhile, Lucozade has spent £2 million rewriting the ‘Three Lions’ anthem for England’s women’s team. It has also emblazoned some special-edition bottles with the team’s faces. 

“Getting involved now looks like a shrewd move,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “The ROI is unproven, but FIFA's own figures suggest this could become the second biggest sports event in the world. Independent research shows women’s football is perceived as inspiring, progressive and family oriented, so this is an opportunity to make positive brand associations in front of a potentially massive audience – and at a much lower cost than any sort of involvement with the men’s World Cup.”

CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone also believes women’s football has a quick marketing advantage over its male counterpart. “While men’s football has some reputational issues around institutionalized corruption, racism and fan behaviour, the women’s game is seen as much cleaner and more wholesome. At a time when gender equality is a big issue, it offers some great role models.”

Butler has just a few words of caution. “There’s a risk of businesses chasing a quick-hit marketing opportunity, rather than the opportunity to establish their brand values. To avoid accusations of tokenism, all these campaigns will need follow-up. In Lucozade’s case particularly, there seems to be a strategy in place, with England footballers already appearing on its bottles, mirroring their male counterparts.”

Expect a slow start for 5G

Stealing a march on its competitors, EE landed a marketing coup last week when it launched the UK’s first 5G mobile network. EE’s 5G network is now available in some parts of a few major UK cities – but only to customers who have paid a one-off £170 fee and signed up to a contract of at least £54 a month.

The new technology has been hyped for some time and, with rival Vodafone apparently just a few weeks away from switching on its own service, there are now questions about whether – or when – it will deliver on everything it has promised. Consumers are bracing for faster internet connections (imagine an ultra-HD movie downloading in a few seconds) with reduced latency (i.e. smaller lags for video-game players), but EE’s network won’t be anywhere near fast enough to make a big impact. Similarly, 5G can in theory enable more devices to use mobile networks in small, crowded areas, but this requires the installation of many new antennae to support existing rooftop masts.

More intriguingly, among the world’s leading suppliers of those antennae is Huawei, the Chinese company whose equipment might be banned from the UK because of security concerns. 5G antennae and masts support hundreds of thousands of data-capturing sensors that offer authorities and businesses new information about individuals. This information has many applications, from highly personalised healthcare to enabling communication between autonomous vehicles, ensuring safer roads. Conversely, it could also be used in ways that raise serious concerns about the future of individual privacy.

“For now,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler, “this is a case of an exciting technology being held back by accessibility issues and the political concern around Huawei.” As marketers await its full deployment, there is lots they can do to prepare. “Just because you might soon be able to advertise to someone on their own car dashboard, or by using VR, doesn’t mean you should. There will be chances to create genuinely new and exciting types of content, but instead of just selling, selling, selling, marketers really ought to be educating and informing the public about the socially valuable opportunities 5G offers.”

Marketers also need to be getting themselves ‘data ready’. “Sensors are going all sorts of new geographical and behavioural data streams,” advises Butler, “but some of them will be poor quality. Understanding which of these streams offers an opportunity to improve your brand’s proposition or service level will be crucial to surviving the impending disruption.”

Whatever you’re into, it’s not WH Smith

Shoppers have ranked WH Smith the worst of 109 high-street retailers for the second year running. In fact, it’s the ninth consecutive year that the once-proud stationery specialist has landed in the bottom two of the annual Which? survey – and this doesn’t look to be something the British retailer will be addressing any time soon.

This time around, 7,784 Which? members rated WH Smith “very poor” for both value for money and in-store experience. Individual responders described its stores as “cramped and messy” and members of staff as “very unhelpful”. Maybe surprisingly, WH Smith’s response was dismissive: “This survey… is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base,” said a spokeswoman.

As CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone points out, “This isn’t the right attitude and it’s not the first time it has missed an opportunity to own its position in the market with a bit of irreverence or humour.” A Twitter account focused on the (usually dismal) state of the carpets in WH Smith stores has attracted 26,000 followers, but the retailer has chosen not to engage. “Other retailers like Poundland have embraced their position at the bottom end of the market and made it part of their brand identity. If nothing changes at WH Smith, it would be no surprise to see it complete a decade in the bottom two next year.”

So, is anything likely to change? “Probably not,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “WH Smith appears to be focused purely on short-term profitability. It’s a longstanding British institution that has passed up many opportunities to revamp its customer experience, simply because investing in stores would be expensive.” The retailer has relied on location and convenience to maintain a high footfall and, if it is forced to raise prices after any investment, it jeopardises that footfall and risks its entire business model.

Moreover, while sales at WH Smith’s increasingly shoddy high-street stores have fallen accordingly, group revenue was up last year, thanks to an 8% jump in sales at its airport and railway station outlets. “There’s no reason to suppose it will change tack now,” says Butler. “It’s still attracting footfall and it’s still surviving on the high street thanks to its history. That’s no mean achievement, but its lack of a modern identity could eventually be a terminal issue.”


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Tobias Gourlay Journalist
Gemma Butler Marketing Director CIM
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