Feels like a long story starting, promise not to promise…

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In marketing, we often talk about the grand gesture. We talk about this a lot because often we’re convincing ourselves that we’re doing something. Oh, we nod sagely, we’re into digital media this year. What does that mean? Our company sent out a couple of tweets. We’ve really aggressively pursued younger consumers – ie we asked the CEOs kid what they thought of a particular ad.

Those kind of people generally float to the middle of PR, but they always have a good grasp of the latest technology, well, how to describe it vaguely. They can’t sell you it, but they can use key phrases about it. Those type of people are the kind of people who say the fact that the company they are producing material for hasn’t tweeted for a month is a “nuanced, subtle strategy….”

The trick is to exaggerate what you do into a strategy. Marketing and PR is so full of bluff and bluster, it’s unlikely anyone will stop to questions. Most people have some good buzzwords to go to when cornered on what they actually do in PR: oh I’m in digital design, or I’m in charge of collating data for the youth market. Occasionally, you’ll have to justify this with some kind of gesture, some kind of grand idea…

Maybe they’ll pay you to put a W on a wall…

Todays AFLW season launch put a full stop on the AFLM endorsed summer of slumber, a marketing mess in which AFLW played second fiddle to AFLX. On the very day of the AFLW launch, right under a story about Tayla Harris, Jon Ralph reworked an AFLM PR Release about AFLX, with the shock revelation that AFLX is going to be high scoring! Yes folks, that game with a smaller field and 10 point goals is going to be a higher scoring affair! Talk about a scoop…

When last we left our examination of the summer of slumber, Carlton had just launched a teaser trailer where the Collingwood game played second fiddle to a food truck, the AFL website tweeted out a 25 second trailer for a stadium as proof of women’s football support, ad campaigns were no existent, and the season was shoved onto secondary channel 7Mate.

That was on top of players like Jessica Wuetschner tweeting out concerns about the lack of media to promote the season, and people on social media expressing surprise the season was happening at all. This blog has one constant mantra: this is the content era good or bad. Inertia and inactivity are not an option. Updating a website every 4 days isn’t an option. It’s something the AFLM HQ understand with AFLX – you can’t move for some kind of content: who do you want to be in your AFLX Dream Team! Look at the rules!

AFLX has the marketing understanding that (to quote Colin Cowherd again) Twitter and social media is a firework shows. Even a tweet that is trashed is “joining in the conversation”. AFLW wasn’t extended that courtesy. At least part of that is because of the inherent belief that AFLW can’t be marketed until the Australian Open is over, but that doesn’t explain Tim Watson breathlessly launching the AFLX concept DURING the Australian Open. No explanation for the inertia other than a lack of faith seems to fit…

At the season launch, to their credit, AFLM and their designated spokesperson Nicole Livingstone did at least attempt the summer of slumber as a criticism, but the response rang pretty hollow. Livingstone said ” the strategy had deliberately centred on digital and social media in recognition of the new audiences it was trying to attract” which is patently not true. It sounds good, but it rings very hollow. It’s good in the brochure, but terrible in practice. Very PR in fact.

In fact, the digital strategy was so on point, up until mid January the AFLW website was only being updated every 4 days, and no digital marketing, hashtag campaign or teaser trailers were readily available for people to engage in. There was an app, we will give them that, but that was the be all and end all of that digital strategy unless you think the “Suze Bot” is going to help. In fact, social media had very little direct engagement from the AFLW hierarchy. Alternative media drove any buzz, the players drove the buzz…

The digital marketing strategy of AFLW wasn’t socially transformative or creative or even informative. Even AFLX (of course it did) had a logo and a video and Patrick Dangerfield as an influencer, where as AFLW didn’t pick someone as a specific “face of the league” and use them endlessly in marketing material. And no, Daisy Pearce at the tail end of a Channel 7 promotion doesn’t count. We spoke a couple of posts ago about podcasts and digital material, but by these standards, we aimed to high. Erin Phillips in a digital marketing campaign was even too much to aim for…

This might be a little too PR centric, but go with us here: having a Twitter account isn’t having a digital marketing strategy. It’s having a Twitter account. The scattershot nature of Twitter and its broken timeline now makes it a challenge to be noticed. Engagement isn’t created from sending out tweets anymore. You have to work for likes, create and engage. The most innovative thing done all summer was the Adelaide Crows bobble head videos. And that took 1 take. Imagine what you could create with an actual marketing plan…

There was also the strange gesture of putting a W onto the wall of AFL House, with no players, media or anyone of importance (other than Livingstone) there for the unveiling. The photo came across like Livingstone was on her lunch break, and stopped for a selfie, rather than any kind of grand or meaningful moment. A gesture.

No one from AFLM showed up, and the whole thing wasn’t even planned out enough to be a photo opportunity. It was strange – the moment wasn’t even captured as a story on the AFLM website? Dane Rampe captaining the Swans AFLX team? Top of the website. Livingstone whipping off a black curtain on a sign? Non existent…

It was literally throwing something against a wall and hoping it stuck…

What It Feels Like for a Girl

It’s a subtle thing of course, and to give a slight marketing digression, the words used to describe AFLX compared to AFLW are interesting. Most of the words used to market AFLW are feel good, novelty based, about changing the game and making history. They promote anything but the sport – the sport isn’t promoted, so much as feel good clichés about creating things and being history makers.

Season 2 should have been a linguistic leap forward from this, but it simply hasn’t. We’ll touch more below about this, but AFLW still seems bound to the concepts of Season 1. The marketing evolution hasn’t fully kicked in yet. When season 1 ended, we were surely done with the creation and barrier busting language?

AFLX is CONFIDENT, it’s fast! It’s frenetic! It’s LOUD! The language used to describe it is about fast, unique, something different, a shot in the arm! There’s more surety to the language in the marketing. Working in PR, it’s not difficult to pick up when something is marketed with confidence and boldness, and something is marketed with some trepidation.

More importantly, to pick up on that language difference, AFLX is promoted with a vision, something to do with the future, kids playing the game! In China! In India! The marketing of AFLW season 2 has been stuck sounding like it’s on trial again, like everything is grounded at the start line. Like we’re back to 50/50 writers planting seed of doubt anyone will turn up, like Tyson Edwards is back on Facebook….

And now all I can hear is one

The AFLW season launch was thus a strange event full of questionable points, not just Livingstone’s defence of her apparently brilliant social media strategy. The AFLM website teased the season launch by saying “let’s make history again!” – again?

Words and slogans matter, as a sidebar, we’ve spoken before that AFLW has been stuck with the slogan “Dare to Create” – as lacklustre a slogan as can be imagined. And dare to create what exactly? A women’s competition? Haven’t we done that already?

While Gil on behalf of AFLM spoke that ““The national league sent a clear message to girls and women that this is your game and your place”, it’s clear it’s not home yet. And Livingstone “put the onus on the fans” to show support for the competition. But for what end? Is there a permanent requirement on people to show support? Fans proving their support for AFLW didn’t advance us very far this summer – it didn’t get us to have AFLMHQ support it, show any backing it for with an ad campaign…

Also, if the onus is on people power, it probably helps to put out material that tells people when games are on and where. You know, an ad. Crazy thought. After all, Channel 7 breathlessly live crossed to the launch of (GASP) the AFLX Fixture, and they featured on every AFLM teams Twitter.

The biggest problem with the summer of slumber thus doesn’t come from the more malicious thoughts of AFLM wanting the competition to fail (though you do and can wonder). It’s more basic than that. The marketing language (as we discussed above) is that used to promote a novelty, a competition that is misunderstood, something people don’t really have faith in.

The biggest problem from the summer of slumber is still that the promotion for the league falls somewhere between “we don’t care” and “we don’t get this competition” depending on how cynical you choose to be.

We touched before on how AFLW is still finding its own voice, its own personality and it’s own sound. This sound and personality is still being misunderstood. It’s genuinely strange that AFLMHQ haven’t nurtured their own competition, inflicting a novelty rules change on it, giving it no marketing push, nor promoting any particular face of the league. Instead of promoting the push and selling to female fans who are after all inclined to grow the game and buy freshly created merchandise, the AFL has chosen to find and promote a game chasing some Chinese fans in 20 years…maybe…

The sad and strange and somehow beautiful thing is, fans of AFLW do have to support the game – the only way is to keep supporting and keep hoping the female athletes do well and get a higher profile. It would be churlish not to say we haven’t made enormous strides forwards, even if some of them are awkward like Erin Phillips invading the Footy Show. Daisy Pearce as a highly sought after contributor to AFLM media is a huge step forward. Tayla Harris can make the back page of the Herald Sun…

We would also talk about Mo Hope getting on a bus shelter selling Special K, and how it offended those concerned by female clichéd consumerism, but we definitely stick to a two-fold mantra on that: it’s more promotion than AFLM was willing to get off their ass and offer, and of course, it’s nice to be liked, it’s better by fair to get paid…

And what’s sad and strange about all that? Right now, it doesn’t feel enough. It still feels from the marketing, from the language, the inertia, the way Livingstone talks about the league with a lack of confidence or surety…it feels like AFLW is back to square 1, needing to prove itself all over again. What happens for season 3? People power has to prove this is a wanted competition all over again? AFLX gets more and more airtime? The concern is definitely there…

All that’s left is to support the woman playing in Season 2, and hope someone, somewhere one day believes in a league that can stand on its own feet. The slogans and feel good rhetoric isn’t being backed up with actions. How it all unfolds from here, the league needs more support than flowery speeches and a W on a wall…

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