Claire Beale on Advertising

Adland wonders what returns it might get from serving up tennis
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The Independent Online

RIP Stella Artois's sponsorship of the annual Queen's Club tennis tournament. Earlier this year Stella announced it was pulling out of the event after 30 years, marking the end of an era.

The iconic Stella event was created as a sponsorship vehicle for the beer in the Seventies by Sir Frank Lowe of Stella's ad agency Lowe Howard-Spink. Sir Frank (or just plain Mr Lowe as he was back then) was on the Queen's Club committee and also ran the Stella account, so it seemed like a good idea at the time to marry the two. And it was. A very good idea, though it does rather seem as though the neat strategic fit of using tennis as a way of moving the Stella brand upmarket was a smart bit of retrospective logic.

So the tennis tie-up came to echo Stella's "reassuringly expensive" marketing strategy (even if Pimm's and champagne were more likely the tipples of choice for patrons, and real Stella drinkers were hardly likely to be tennis fans).

Anyway by the beginning of this year, Stella's owner, InBev, had clearly decided that neither the associations with such a genteel sport nor the expensive "reassuringly expensive" ad strategy were quite working; Stella still can't quite shake its image as a drink for wife-beaters rather than for boozers with refined tastes. So it has brought the Artois name to the fore and the tennis links are being dropped.

All of which means that the Lawn Tennis Association is now on the hunt for a new set of sponsors willing to pump £24m into the game over the next four years. It won't be easy to find a headline-brand sponsor with that sort of money to devote to a sport like tennis. There are plenty more popular alternatives if sport is your marketing thing.

Mind you, take a look at the brands falling over themselves for a piece of the Maria Sharapova action this Wimbledon and it's clear that tennis (at least Sharapova's brand of tennis) still has a real marketing pull. Land Rover, Tag Heuer, Nike and Canon are amongst the brands paying for her association.

But sponsoring a hot female tennis star is one thing, putting money down for the sport itself is another. It's certainly true that there are better ways to spend a £24m marketing booty if you want a short-term boost to sales. How about advertising, for a start? But in these socially-aware times, short-term sales boosts are only one concern of marketers. For brands keen to demonstrate their corporate social responsibilities, sport is an increasingly powerful tool.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is already doing a great job of presenting sport as a balm for our social conscience, using it to give young people a positive structure to their lives. And the LTA is determined to use some of its sponsorship money in a similar way to encourage young people to participate in grass-roots tennis by funding council-run courts. All of which Sir Martin Sorrell would no doubt approve of in his quest for a more socially responsible ad industry.

Let's hope the LTA pulls it off, and not just for the sake of the future of the sport. In its day, the Stella tennis provided adland with one of the nicest corporate-hospitality events in the calendar. Lowe (the agency and the man himself) was always a star host at the event and many other agencies followed suit. What a shame it would be if agencies lost this opportunity to spend a lovely day out of the office in the name of client entertainment.

Meanwhile, the Robinsons Squash's Wimbledon ads have always been another annual barometer of the arrival of the (wet) British summer.

But last year Robinsons owner Britvic pulled the plug on TV advertising around the brand's sponsorship of the tournament, though it stuck with British hopefuls Tim Henman and Andy Murray for a rather less exciting Wimbledon-orientated direct-mail campaign.

This year, though, there's no big TV ad, no British tennis star, just an on-pack promotion. In fact, you might just get through the summer without thinking of Robinsons Squash at all. Ah, the end of another era.

Britain is having a few problems at the moment with fuel, houses, food, that sort of thing. You've probably noticed. Adland has and it's digging deep for its social conscience. The realisation has dawned that simply encouraging people to spend money they haven't got might not be in the best long-term interests of the already punitively regulated advertising industry.

So, as adland giant Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the ad industry has to respond to these changing, challenging times with more initiatives to persuade consumers to act responsibly. That means initiatives to help curb binge drinking, binge eating, binge spending; and initiatives to foster a greater focus on caring for the environment, conserving natural resources, being less profligate and creating a safer, more nurturing social structure. Well, good ad agencies relish a challenge.

And how about initiatives to encourage the educated middle classes to stop moaning about the country and get off their arses to do something about it? Like to enter a talent contest to find men and women with the vision and the ability to empower the nation, perhaps? Sounds like a good idea to me, so perhaps British advertising could learn from a recent ad campaign in India that aimed to find the country's next political leaders.

The campaign in question was created by JWT Mumbai for The Times of India and it exhorted people to rise up and be counted in the fight to improve their country. And it turned out to be one of the most extraordinary campaigns to be fêted at last week's Cannes advertising festival. The campaign kicked off with a rallying full-page press ad that resulted in 34,000 people registering on line to enter a talent competition to find people with "the kind of political leadership that is so conspicuous by its absence". Whatever you think of the state of Indian politics, you've got to admit that's quite an emotive line.

Eight people were chosen in a Pop Idol-style showdown that gripped the nation. So much so, in fact, that the final winner is now expected to run for prime minister, while the seven other short-listed contestants have all taken active roles in politics and community affairs.

I can think of no better demonstration of the power of advertising to inspire people and to effect social change. It won India its first ever Cannes Grand Prix.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'

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