One of the hardest things in any marketing campaign is trying to explain the emotive, intangible part of what you are trying to accomplish in your PR goals.
Emotions seem abstract, intangible and irrational to people trying to crunch numbers and work out advertising strategies and revenues.
This is particularly true in PR campaigns involving existing brands that people love and are loyal to.
It’s one thing to talk about verticals and brand loyalty and customer personalization.
Living it, believing in it, and understanding why people love a brand is a very different proposition.
In the last blog, we talked about how AFLX was pitched as being for kids and some vague “non traditional demographic”.
We spoke about how AFLX had no emotional core to it, no reason to come back to it and certainly no reason to believe world altering franchises were around the corner.
AFLX is a night of content, a singular event.
While there is nothing wrong with that, from a brand point of view the selling points they were pitching prior to it about kids and growing the game through Team Rampage can never be fulfilled.
In contrast, AFLW is a league that can leave an emotive legacy and genuinely grow the game through participation and the creation of new heroes.
It’s a curiosity as to why that potential has not been fully marketed on or understood by AFLHQ.
With the positioning of AFLW as a brand, it’s hard to think those at HQ have clued into its greatest marketing strength.
That strength is the sheer loyalty to the brand many fans already have.
After every game the players are signing autographs for anyone who wants one.
After every game the players are connecting and ensuring those who want to meet their heroes aren’t disappointed, even after defeats.
By contrast, Alex Rance riding into Marvel Stadium on a Segway is a Twitter fireworks show.
It’s a gag, a moment they hope goes viral, but what brand loyalty does it build?
What’s the marketing strategy that converts that into a kid becoming a lifelong Alex Rance fan (crucially, not a Richmond fan, since Dangerfield says the future of sports marketing is for kids to support players not teams)?
Does that moment equate on an emotive level to a little girl getting an autograph from Erin Phillips?
Why is that not championed, shown on every available media platform?
On a basic PR level, the simplest thing for the AFL websites to do would be find and round-up every available photo of post game autograph signings and share them far and wide.
This would promote AFLW as the genuine football experience that people claim to lack these days in the era of kisscams and dance troupes.
It’s part of a strange dichotomy that AFLW has the genuine authentic community experience nostalgic conservative football fans claim to hanker for in a soulless sporting era.
Seemingly because that experience involves women, it too must be decried or have a cap put on its potential.
The one thing that is clear is AFLHQ still don’t know to sell and connect emotionally with AFLW fans.
The failure to put on a game on International Womens Day is testament to that, as is the 1/2 baked Marvel Superhero round, which wasn’t sold with confidence at all.
While we were against the Marvel themed tie in, once it was in place, it had to be sold a lot better.
The AFLW double-header didn’t involve multiple attempts to give tickets away like AFLX did, and lacked a promotional push at the end, let alone free tickets given away to AFL members and schoolkids.
Three years in AFLHQ still don’t understand the values that underpin the AFLW competition.
The values that underpin AFLW have become emotive and incongruous to the “kick more goals” narrative that AFLHQ wants to promote.
Understanding the humor, values, community and the way AFLW fans communicate to each other requires more thinking than simply promoting football the old way on goals and stats.
AFLX is easy to promote, it’s garish, it’s “funky” (c Nat Fyfe), it’s loud – it’s easy to promote via sheer volume, even if the reasoning for that is flawed.
That’s harder, that involves changing marketing mindsets, listening to new fans and new voices, releasing all existing prejudices on how to market “footy” and changing the tone and adapting.
However the rewards for finding a way to connect, market to the community and tap into the purchasing power of AFLW fans (especially younger female fans) would logically have more upside than AFLX.
When the brand loyalty is higher, the rewards are greater.
If the league can work that out, it would be significant and grow the league and game, and create a greater sense of belonging to female fans and participants.
AFLW can differentiate itself in so many ways, and trade on its emotional connection with its fans, but at this point in time, they still don’t know quite how to do it.
They haven’t sufficiently found a way to market the differences between mens and womens football.
Neither the Dare to Create and GenW campaigns have resonated with the marketplace.
In truth, there may not be a singular marketing and advertising campaign that resonates, if they stick to the “slogan that sticks” ideal of marketing.
A lot of people in PR now believe mass marketing and advertising blitzes that focus on product selling are archaic, and that the best way to market is through a campaign that creates brand loyalty and emotive connections.
Simply putting Dare to Create on a website isn’t enough.
While GenW flirted around the edges of an emotive campaign, it didn’t connect due to a lack of follow-up effort.
The people on the screen in those ads became nameless stock images, rather than individual people with stories to tell.
There have been opportunities (and we’ll discuss one below) to personalise and individualise the stories of the women around the league, playing the game and supporting the game.
Even the commentary on AFLW games (even from the redoubtable Kelli Underwood) can lapse into folksy generalisations around how some former netballers and mothers of two are doing so gosh darn well to play our great game.
If AFLW really wanted to sell itself as a brand, as far back as season 1 we talked about greater personalization and the opportunities to create unique fan experiences.
If our favorite player is say Brooke Lochland or Cora Staunton, the app will give me personalised experiences around those players, post match interviews and a variant of their story that we can access.
Again, the contrast to AFLX is worth noting, because one of the selling points was that kids will follow players in the future, rather than teams.
AFLX isn’t going to give that connection, and imagining that Eddie Betts in a sharp suit is going to do that comes from a place that misunderstands Australian sporting culture.
What they are really thinking of is the ability to sell personalised merchandise like the NBA, a league where favorite player matters as much as favorite team, where the jersey is as significant as who you support.
AFLW isn’t about selling personalised jerseys, which is the ultimate marketing goal of AFLX, but it is a more realistic chance of creating personalised interactions, since the chance of meeting and following your hero is far greater.
That’s not to say initiatives like the AFLW Unfiltered series and the Heroes documentary on the ABC aren’t worthwhile, but they usually end up being swallowed up and underpromoted comparative to other initiatives.
HQ still don’t fully understand what the emotive connection AFLW fans feel towards their heroes actually consists of.
At this stage, no one from HQ has understood the values of the league, and the responsibility for tuning into the values of the fans has fallen to the individual clubs.
A club like the GWS Giants for instance have no traditional baggage around what a “footy” club should be, and market their womens team as an inclusive part of their sporting brand.
The Giants social media team has been ahead of the curve all season, promoting the womens team, taking people inside the walls, and in particular telling the emotive stories of their debutants.
They aren’t the only club to have upped their social media game in season three, but they are one of those that have been able to integrate their womens promotion seamlessly into the main feeds without facing significant backlash from “footy” traditionalists.
When GWS posted the clip around Tait Mackrill finding out she was making her debut, it had a particular resonance because of the set up to her finding out and the story behind it that involved several knockbacks and rejections due to fitness.
The ABC followed up on this on their Australian Story show, making the Mackrill story a feature, that included an emotional clip of her grandparents saying how proud they were of her.
Even those “footy” traditionalists could understand the story – after a long period of rejection, Mackrill was finally making her debut.
Given the Giants and the ABC had told the story so well, you’d think that AFLHQ would distribute the story far and wide.
Instead, that was where the story ended.
Instead of telling the story of Mackrill on the main website, it was subsumed by Eddie Betts buying a suit or Jack Riewoldt winning a game of paper, rock scissors.
This sums up the disconnect that frustrates those in PR monitoring the league, that such obvious mutual free publicity is missed, that such chances simple drift by without being taken.
There’s a marketing mythology which is growing that AFLW players are inherently more interesting than their male counterparts, which isn’t entirely true or fair.
It’s unfair to say male players can’t be interesting, or tell interesting stories, and it’s unfair to make a generalisation about everyone.
What can be said is that womens football is better placed to tell stories – male football still locks themselves inside Ross Lyons famous “bubble”, and has an inherent conservatism.
Trying to market a male football team or player, there are several levels of PR and marketing managers resistant to let stories be told or promote anything that becomes “bulletin board” material.
In lieu of that, male footballers are also suspicious of the media and opening up, since the football media has gained a reputation for sensationalism, clickbait and general Kane Cornesing that means male players don’t answer questions with honesty.
There’s also a marketing issue around striking a balance between telling the stories of the female players but respecting them as athletes.
As we said above, there’s been a noticable backlash towards AFLW commentators who over emphasise the players amount of children or past sporting profession at the expense of providing expertise in their on field commentary.
Balancing building a genuine connection between fans and players would thus from a marketing point of view be about telling stories about the players as athletes and their off field stories.
As the sport grows, the quality of writing around AFLW would theoretically increase, and make promoting the athlete easier.
Again, all of this is about creating emotive connections, lasting connections, growing heroes and finding a way to grow womens football.
And again, this is all something that should be a positive discussion – it doesn’t have to be negative, from a marketing point of view, AFLW has limitless possibilities.
This puts it in contrast to AFLX, which can’t build anything with a genuine lasting connection.
Trying to balance all of this from a PR point of view isn’t particularly easy, but the lack of a coherent marketing strategy (and indeed strategy for anything) means AFLW is always chasing it’s own tail.
Everything ends up being ad hoc, to point that things that are obvious and easy to promote are missed.
Particularly since there is a logical answer to all of these issues staring everyone in the face.
How Erin Phillips has never been involved in a national advertising campaign is a question no one can truly answer….