Richard Exon, Founder of Joint, discusses what the past year of sport can tell brands and businesses about what interests the public, and reflects on how brands should focus on hope and honesty when it comes to driving campaigns.
It’s not often that a fantastic summer of sport includes the England men’s football team losing on penalties, the men’s cricket team being soundly beaten at home and our Olympic rowers failing to win a single gold medal.
But this year sport really was fantastic. And fascinating in what it can tell brands and businesses about what interests people and what we get excited by.
There has been a lot written recently about how brands are increasingly successful by being genuinely helpful, offering material and useful support during a bewildering 18 months of COVID-19.
As we reflect on a summer where athletes’ mental health, gender politics and gestures of solidarity have driven the headlines just as much as the results, perhaps there are two further ‘Hs’ brands should think about this year and next.
The first is hope.
We saw a football team howled at in Hungary as they ‘took the knee’ before crushing their opponents. We saw a 43-year-old win her 17th gold medal to become Britain’s greatest ever Paralympian. We saw an 18-year-old from Bromley make history as she became the first qualifier to ever win a tennis grand slam.
In each case the story of victory transcended the individual sport or tournament and touched something more fundamental in each of us.
Because in each case we felt a sense of hope.
Hope that gestures can be meaningful and that progress, whilst difficult, is possible.
Hope that effort, resilience and commitment really do pay dividends.
Hope that life can present astonishing and unexpected opportunities for those with talent who work extremely hard.
Sport lifts us out of ourselves and the relentlessly grim news cycle that surrounds us. Brands can too.
Positivity and optimism – well judged and well executed of course – are powerful drivers of human emotion. Any brand that successfully points to a more hopeful future and credibly gives itself a role in getting there will go further, faster.
The second is honesty.
In a world full of fake news and broken political promises (including, but not limited to, those written on the side of a bus) people could be forgiven for becoming professional cynics.
What’s certainly true is that all brands face more scrutiny and scepticism than ever before.
So too do sportspeople the world over.
Perhaps that’s why businesses and athletes who come across as authentic are often the most successful.
In fact, in marketing terms at least, the very meaning of the word authentic has shifted in recent years.
Whereas once authenticity was all about provenance and heritage, today we tend to use it to signal honesty and being consistent around a particular set of values.
This is why brands can learn a lot from the backlash suffered by Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage when they rushed to associate themselves with Emma Raducanu’s victory.
It struck people as inconsistent at best and dishonest at worst, given both these professional provocateurs’ previous positions on a variety of topics.
So, a big thank you to all the amazing sports stars of summer 2021 who have reminded us that as well as being helpful, brands that are hopeful and honest will have the best chance of winning.