David Smith (pictured below) is the founder of Melbourne’s sport and gaming agency Blood Utd. In this guest he argues Australia’s sports marketing and advertising – a few exceptions aside – doesn’t even come close to our enthusiasm for all things pig-skin, willow, racquet and ball.
Aussies love sport. We all know that. In fact, if you were to ask the average Aussie to name the greatest Australian to have ever lived, many would name a sportsperson. And if you extended that to the top 10, there’s a good chance, they’d include Phar Lap. And he’s a racehorse.
Given this deep connection, you would assume we’d be crushing it when it comes to sport advertising. But it’s the exact opposite. Apart from a few standout moments, like the great old AFL ad from Warren Brown, the standard of Australian sport ads is fairly low.
I am not exactly sure why, because there’s the brains and the talent here to make good sport work. But somewhere along the line, there seems to be a failure to recognise the potential of sport. So often it is treated like just another commercial product, like its bubble gum or chocolate bars, just another act of consumption, or a convenient way to get a message in front of people. Which is a real tragedy, because in my mind, sport may be the world’s most powerful medium.
Think of its ability to unite us, divide us, lift our spirits, and crush our souls. How it can defy logic, break boundaries, and leave indelible images printed on our brains. Think Jessie Owen raining on Adolf Hitler’s parade, Ali’s rumble in the jungle, or Cathy Freeman carrying the two flags at the Sydney Olympics. Sport is the generator of some of the greatest stories ever told. If you watched Luke Beveridge hang his medal around Bob Murphy’s neck, you’ll know what I mean.
So how do we raise the game? How do we make sport ads that live up to Australia’s love of sport? I can’t say I have all the answers, but these are some things I’ve learnt along the way.
First off, you need to care. Like I said, this is not just another product. When did a person travel ten thousand miles to buy their favourite shampoo? Never, but sport fans will do that regularly. So you need to love the game as much as they do. And that doesn’t mean saying glib things like “sharing the passion of football fans since 1986”. You need to show your love. Go deep on your subject. (Sorry, that wasn’t meant to be an innuendo). Get under the skin of the game. Speak like an insider, learn the lingo, the player nicknames, the small little quirks that separate one code from another. It’s those small things that often lead to the best ideas. Watch this. And this. That’s work written by people who know and love sport.
Look for the tension in your work. Sport is all about conflict. It is CAN against CAN’T. It is about you against your enemies. The finish line, the opponents, the laws of physics, injury, society, race, gender, hell, even your own nipples can be an enemy (a sweaty 10KM run, a polyester vest, if you’re a fat bloke like me, you feel me). If you want a compelling story, find an enemy to punch on the nose. Like this. Amazing stuff from 180 Amsterdam.
Get inspired. Read the best sport writers. The Player’s Tribune is a great source. All the articles are all penned by athletes. This is a personal favorite: “Why We Fight”, by NHL enforcer, Brandon Prust. Also read the old boxing greats. Like the Bob Considine’s report on the night Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. Written almost 70 years ago, it puts you right there. Locally you should read The Roar. I loved this one. It gave me so much insight into why so many agencies get women’s sport wrong.
Push the boundaries. That’s what sport does, so our work should do the same. Whether that is a fresh angle, a new technique, a new medium, or just next-level craft. Watch this piece from Derek Cianfrance. A one-take film that puts you right inside a baseball game. Derek told me that it took him two nights and 47 takes to get it. But it was worth every dime.
Of course, we don’t always get the big budgets over here but your piece doesn’t need to be an epic to be epic. Look at this awesome gif made from baseball cards. I wish I had made something that good.
And finally, I know it’s way easier to say all of this than to do it, but no one ever did anything good without a bit of grind. So good luck, and if you need a bit of revving up, watch this. That’s what sport means to this country. Peace, yo!
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