Tú no me quieres entender…

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We’ve mentioned on this blog last time the notion of confirmation bias: we come across it so many times in PR. The results you want are always there if you want them. I really wanted the 30-45 demographic, or that particular region to be our strongest sales area. It’s JUST the reaction I was after.

We’re all guilty of it in the industry: we cherish our ideas because they are our ideas. Feedback? Customer research…it has to be wrong…it just has to be….

Sometime around AFLX day 3, when Brad Johnson was spinning the wheels of steel and hamming it up with a DJ while Jonathan Brown was screaming down the camera about how much FUN AFLX was and how the KIDS WERE LOVING IT, a variation on the theme from the 3 days of coverage, confirmation bias was firmly in effect at the AFL.

It worked because they SAID it worked, and because some kids hepped on Cola and hot dogs screamed it worked and it was “fun”. The crowds? The ratings? The indifference – well that just showed the reaction was “mixed”. Pre planning for AFLX indicated anything around the 10000 mark, even if they had to paper the crowd with freebies, would be “optimistic and realistic”.

The thing with the AFLX marketing blitz was everyone had to be on message – it almost got the point of the backfire effect, where in marketing criticism of your product reinforces your ingrained beliefs. Negative feedback? JAMES AISH LOVED IT! Tom Hawkins had a blast! Brad Johnson is a DJ! James Brayshaw laughed at BIG PREUSSY! THIS IS AMAZING! IT’S A RAGING SUCCESS!

AFLX played quite openly across it’s three nights with this availability cascade: if they kept repeating it, it would become true. It’s common knowledge don’t you know, the players LOVE this game, the kids LOVE this game, it’s just THAT EXCITING!

We’ve talked openly on this blog – through our own marketing and media monitoring – about how AFLM is determined to make AFLX work, consequences be damned. The Giant X’s at each game collectively cost more than the AFLW marketing budget. Not that AFLX has (relatively) failed to spark the imagination of kids and foreign footy fans alike, this is not a sign of retreat. Far from it – it’s a sign of a double down next year.

It’ll be back, all new, all improved, hyped as “fan feedback influenced!” – sack the mimes! Flick the acrobats! Marketing money to Dangerfield to play! More beanbags! If there’s one thing we know about products produced in labs and launched with relative cynicism like AFLX, self-created bias, confirmation bias will ensure the game is tweaked, prodded and probed into shape. It’s a cynical marketing exercise, the result of filled in surveys and loveless analysis of trends. It should infuriate, but it won’t go anywhere. It’s here to stay, and by god you are going to love it…

The realisation during one of our blog posts that AFLX wasn’t funny anymore was a pretty depressing one. Once Peter Gordon mentioned the AFLW marketing budget was cut to promote AFLX and it’s DJs of fun, the sinking feeling came over everyone – AFLW wasn’t just the victim of marketing incompetence and apathy, but financial cuts and shifting priorities…

That of course is far from the end of the story: Nicole Livingstone (recap – we aren’t a fan) smiled and glibly dropped the casual bombshell that there was no budget for lighting up night games (specifically in response to a question about poor/dangerous lighting at Ikon Park) “for the rest of the season” and then went onto her usual spiel of glib grab bagging PR cliches with nary a follow-up question in sight.

It was a breathtaking piece of television, an infuriating summation of everything wrong with the leadership of AFLW. The strangest thing about this was, it didn’t feel surprising, it felt like the latest demonstration of feeling let down by the hierarchy. It’s a league that succeeds in spite of the lack of faith of its own sporting leaders, where as AFLX will succeed and be promoted in spite of no one caring. It’s quite the strident difference.

By the by, this was also followed up by Livingstone saying “the league is a little immature”, as if marketing experience and football immaturity was somehow an excuse for not planning for lights at a night game. Mind, this is also the leadership that sent the memo to Channel 7 and Fox Footy and is still bewildered how it got into the paper….but I digress.

This was said with no fight, no anger, no surprise: just “oh well, we didn’t budget for lights!”…there was a horrible grim irony that there was a budget to light up AFLX goal posts in Zooper Dooper colors, but not enough in the kitty to illuminate Tayla Harris, Kaitlyn Ashmore and Sabrina Frederick-Traub in a nationally televised game. What a perfection summation of priorities. One in garish screaming over hyped colors screaming for attention, the other left in the dark…

For AFLW fans, confirmation bias and a creeping feeling that we’d been cheated has been continually shown to us, to the point even Garry Lyon realises it, though not in the way he may think. Lyon surmised from the weekend AFLX overshadowed AFLW (and if even Garry can see it, well….) – he’s only half right. The positive from the weekend was this: it actually didn’t….

Somehow, someway, AFLW fought through all the crap, the hype, the Zooper goals and DJ Brad Johnson to produce it’s best round of the season: three thrillers, the amazing Erin Phillips (we could have filled this blog up with hot takes on how amazing Erin Phillips is), Phoebe McWilliams, Emily McGuire…where do you want to start on how wonderous the round was?

From a marketing point of view, it’s frustrating to get memos and marketing reports and media monitoring that simply show a league that doesn’t understand or fight for what it has in AFLW: you would think there is a marketing goldmine in getting Erin Phillips and Daisy Pearce in front of every possible camera, every possible media outlet? Instead AFLW and its “figurehead” let itself be pushed into the background for a soulless product devoid of meaning.

The scary thing is there would unquestionably be someone, somewhere who thinks the women who play AFLW would be just PERFECT to play AFLX – those who don’t watch games and simply note how many goals are kicked, those who inflict memos on the women and cut the budget, they would love AFLW to embrace AFLX, and there’s really no one willing to stop it happening.

Public persuasion, at a functional level, is about reinforcing functionally driven organisational messages. Look at AFLX – the words used about it are positive, fun, kids love it, and no amount of negativity will deter them. AFLX isn’t a relationship building exercise, not concerned with media interactivity (though that may come) – it is set up to confirm their internal confirmation bias this NEEDS to exist: think China, think THE KIDS!

AFLW meanwhile lives under a perpetual internal cloud: the games are poor, everyone is suffering knee injuries, there’s too many goals, there’s too few goals, there’s memos, every 50/50 Herald Sun writer gets listened to. AFLX is set up to succeed, AFLW still has to prove the internal polling wrong every single week. Somehow a crowd of around 10K for AFLX is a positive, and 41K for an AFLW game is a negative. Notice that the 41K crowd wasn’t even celebrated with positive intend by the AFLM, but 10K in Sydney to an AFLX game was cause for celebration.

Confirmation bias, time and time again…

It’s a bizarre marketing self sabotage to not take a step back and reflect on what makes AFLW special – the grass-roots connection, the ability to get the autographs of even the biggest stars, the genuine personalities and so on, and draw at least some positives from that in a marketing perspective.

When we began writing and monitoring the marketing of AFLW, we somewhat naively thought there was a plan: it’s been confirmed time and time again there isn’t a plan, just a plan for AFLX to take over Hong Kong once a year. If there is a positive, it’s that AFLW at least got to showcase its true self this round, as a gripping, physical league filled with drama. How can you not sell that? How can you not market to young girls who want to spend on merchandise? How can you sell that out for Zooper goals?

So what happens from here? AFLW is the victim of a lack of faith and support, and we suspect AFLX will truly double down next season, and really crank up the hype, throw everything at the wall, and we’re not sure what the budget will be. To use a Kevin Bartlett phrase, expect to be swamped by AFLX next year. This definitely wasn’t goodbye, and we know this weeks priorities will be to analyse every piece of feedback imaginable until they can find something people will “enjoy….”

That’s not to say it’s all negative for AFLW: much as this blog believes in marketing, that the lasting legacy of this weekend wasn’t Zooper goals, slick hype or marketing hype, but a genuinely inspirational bunch of women celebrating wins in proper footy shows the battle is still ongoing. Where the marketing hype takes us is yet to be seen, but this weekend shows the line: style vs substance…

Dare we say, proper footy?

I’ll sing you a song with no words and no tune

Womens Footy on Channel 9 has had an interesting year: Tiffany Cherry unloaded on the show for having a Male host and the message it sent, which we discussed at length at the time. Hosted by Clint Stanaway, it’s generally seems an amiable ball of fluff, full of the sort of genial superficiality that is generally pumped up on Channel 9. Bit of footy chat, some terrible dad jokes, some “what was going on here!” shots stolen from players social media…

Nothing terrible, nothing great….

This week though they thought, ah stuff it, lets give Kane Cornes a go.

We need to be clear in this critique: Kane Cornes (who up until now had stamped out a media career as Australia’s Skip Bayless, a purveyor of hot takes even Kate Sheahan would stray from) wasn’t a terrible choice of host for the show Womens Footy because he was Male. Mind, a cursory glance at Cornes Twitter feed didn’t exactly show a preponderance to discuss the hot AFLW topics of the day.

There was the time he mentioned womens tennis players shouldn’t be paid the same as men, but hey, strong opinions!

That said, need to very clear, the reason Kane Cornes was a terrible choice of host wasn’t he was Male – it was a total lack of preparation, a lack of knowledge, and the fact he killed about 20 conversations stone dead. He forgot the name of the show, he blithely announced “footy returns in 32 days!”, asked Ellie Blackburn if women should play AFLX (short answer: no), and engaged Sabrina Frederick Traub in glib superficial conversations about hair and Kaitlyn Ashmore about her modelling.

And of course, Livingstone was a guest, so maybe that caused the bad mood…

To be honest, it feels a little churlish to criticise a nationally televised show about womens football. To just type that there’s a show dedicated to womens football on that bastion of blokery that is Channel 9 is still bizarre, as bizarre as Erin Phillips crashing the Grand Final Footy Show or whatever the hell Eddie was trying to do with that Girls Run The World segment at the end of the year. It’s worth reflecting sometimes on how far we’ve come…

That said, it’s important to still question and ask for better than Kane Cornes – there’s an interesting show about Womens Footy that’s struggling to get out on Channel 9. We almost had it on Sunday, but sadly it was let down by its choice of host, blinking bewildered into conversations he didn’t quite understand…

 

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