And one more special message to go, and then I’m done, then I can go home…

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We’ve spoken before on this blog about the concept of the reclamation of negative imagery – in short, in Australian terms, it of course means taking the piss out of yourself, usually through some short sharp ad campaign to which Herald Sun writers can (generally) agree that, yes, that person can “poke fun at themselves”. The basic concept requires at least some level of self-awareness from the participant, but it doesn’t always work. It isn’t an easy thing to get right, because it requires at least some humour. And social media in 2017 is always going to call out your past. In a week where cuddly loveable Baz went back to being Barry Hall in the space of two punches, the past is becoming harder to escape…

When last we left THAT Footy Show, Sam Newman had decided the best way for the show to claw back some ratings points, and be a “fun show” that “made the players the stars” was to take 6 minutes of air time to start a rant on political correctness, the AFL Yes sign and of course “stick to sports!” – he did this to whoops and cheers from the audience, and got his head in the paper. We discussed in the last blog, this was the Footy Show brand now – tied to Newman, with entire shows coming and going without anyone noticing unless Newman said something ridiculous (or secondary way, Dave Hughes said something shit him and got a slagging). The only logical conclusion? The Footy Show could only do one thing – try to stick to football, try to “have fun”, embrace the spirit of the roast, and hope for the best. Little did we know they had another plan, but more of that in a moment…

That of course, is where we could have left the Footy Show for the year, struggling and battling for relevance behind the strident polemics of Newman and a slow long fade into oblivion. The news during the week that the Footy Show Grand Final show (once the “hottest ticket in the joint” c James Brayshaw) was considering tarping, Port Adelaide style, the top decks of Rod Laver Arena due to poor ticket sales, it seemed the final nail in the coffin. Even its marquee event seemed to have been left in the past. What was once the apex of the swaggering Melbourne Male media era, the moment the ratings figures justified their arrogance and fixed up the bottom line, that was over…if the Grand Final footy show can’t draw, where was the show going?

The Footy Show had of course hoped that the change of host from Craig Hutchison to Eddie McGuire would be enough, but that had failed early. The show was meandering along, and to be honest, it doesn’t have a strong reason to exist. Football shows are often and constant in 2017, and commercial television is fading from view. For younger viewers, the nostalgic return to the McGuire/Newman dream team was as appealing as dial-up and buying compact discs. The show hadn’t done anything to engage a younger audience. People were turning off, players were turning down invitations. Brands develop their personality over time, but there is always a point where a brand needs to try to come up with a personality change. The Footy Show reached the point of no return – its own brand was so toxic in the marketplace, it was losing in the ratings to “Footy Makes You Laugh Out Loud”. The brand of self confident dismissive chauvinism that it showcased in its heyday had lost its appeal. Even Triple M had made steps to change, and there was Newman carrying on like it was 1997….

Now, the one thing we do know about Eddie McGuire – he is tenacious. One of the things we mentioned in the last post was McGuire didn’t seem to have any great ideas, that his much hyped return hadn’t yielded any great ideas or inspirations beyond “Footybox” and that skit where he was on a horse. McGuire did clearly have on idea for the Grand Final Footy Show – and it wasn’t a subtle message. That message? Women! Look! We aren’t old dinosaurs sitting in the past! We have women! We even talk to them about football! Who do you think will win Erin! Isn’t she lovely, in her frock! Please keep watching…

Erin Phillips, the best player in the women’s game, appeared on the panel. It was an awkward, strange meeting of worlds. Phillips appearance in such a blokey world (her appearance was more or less buttressed by a montage of jokes about Jayden Hunts large middle finger, and you know what they say about guys with bing fingers, hint hint, packaged like the wittiest jape of the season) could of course be interpreted as a victory or a defeat, depending on your point of view. Phillips getting to hold up the Crows Premiership poster is a joyous thing in some ways, after all, it is still joyous to see womens footballers in these positions when these opportunities were not available, but still, it still felt an uneasy marriage of public relations convenience.

To which some people might ponder exactly what the Footy Show can do? After all, they did put a women’s player on live TV and promote her and sit her next to Shane Crawford as a Premiership hero. And I have sympathy for that view, to a point. It’s just from a PR position, it was such an obvious trope to pursue. In the wake of criticism and tethering their social sensibilities to Newman, to hitch your wagon to womens football out of nowhere (the Footy Show has hardly been having Sarah Perkins and Katie Brennan on every week for a chat) felt as much a victory as a defeat. It wasn’t hard to connect the PR dots together. Still, it would have fine if they’d left it there, Phillips deserves to be talking football on any show lucky enough to have her, and had it stopped there, it would have been a minor quibble. But then….

The Player Revue meanwhile was seemingly puttering along, showing again footballers amazing ability to dress like Bruno Mars and mime every so often to a Bee Gees song. However, it was the final image of the season that was interesting from a PR point of view. The show closed with Bec Maddern (we must get around to her later) miming to Beyonces “Run The World (Girls)” accompanied by podium dancing from AFL Womens players such as Tayla Harris and my beloved Lily Mithen. To sledgehammer the point that the (shouts in a Dave Hughes telling a joke voice WE LOVE GIRLS WE AREN’T SEXIST LOOK AT THEM UP THERE!!!) Footy Show is suddenly not all about FROFFIES (shout out) and fighting political correct no goodniks and Street Talk, they then showed over and over a series of girls in the aisles dancing (GET IT!) in footy jumpers, and the show ended with the song playing over and over and over as the end credits rolled….and just before it did, there was Eddie, grinning broadly, dressed as Neil Diamond (Eddie had poked fun at Caroline Wilson in his song, just to remind you of the awkward juxtaposition between host and the show he wanted you to believe it could become), because of course he was…

This wasn’t a subtle attempt at social progression, this was irony at its finest. That the show that mostly perfected the modern media landscape (ie blokey blokes doing blokey bloke things and saying mean things about each other for a laugh) was suddenly expecting to position itself at the forefront of gender equality in one song was…quite something. Because this wasn’t just a song in the middle of the players revue, this was the Footy Shows ham-fisted attempt at a “statement”, to broaden its parameters, and show, hey, women’s footballers! Tyson Goldsack is in an Ed Sheeran wig and Lily Mithen is in a beehive wig! THE SAME! Thought and effort went into that number being the closing statement, beyond the simple idea of getting womens footballers as “part of the fun”…

From a PR perspective, you might think the Footy Show has no other choice, after all this very blog truly believes its long-term survival is only going to come from changing pretty much everything about itself. But the basic truth is very simple – they genuinely thought that song was enough. That the entire show could hope to pivot and abandon years of blokey blokes humour with one Beyonce number and a relentless message hammered over the end credits was brazen and shameless. The strangest thing? After a week in which their misanthropic member said to whoops and cheers that the Footy Show should stick to sport, the show closed with a ham-fisted attempt at social progression. This wasn’t just a “bit of fun”, this was a neon blinking sign. WE AREN’T SEXIST…honest…look! We’re inclusive!

To stick entirely to branding, we said in the last blog post the Footy Shows longevity creates its own issues – expecting a show that has been on the air for so long to re-invent is extremely difficult, but not impossible. This was a show that once upon a time opened every show with Sam Newman coming out to the James Bond theme while a girl in the crowd got a glossy close up, that saw Newman wage war on Sam Lane, Caroline Wilson, Naomi Robson, that revels in double entendres straight out of the Graham Kennedy play book without the wit….and we could go on. While it’s not unreasonable to expect this show might at least try to play nice and stick to, ahem, “fun”. There was even the chance to play the full nostalgia card. And with all those choices, the way they choose to go? Our show loves women…

It was, using 2017s word of the year, distinctly uncomfortable….

Dusty O Dusty, decision night, don’t be so pretty….

While the Footy Show was attempting to pivot and scream social progression, another branding and marketing push was ongoing from the stage of the Brownlow Medal. Seconds after Bruce Mcavaney had concluded his strange pop psychology interview with Dustin Martin, Ralph Carr had come up with a marketing plan for his client – and Dustin had managed to reclaim his own negative imagery. Surliness had become authenticity. Carr later claimed his client had the potential to become a David Beckham style figure, but in truth, there was a much more obvious comparison. Marshawn Lynch in the NFL, who managed to turn refusal to answer questions into a marketing angle. It took Mike Golic, of all people, on ESPN, to point out how Lynch was marketing himself. And it came to fruition, and Lynch was seen giddily skipping around Scotland for Skittles….

The biggest problem in Carrs master plan is how to take authenticity and market it without cynicism kicking in. Martins brand is (as giddily articulated by Gerard Whateley) is that’s he’s himself. If he wants to talk to people he will (and he has developed a relationship with said Footy Show, through Dane Swan) and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. The last thing Carr should be positioning for Martin is some sort of jokey ill-fitting Sportsbet type “I’m laughing at myself!” nonsense either side of Nathan Brown shilling odds. From a PR perspective, it’s easy to see how that could be a branding pitch. This is the apex of Martins marketing potential, especially if he wins a Premiership. Without question, marketing and branding is part of the plan to reclaim lost income from the North Melbourne rejection.

Martin is a classic example of “brand personality”, a brand personality being something to which the consumer can relate. For Martin, his brand is authenticity, being genuine, relatable. Now, the greatest challenge in PR presents – taking something authentic and trying to make money off it. It’s like the old marketing joke – “Nirvana are so authentic and gritty! Once we make our own version we’ll be rich!”…it will be fascinating to see exactly what decision Carr decides to make when it comes to accepting ad campaigns and marketing plans for Martin. We hope it’s not a Sportsbet ad…

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