Reasons to be cheerful part 3: Brands look to societal change issues and digital deals

Reasons to be cheerful part 3: Brands look to societal change issues and digital deals

Fuse chief executive Louise Johnson explains how brands are embracing social and environmental issues. It’s the last of three articles focusing on innovations emerging from a challenging year for sports marketing agencies.


For many people, lockdown has forced a reappraisal of personal values. Responding to the need to drive societal change through sport is an emerging trend.

As social and environmental issues have been thrown into sharper relief by COVID-19, we’re now seeing people at the top of their sport becoming more willing to openly campaign for causes they believe in.

We’re seeing more traction here where previously it was hard to push clients to do work around social and environmental issues. It used to be a tick box in the industry, but there’s now a bigger desire to deliver real change in these areas rather than just paying lip service to it. Brands are using platforms and passion points to do so.

Seeking authentic connections

There’s an opportunity for brands to work with ambassadors in new ways that are more impactful than simply putting them on products. In a world where brands are vying for attention, it’s no surprise that only a third of consumers say they trust traditional forms of advertising. It’s here where ambassadors offer cut-through as being relatable and authentic, not least in the fact they are followed for who they are, their personal opinions and not what brands pay them to say.

This authentic connection between ambassadors and consumers should help guide brands who struggle to get their message across. Brands not only need to be exact with their timing in identifying and engaging with cause campaigns, but also offer support and encouragement as if they were a consumer. Only then can they look at developing their support into authentic commercial endorsement, having demonstrated their support instead of buying it.

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford is the perfect example of how an athlete has used their star power to incredible effect to drive societal change. His high-profile campaigning for free school meals for children in poverty forced the government to review its policies and change approach.

Fuse’s work on the #ThisIsOurTime campaign with ŠKODA places female cyclists centre stage and champions gender parity. Initially delivering a powerful message that resonated beyond cycling, it continues to impact the sport through supporting aspiring young female riders through the ŠKODA DSI Cycling Academy.

Our Heads Up campaign with The FA and Heads Together, a mental health initiative spearheaded by The Duke of Cambridge, also broke new ground in driving the biggest ever conversation around mental health through football.

Elsewhere, England international Maro Itoje is looking to lead conversations around access to online education for sections of society at risk of being left behind by the digital gap. And former Australia rugby player David Pocock has thrown his support behind a campaign to reduce carbon emissions to help his country deal with climate change issues.

Nelson Mandela once said “sport has the power to change the world”. An increasing number of sports stars, brands and brave rights owners are doing just this.

No more green and pink washing. Impactful campaigns are here for good. They’ve been part of a broader mix of brand activations smartly conceived and delivered by sports marketing agencies through the pandemic.

The initial COVID-19 shockwaves prompted our industry to rethink how to address brand challenges and secure deals to keep revenues flowing. Happily, it has paid off. Deals are still getting done through these tough times – albeit business objectives are changing. Yes, marketing budgets have been reduced as chief marketing officers remain cautious. But brands are still viewing sport as a major element of the marketing mix.

There’s pressure in the boardroom to show how sport can fit more into precision and programmatic marketing models. Partnerships are increasingly designed with much more focus on commercial return rather than just brand objectives, awareness and engagement.

Greater digital focus

The focus is moving away from physical assets to a more virtual, digital world, meaning there are significant opportunities for rights holders. And brands are leaning in to exploit the moment.

TikTok’s sponsorship of Euro 2020, delayed to this summer, illustrates the point. It marks the first time a digital entertainment platform has sponsored a major UEFA competition. The short-form mobile video app plans to roll out features including AR effects, Hashtag Challenges, TikTok LIVEs and Sounds to promote its products and services.

The esport boom during lockdown represents fresh possibilities for brands. COVID-19 helped the territory to become more mainstream in many client’s eyes. While still seen as niche among some industry sectors, esports needs to be reconsidered as a key channel to reach under 35s.

With lockdown restrictions easing and a big summer of sport ahead, we can expect a raft of new innovations across the industry in the months ahead. That’s exciting in many ways.