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Nike’s storytelling approach to ‘football branding’

The recent development in the ‘experience economy’ marks an era where ‘reality television’ sets some of the standards for what people perceive to be appealing. Sport brands has thus come to a point where they apply ‘aspects’ of this development to link up with future stars and based on that they find a way to connect with FANS & CONSUMERS. For football fans in particular, new development and especially media technologies have played a central role in the development. As Geoff Pearson (2012, p. 5) writes in his book An ethnography of English football fans: cans, cops and carnivals”, inventions such as ‘smart phones’ and the Internet has sparked changes in fan culture. Today, people engage highly in online forums. This development has naturally changed the commercial framework for sport brands, which do business within the context of football.

Nike is one of these brands. In the video The Chance: Undiscovered”, see the video below, Nike Football seeks to take advantage of trends in ‘football fandom’. In 2010, Nike Football implemented an initiative where 8 talented players successfully differentiated themselves as ‘stand outs’ in a pool of approximately 75,000 young football players pursuing to become professional players. These players were ‘undiscovered’ a couple of years ago but some of them have really felt the taste of stardom in professional football since then. In one example from the video, the coach tells one of these young talents that the player was ‘switched off’ in the sense that his concentration to do well was not optimal. In general, the video applies the ‘language of football’, its emotional attachment to rhetorically paint a natural connection between football and a brand (Nike). It serves as one of many strong examples of the utilization of storytelling in brand activation while keeping in mind that the strength of a good story is ‘to tell a story, which people can relate to’. Football fans (consumers) can relate to the ‘good feeling’ of winning, of rising above mediocre, and working hard (the result is often related to working hard).

There are other taglines, which are visible throughout the video and built to share the ‘language of football’. Tom Rogic, a midfielder from Australia ‘can travel with the ball, can pass the ball, and he has great vision and awareness’ and the coach says that he can hit 60 yard balls like he is hitting a 5 yard pass. So the video production is set to create a ‘feeling of happiness’, and the product to be sold is not Coca Cola. Mustapha Taline is a midfielder from France and the coach wants him to be more consistent in his performances. According to the coach, Taline is a very good technical player but he is only focused for two thirds of a game due to fatigue etc. In football it is not enough to play well for 20, 25 or 30 minutes for what reason the video paints the picture of the ‘contrasts displaying the difference between what is needed from players who want to go professional and those players who do not have what it takes in the long run’.

In portraying the two players, who joined the Swedish club Östersunds FK, the video also touched the importance of working hard and suddenly getting the reward of being paid to play professionally. The reflects the ‘road for new adventures, i.e. getting away from an everyday life characterized by few opportunities’ and by displaying this example Nike also underscores its CSR-potential. It is the dream of most football kids (at some point in their early years) to get a salary from doing what you love. There are tons of players out there with talent, which is also revealed in the video, and Nike is ‘playing on’ the message that the brand give these players a chance to shine. The latter is very much aligned with what happens in ‘talent shows on television’, i.e. X Factor, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent etc. In this process, the Nike Academy is mentioned along with popular brand associations like Just Do It, which links to the notion that players should ‘treat every game like it is the last 90 minutes, which they will play’. That is a strong sentiment along with the portrayal of the ‘Shamrock Rovers experience’ in which the involved player admits the importance of playing in a game where fans pay to watch the game. That is to some extent an aspect, which adds pressure to the life of professional footballers but at the same time it sends the message of an appealing factor in that world in the sense that players dream about playing in front of massive crowds, e.g. the notion ‘theatre of dreams’ (a metaphor for Manchester United’s stadium).

In his book, Pearson (2012, p. 38) talks about ‘carnival fans’ and in such depicts very passionate football fans as being part of a tribal culture in which they find some sort of escapism. In other words, they become part of  an environment in which they can engage and hence feel that they step away from the daily routines of everyday life and into an environment, which socially, physically and psychologically is a version of carnival. In the video, Rogic tells about his first start for a professional team. He scored a goal in that game and scored again the following week. In his path to stardom he supplements the feeling of passionate football fans. Young aspiring stars motivate fans. Such players are simply inspirational, especially if they are good technical players like Rogic.

Rhetorically, the video portrayal reproduces the importance of ‘team spirit’ & ‘family feeling’ in creating team success. These factors are part of the DNA of successful teams. In the final part of the video, viewers are taken on a ‘walk down memory lane’ when players are taken back to where it all started. This is a relational element but also a common strategy in ‘football branding’, which also entails the fact that ‘it all started because it is fun’.  Summing up, the video shows part of ‘what it takes to become and be a professional footballer’ and where the displayed talents took their ‘gift of talent’. In sports, you never know how far a talent will go and that unpredictability is part of the beauty of the storytelling process. There is a huge gap between the start of their dream, the many ‘hellos’ and goodbyes’ of the emotional and dynamic life as a footballer and the point in professional life where ‘hard work’ becomes a daily requirement, which may replace the fun part. In an adventure, there is often a happy ending and all 8 of the Chance 2010 winners earned opportunities in professional football.

 

Source:

Pearson, G. (2012). An ethnography of English football fans. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.rce:

 

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