The battle of sponsored shirt

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The Independent Online
THE SELLING OF SPORT: How do you use a sports personality to sell a product? We asked four leading agencies to play fantasy advertising and design a poster featuring one of Britain's most controversial footballers, Vinnie Jones. Here are their offerings and the rationale behind the creations NO ONE had really rated Zina Garrison-Jackson's chances for Wimbledon in 1990. She arrived as fifth seed, but Steffi Graf was strong favourite, and if Graf did not win, then Martina Navratilova would. So no one noticed either that Garrison-Jackson, in the absence of a sponsor, was w earing Navratilova's own line of merchandise called "Martina". But Garrison-Jackson kept on winning, and when she upset all the odds by knocking out Graf in a three-set semi-final, a dreadful realisation dawned on all. Cinderella had no clothes to wear t o the ball.

For a top-10 player to arrive at the competition with no major sponsor was extraordinary. Likewise the possibility of playing in the final against the woman whose kit she was sporting for free. Surely no one could play in a Wimbledon singles final without hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of endorsement stitched to their sleeve. Of course they couldn't. The moment she beat Graf, the phones at the Putney offices of her agent started ringing.

The field was soon down to two companies going head-to-head in a bid for Garrison-Jackson's clothing contract. Others, meanwhile, had spotted that one of the two three-square-inch spaces was still available on her shirt.

The night before the final, verbal contracts were agreed: Reebok would provide the wardrobe, and Sun Diamond raisins would fill that spare sleeve space. On Centre Court, Garrison-Jackson went on to lose in a one-sided final, but the £103,000 she collected for coming second was peanuts next to the six-figure contracts agreed the day before.

Back in 1947, the women's singles title at Wimbledon was won by Margaret Osborne, an American player with a considerable serve and volley, and Wally Hammond returned from Down Under with an England cricket team who had been given a 3-0 thumping by Don Bradman's Australians in the Ashes. The thought of slapping a patch on any of the players' sleeves was fantastic.

However, Denis Compton, one of Hammond's humbled England team, was about to break the mould. Coca-Cola had already cottoned on to the commercial possibilities in sport - in 1906, at baseball's World Series, the company logo was emblazoned over the umpires' ball-and-strike indicators -but it was not before Compton that the selling power of the personality was exploited. Compton was chatting to the late Reg Hayter, a journalist, at the docks on his return from Australia and Hayter offered to look after a pile of mail that Compton had not got round to dealing with. In the post was a letter from Brylcreem. Soon the dashing features of Compton, with black tie and slicked-back hair, were to be seen in magazines and on billboards advertising the hair cream.

This was possibly the first example of the agent's business, a market that Mark McCormack, an accomplished amateur golfer, was to transform in 1958 when his friend, Arnold Palmer, asked for some help with his commercial affairs. McCormack started tying Palmer's name to golf merchandise and in two years the golfer's annual income had risen from $60,000 to $500,000. However, it was when McCormack was persuaded to push Palmer into the dry-cleaning business that the future really dawned. McCormack ha d beenvery sceptical about the project, but by 1966 there were 100 Palmer dry-cleaning centres in the US. "What we all learned," wrote McCormack in his biography of Palmer, "was that if two dry-cleaning shops are going to open in the same block, it is t he Palmer shop that has the best chance to succeed. You do not have any reason to think Arnold can wash your shirts, but you know he excels at golf, has a reputation for being the best and seems like a familiar friend. This, in turn, meant that no field was not feasible for an Arnold Palmer franchise."

So it was that soon you could buy insurance from a Palmer agency, push a Palmer lawn-mower, use Palmer's after shave and listen to Palmer music (though Music for Swingin' Golfers was by no means a runaway success). In 1966, when McCormack was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying "If a good orange grove came along, we'd buy it", more than 30 endorsement offers came in from orange grove owners.

Palmer is still the fourth highest earner in sport, even though only $100,000 of the $13.6m he netted last year came from golf-course winnings. Top of the list is Michael Jordan, largely due to a Nike campaign in the early Eighties which brand managers recognise as the biggest and most successful ever. What Nike discovered in Jordan was an athlete whose appeal crossed over black and white, who was both hip and respectable, and in whose name the creation of a whole line of footwear and clothing made the company a market leader. In aligning a product to a player, the image the personality portrays is all-important, and in Jordan Nike scored maximum points.

A new profile for the meat substitute Quorn was the intention of Marlow Foods last April when they launched their ads starring Will Carling and Sally Gunnell with their respective partners. Market research showed that the public pictured Quorn as a vegetarian product and the company decided to target instead the larger, health-conscious percentage of the population. Health and taste were therefore the two aspects to be stressed and thus Abbott Mead Vickers, their advertising agency, hit on the idea of using partners, one to emphasise each.

So why the Gunnells and the Carlings? Both fulfilled the criteria, and with each couple, the Hello! factor, whereby the public are taken into their (studio) homes, would work. Also both were high-profile and were consumers of the product before the admenever came knocking. "But what made them ideal was they had the right energy, sense of humour and, importantly, they were aspirational," says Cilla Snowball, the account director. "Will Carling was shown behind the stove," adds David Wilson, Quorn's marketing manager, "and not as a big, beefy meat-eater. This was not the macho profile he had before which is something people would pick up on."

For the athletes, there is the substantial five-figure sum to think about. However, they cannot sell out; excessive exposure reduces their marketability. Within a week of Brian Lara scoring his 375 in April, his agent, Jonathan Barnett, received some 70 endorsement offers. Barnett accepted six major commitments which, with a few minor deals, are making Lara around £500,000 a year, yet the number of endorsements is expected to be slimmed down without financial loss.

If a personality is to remain hot property, he or she also has to consider how a brand endorsement will affect their own profile. Carling has, for instance, turned down an offer to endorse Camel clothing because of the association with cigarettes, but deemed Quorn an ethical product and the ad in sufficiently good taste. The ad proved extremely successful: Quorn sales doubled and awareness of the product grew four-fold.

As Lara's 375 proved, success sells athletes. Quorn would never have signed Carling and Gunnell but for their reputations as winners. However, as Nike have shown time and again, the athlete's image is a big factor in the market place. Few films have doneas much to reshape an athlete's image as the ad Barilla pasta made with Steffi Graf in 1991.

The film showed Graf in a tight, sleeveless dress, while subtle shades of light picked out her shining blond hair which stood out in contrast with the dark of the rest of the scene. Graf, lying on a sofa, played with the pasta and talked about it as if it were jewellery. This was the first time Graf had been given such a sensual portrayal and the effect on sales, particularly in Germany, was startling.

"It is rewarding that it isn't just about buying names," says Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney, the advertising company who run the Adidas account. "It is about finding the right people and using them properly. They've got to be folk heroes as well as sports heroes."

Bidding for the big players, however, is the game that three main competitors, Adidas, Nike and Reebok, are playing. In August, as soon as Jurgen Klinsmann arrived in British football, a price war began and Adidas lost out to Reebok, who signed the German striker for £1m.

Adidas often lose out to the opposition with the better-lined pockets, but what they have on their side is history. In May, when Reebok launched the Manchester Dream Team ad in which Ryan Giggs scores a goal set up by Best, Charlton, Coppell, Law and others, most of the advertising world looked on in awe at the ground-breaking use of computer graphics. Not so Leagas Delaney who realised that, bar Giggs, the Dream Team couldn't possibly have worn Reeboks as the company only started manufacturing football boots in 1989. A little research later and mobile billboards appeared outside Old Trafford and the Reebok headquarters in Bolton with an Adidas ad carrying the tagline: "The Reebok Dream Team. Eight of them wore Adidas."

"There is a serious war going on now," says Delaney. "But Adidas is the number one soccer brand in the world, so we don't have anything to prove. Reebok are having to show their credentials and they are buying everyone they can."

The Adidas line-up is pretty handy itself, though: a midfield including Ince and Redondo with Koeman sweeping up behind them. But as dream teams go, most people would fancy the Nike all-stars with Cantona, Wright, Maldini, Bebeto and Romario kicking it around as they do in the cinema ad. USA '94 may have been a success, but a competition between players wearing competing brands wouldn't be too bad either. Such is the price on players' heads - and feet - it may not be far away.

FANTASY AD 1: Saatchi and Saatchi for Comfies underwear (left)

"For an upmarket brand of Y-fronts (such as the fictional Comfies) the appeal of Vinnie Jones is twofold," Simon Dicketts, who created the advert, said. "First, because he is such a well-known figure, he would bring the product to the attention of a lot more consumers. The other aspect that he would bring to the product is his hardness. Many people might think that there is something cissy about wearing briefs like these, but if they saw Vinnie in an advert wearing them then they might be persuaded otherwise. He is a very stimulating, high-profile character who attracts a lot of attention in everything he does and that can only be of benefit in an advertising context. One of the checks we use on adverts like this is to substitute the celebrity with another person who does the same job (in this case another footballer) and see if the execution works as well. In this instance, no other character would have been more suited to the message than Vinnie, which means that his image will be working hard for the product."

FANTASY AD 3: Banks Hoggins O'Shea for The National Cricket Association (right)

"Vinnie is ideal for this fantasy campaign because he is not a good advert for football," says Geoff Smith, the ad's creative director. "The way we came up with it was simply by asking ourselves: `What would Vinnie Jones be a good advert for?' The immediate answer is `Not football'. Why cricket? Because it is the other national game. It is football's opposite. Cricket is supposed to be a gentleman's game: football just isn't cricket. It asks why we aren't teaching cricket more at schools.

"Because Vinnie is a footballer and we are using him for an advert for cricket, the ad should grab your attention immediately. It's twisting your expectations on its head."

FANTASY AD 2: Cowan Kemsley Taylor for Mothercare (above)

"The ad is saying it's all right for fathers to shop at Mothercare," say Sebastian Vince and Matthew Turrell, the ad's creative team. "Particularly as he is a father, we saw Vinnie Jones as a very good symbol of a macho man who can appeal to young fathers. And you have to pick an extreme, because the message it is delivering is much clearer.

"Advertising in this category is traditionally cliche-ridden: idealistic pictures of cute little babies, the kind of imagery that would never appeal to men. That is something we thought Vinnie could address very neatly."

Fantasy ad 4: GGT for the Conservative Party (above)

"The great benefit that Vinnie Jones can bring to any product is that he has the ability to `break the media','' said Andy Lockley, who created the advert with James Gillham. "Any company that uses him in an advert immediately courts an enormous amount of media interest just because of who he is. That means they can get a lot of exposure without necessarily spending much money. That would certainly be the case if Vinnie were to be associated with the Conservative Party, as we have him in our fantasy ad.The idea is that Vinnie is approached by the Tories to enhance their public opinion, and become a special adviser on Europe to John Major. He appears in publicity shots with the Prime Minister and is so popular that he becomes an MP. His assertiveness at European summit meetings leads to an outbreak of Vinniemania in the country and he eventually ousts Major."