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Why sports advertising is a grand slam for brands

By Steve Weaver, ThinkTV
Published Mumbrella

Sport has a unique ability to create an emotional connection between brands and viewers, says ThinkTV’s Steve Weaver. And research shows advertising that stirs the emotions ultimately leads to sales.

September finals? Summer sports? That’s if I make it. I’m exhausted after the past month’s sports bonanza – from riding the emotional highs and lows with Barty at Wimbledon to yet another epic Origin battle, Smith against the Poms in the ICC World Cup, and a weekend with the Diamonds at the Netball World Cup.

For Australians, sport is engaging because it’s inherently emotive. It’s dramatic, suspenseful, has heroes, villains, winners and losers. It’s lean forward and lean back. It fires us up and triggers all kinds of emotions like only the best premium content can.

Of course, sport tops the ratings year in and year out – in 2018, the AFL saw more than 3.3 million viewers watching on in-home TV sets while the NRL got 3 million in-home viewers along with the many thousands of fans live streaming or watching in pubs and clubs all over Australia.

Last year’s Melbourne Cup measured 170,000 viewers live streaming via Broadcaster Video on Demand (BVOD) complementing the 2.6 million watching on in-home sets and at scores of functions across the country.

And in recent weeks, we have seen bumper audiences as the State of Origin decider pulled an overnight in-home rating of 2.8 million, while Ash Barty’s fourth-round loss at Wimbledon saw overnight linear ratings of almost 600,000 viewers across metro and regional markets.

But as important as reach is, large audiences are only one part of the equation. Increasingly advertisers are leveraging media context to make their advertising more relevant.

In March, the Journal of Advertising Research conducted an analysis of 52 academic papers on advertising effectiveness highlighting that media content involvement, content likability and ad congruency are the three factors that best improve ad effectiveness.

In layman’s terms, ads will be more effective when shown in programming content that viewers like and are super-engaged with. And television sport broadcasts offer this up in spades.

Engaged audiences, large and small, can be found right across the TV schedule. Such is the case with northern hemisphere sporting events broadcast in the early morning hours which attract passionate, engaged viewers. In excess of 1.2 million of them tuned in across all Cricket World Cup broadcasters to watch Australia cop a flogging. As did around 560,000 Indian and Kiwi fans two nights earlier. And every year in July, more than 150,000 cycling aficionados regularly brave late nights to watch the Tour de France; all madly vested in the content they are watching.

Time and time again, studies show how engaged viewers pay more attention to advertising, most recently, TVision Insights highlighted correlations between program and ad attention.

The data tells us that people genuinely paying attention to what they are watching are also paying attention to the ads. So by advertising in and around sporting events, your brand is taking a shortcut to sales reaching people who are in an emotionally enhanced state. And there is a double whammy if your creative elicits a strong emotional response since ads that make people feel things are proven to be more effective.

The ThinkTV commissioned study, The Benchmark Series, found advertising that generates a strong reaction – irrespective of whether the reaction is positive or negative – secures 16% more attention than ads eliciting weak reactions. This matters because ads that trigger a high emotional response have a 2.4 times greater sales impact than ads that elicit a low response. Peter Field and Les Binet reinforced this in their 2017 study Media in Focus, noting: “What is clear is that emotional campaigns are significantly more effective, and in particular, more profitable, than rational campaigns.”

Another factor that works brilliantly for sports broadcasts is what’s termed media-content-ad congruency; you probably know it as contextual relevancy. Case in point was this year’s Australian Open ambush campaign for Uber Eats which saw the brand integrated into the broadcast in a way that could easily be mistaken for actual broadcast footage. The campaign generated an emotional debate and went on to pick up two Silver and four Bronze at Cannes.

At the end of the day, a well-executed sporting sponsorship can have a powerful and lasting effect with a UK study by YouGov and Thinkbox finding the premium nature of sports sponsorships can help a brand to position itself as a market leader. People who watch a sponsored program are far more likely to believe the brand involved is popular compared to non-viewers (78% vs. 68%). And brand health metrics increased by such a sponsorship stay strong over time. One month after a sponsorship, key brand measures are unchanged. Six months on, they’ve reduced by just 19%, so 81% of the advantage gained with viewers remains.

To get the best result, though, research shows brands need to be thinking long term. The Thinkbox study Get with the Programmes found that longer-running sponsorship partnerships drove increases in all brand health metrics giving a 5.4% increase overall compared with a 4% for younger campaigns.

Thanks to its emotion-stirring and premium nature, sport offers highly engaged viewers watching emotionally charged content that provides a strong halo of engagement for the brands that wrap around the broadcasts.

And with a slate of epic sporting action about to hit our screens from the Ashes, Netball World Cup, The (British) Open Golf, Rugby World Cup, our local footy finals, Bathurst, Melbourne Cup and Summer of Cricket, there’s never been a better time to make your advertising even more effective by aligning with sport broadcasts.

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