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Brands respond well to shutdown, but recession will cause ‘changing of the guard’, warns Clarke

A leading executive at brand consultancy 160over90 has been impressed by the response of major sponsor-brands to the Covid-19 crisis but warns that a “changing of the guard” could take place in the recession that is certain to follow.

Speaking to SportBusiness this month, Robin Clarke, the agency’s senior vice-president, international, highlighted responses by Budweiser, Nike, LVMH, Uber and Pizza Hut, as good examples of brand communication in the crisis.

Clarke said Budweiser’s diversion of $5m (€4.6m) from its sports and entertainment marketing budget to the American Red Cross was particularly impressive.

“The content was obviously turned around at lightspeed and distributed well through paid, owned and earned and was a really phenomenal piece of work….credit to them for the quality of the content the thinking behind it, but then also the speed out the gate.”

In a similar vein, Clarke said that Nike’s ‘Play Inside’ motivational message also hit the right spot with consumers in survival mode. “It’s an obvious statement that we’re all going to be in our homes a lot more than are usually so that was a nice piece of marketing and messaging,” he said.

LVMH was praised for turning their resources to hand sanitizer production, while Uber and Pizza Hut both impressed. Uber provided free rides for NHS workers and Pizza Hut donated and distributed 300,000 pizzas to hospitals.

In general terms, he said, loyal brands will be rewarded when sport comes back on tap in 2021, but conditions will be much changed.

Clarke said: “Sport will be an amazing place to play for brands. It always has been, but there’s going to be an extra hunger to it, [but] it’s important to point out there’ll be a long-term impact in terms of the kind of categories and industries that will invest in sport.

“Different industries have been hit hard by this, such as hotels and airlines from the travel industry. Other industries are obviously seeing increased demand, with Amazon the obvious place to start.

“You might find that different brands start to appear on the horizon in sport into late 2020…and there’s going to be a little bit of a changing the guard.

“We are going to enter into a pretty deep recession, and no matter where you are in the world, there will be brands that will have to pull back and there will be brands that will see the space as an opportunity.”

Brands, he said, should seek opportunities to support communities with authenticity and empathy. “We’re going to get into a world which is even more health conscious, which is probably even more environmentally conscious. So brands are going to head in directions like that. Sport needs to do the same if it wants to maintain and grow its relationship with brands.”

The home communication technology that has prevailed under lock-down could play a role in this approach. “It’s interesting when you think of what you could do around fan communities with some of this tech that we are all now getting far more comfortable with. If you think about community engagement between talent, clubs, rights-holders, brands and communities , yes, I think there’s an opportunity that can be built out.”

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