I paved the road that would one day leave me lonely


It’s been a strange week for anyone who follows PR closely. It’s actually a strange time in general. We’ve talked before about the strange ways of social media, the way trying to keep up with memes and trends on social media is impossible, since cynicism means as soon as something is “in an ad” the trend is over. Strategies are more difficult than ever to select – and we all live in a PR bubble, and we don’t know what you think, you pesky consumers.

PR is basically split on whether to go big or go small, to produce a lot of little content or one piece of content. The big ad or the little ad. The constant tweets or the big TV ad like the old days? Repetition or a burst of activity? No one really knows anymore. Marketing is tough, with people chasing those damn millennials and their streaming options.

We’ve spoken before about how a lot of marketing campaigns fail because after the initial launch event (and launch events aren’t anywhere near as important as they used to be) there’s a distinct lack of care and attention paid to following up.

So if you are launching a sports competition from the ground up, be it season 1 or season 2, what do you choose? The big splashy launch or the smaller events? Cost effective strategies or getting a big brand influencer? Give the people what they want or tell them what they want? A big PR stunt or one hour of photos at Etihad stadium?

Marketing is as much in the hands of the public, who are becoming more and more informed. A carefully constructed marketing campaign, a new logo, a new slogan…it can be ripped apart in seconds on social media. Then again, some companies think that’s good. Anything is better than being ignored. Ask the Channel 7 commentary team, by policy encouraged to be terrible at times just to be noticed…

Grass roots social media campaigns terrify people in marketing, who work backwards in a hurry to try to work out the joke and the reference point. Marketers will often take credit for things they don’t have any involvement with purely because they understand it better than anyone.

It’s hard to work out sometimes the balance between niche marketing (which sometimes is claimed by companies as their brilliant idea in the first place to cover up the fact that they didn’t really have a plan or an ad campaign ready to go). Oh it was niche, totally niche, you wouldn’t understand, our 1 tweet every 6 weeks was a real winner of a strategy…

With AFLW, AFLMHQ doesn’t understand what it has, and how to market it, but boy howdy will Gil be in the photo when there’s a big crowd at Perth Stadium…

That said, a lot of people are still going to go to the old ways – sheer bloody minded determination to use big personalities, big campaigns and splashy graphics. It’s like the big ad campaigns of Coca Cola in the past, like Robin Beck was singing her heart out in the 80s.

This blog post is a recap of two marketing styles: one shiny, brash, determined to scream THIS IS FUN in big bold letters over and over until the message sticks, featuring brand influencers, video teasers and buzz words. The other is more grass-roots, ignored and shoved into the corner for this shiny new toy.

This is a recap of the week that was AFLX vs AFLW…

Get em high for this

AFLX, the AFLs shiny promotional toy, got to kick itself into overdrive, to the point where no fewer than 5 of the 10 featured videos on the AFL website referenced AFLX – North Melbourne “loving” the game in the sun, BJ Goddard talking about how much he loved it, and Dangerfield “grilling” Gil on the fun in store among the treats you could click on and “enjoy”.

That’s on top of a twisting MS Paint equivalent video explanation of the rules, individual club websites asking fans to “send in your dream AFLX team!” from their list, and battering the key words through every article: fast, unique, fast, kids, fast, revolutionary, fast. And of course….fast….

The most dis-spiriting moment of the week though was a breathless live cross from Tim Watson to generic male door stop reporter 8732 for a release of (GASP!) the fixture, and the announcement each of the three nights of AFLX will have a grand final at the end! Yes, YOUR team can be one of only THREE AFLX Premiers! There might even be a T-shirt!

In pure PR terms, getting Dangerfield, Goddard, North Melbourne and others to endorse this is pretty obvious marketing. We talk often in marketing about brand influencers, and clearly at some point the word went around from AFLM HQ that it would be, ahem, “mutually beneficial” to get at least some AFL stars out there.

After all, if Dustin Martin wanders onto the ground for 3 minutes and kicks a goal from the back line, that’s the shot for the promo right? Not to mention our budding little interviewer Dangerfield joining in the fun. Don’t forget to say “unique” and “fast”, that’d really help us…

While a few years ago PR people struggled badly to understand brand influencers, and buzzed around YouTube wondering who these new people talking into steadicams were and how to make money off them, it’s still just a fancy new word for the old celebrity endorsement. AFLX is about ensuring at least one person per club is on board to pump out the publicity. It doesn’t matter who, it’s content. Constant, loud, blaring content…

On top of this, we’d imagine the launch event is going to be VERY loud and aggressive. This is the build up to the launch event. We don’t know what it is going to be, but it’s going to be in your face. This is the marketing strategy. It’s slick, it’s omnipresent, and it’s just getting started…

Meanwhile, in competitions they’ve forgotten exist…

I am sinking in this silence

While everyone was getting tizzied up about AFLX, the AFLW competition was left to fend for itself. There was one at least one positive: the release of the AFLW app. This is an immense positive, and hopefully produces a lot of promised “different content”. We’ve spoken before about how much we hope that AFLW players get to speak in their own voice and their own style, and if the app gives them that, nothing but positives for that on all levels (marketing included)

There were other positives: the fabulous Lily Mithen got to work on a podcast which is always fantastic, clubs held launch events and we’ll never tire of seeing those “one team” club photos where the M and W teams are in the same photo. Also, Daisy Pearce got a key role on SEN radio, hopefully without being told by Hamish McLachlan to commentate on a boundary thrown in (also without the patronising “well done” at the end).

But again, other than the app, this wasn’t anything AFLM HQ did to support their own product. The Mithen podcast? Done by Channel 7. The launches? Done by the clubs. Daisy Pearce? That was SEN. The ad campaigns? Well we’re waiting on those. The promotional material, the AFL launches, the cross promotions with mainstream media? Um…did you see we have an app?

AFLMs idea of promotion was to tweet us out a little tweet to show us how much they are promoting AFLW in response to a query about AFLW promotion. That clip? A 25 second video promoting Perth’s new stadium, featuring no mention of Fremantle or Collingwood (who are playing there), the date of the game, or any female footballers or any kind. We’re sure it’s a fabulous stadium full of craft beer, but the clip didn’t exactly inspire confidence that AFLW was a priority to HQ…

That was on top of the revelation that AFLW was being shunted for the most part onto 7Mate, the secondary channel. We talked before that there was something dis-spiriting about seeing the most inspiring of female competitions shunted onto a channel originally designed to be a paradise for Alpha Males (the original launch teaser for 7Mate was just the word “Mate” said in a Straayaan voice over and over).

We spoke as far back as last year about the AFLW State of Origin game being woefully under promoted compared to James Brayshaws return to the commentary box in the Whitten game and that there was little to no merchandise available to buy. It’s gotten worse since then.

AFLW still doesn’t have a visible ad or presence in media, and it’s being noticed and felt. Brisbane Lions player Jessica Wuetschner tweeted out “although there has been little to no media or promoting of the AFLW season, just know that we all have faith that the incredible fans from last year and more will turn out in spades and support us in the 2018 season” – when one of your own players is mentioning you haven’t got off your ass to promote the season, you’d concede you have a problem.

It’s too late now for AFLW to hit the ground running in terms of marketing: to recap, there’s no televised ad campaign, no presence in mainstream media, a tweet of a stadium is seen as “promotion”, the website didn’t have/doesn’t have practice scores live, and the whole competition has been shoved hard into a corner. It’s AFLX that dominates the airwaves, and we must all pay attention just in case 1 person in China might pick up the game…

After all, Gil hasn’t sat down for a “grilling” from Katie Brennan or Daisy Pearce has he…

Drinking in the summer, I’m good at running

There’s no right way to launch a product or a league, but something we talk about often is this is the content era: we’re constantly aware that leagues or events or businesses that don’t engage and produce content are doomed to failure. AFLW being left to fend for itself its a dis-spiriting marketing reality. It also makes no commercial sense.

It truly is strange that rather than engage a female audience, Gil McLachlan and his Dangerfield style chosen group of endorsers would choose to pursue a one in a million chance of getting a game of AFLX in China rather than a consumer friendly pursuit of young female fans who want to buy and purchase and engage.

AFLX is about grabbing all the buzz, the tweets and the hashtags, and to do that they’ll gain any marketing advantage they can, no matter what it is: did you know you can kick a goal FROM THE BACKLINE! And Brendon Goddard likes it? And North Melbourne loved it? And everyone loves it? And Simon Lethlean loves it? If you don’t, you soon will…

This means – app aside – there’s no time to focus on anything else. AFLW is left to be its own thing, its own entity. There’s no momentum going into the new season, and when the two competitions collide on the 17th of February, we know where the marketing muscle goes. AFLW is now officially a grass-roots movement again: back to being on trial, back to having to prove itself. Back to having to challenge people to support it, hope that they come out and find out the fixturing through word of mouth.

So yes, AFLW is officially back to square one in a marketing sense…

The positive in a grass-roots marketing effort for those relatively unconcerned about the AFLW summer of slumber is that the hardcore rusted on fans can find the information they want through alternative media, through like-minded podcasts and social media corners far away from slick marketing.

An alternative media future for AFLW sounds good, but if AFLM loses interest, who knows where that can end up? Are there enough AFLW alternative podcasts that can be created to show we care? There’s no evidence of care and concern or even a plan from AFLM. AFLX? That has a plan, and it’s loud, and it’s constant and it’s screamed from the heavens. AFLW? They still don’t understand it, they wing it, and every low attendance can be an excuse to give up. That’s the AFLW strategy, every day is a trial, prove you want it…

AFLX? You WILL want it. That’s the difference…

Of course, that grass-roots movement so glowingly talked about in season 1 now essentially has to start again, be on trial again, and show up another AFL endorsed, Patrick Dangerfield blustered shiny toy…whichever marketing campaign you believe works the best, it’s a dis-spiriting way to start the year…



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