With much of our lives going virtual, you could be forgiven for believing that creatives are struggling to forge emotional and human connections with an audience. But as we reflect – and (still!) recover – from a Euro Final that drew more than 30 million viewers across ITV, and a raft of innovative storytelling during ad spots, it remains true: live sport is the ultimate playground for brands.
English football fans might be better served if they forget the Euro final result, but for the ad industry, the ad that won the ITV Euros competition provides an enduring legacy that will be difficult to ignore. In the words of the great sports commentator Clive Tyldesley, star of Aldi’s top-scoring “Good swap bad swap” by McCann UK, the ad was “textbook” storytelling.
In its route to victory, the ad had to get through a two-stage judging process. First, ITV’s research partner System1, used its AdRatings system to measure emotional responses to all the ads that entered the contest, using a panel of 150 people. The five highest-scoring ads went through to the next round. These highly-rated spots were: Carlsberg's “The seal"; Gillette’s “Gillette x Raheem Sterling - best face forward”; Kopparberg’s “To firsts that last”, Aldi’s “Good swap bad swap” and Ocado's “There's an Ocado just for you’”.
Next, 1,000 ITV Euro 2020 viewers watched the five shortlisted TV ads and selected the one which, in their opinion was the most liked ad in the context of Euro 2020. The 1,000 people were recruited by ITV Village to be a robust, nationally representative sample of all ITV Euro 2020 viewers. It was in this crucial second stage that the Aldi ad ran past the other four commercials to take the final prize.
So, what made Aldi’s ad “textbook”? And how did all the shortlisted brands ignite such a strong emotional response from millions of viewers? We asked the creative architects behind them to share their tactics.
Watch Aldi's winning ad here
The lockdown effect
One of the big questions brands and ad agencies have had to contend with during the pandemic is what creative storytelling would look like as society emerged from lockdown, and which messages would resonate.
Interestingly, according to System1’s measurement, Aldi and the shortlisted finalists’ punched above the average for Euro ads on their “spike” scores (short-term activation). Why?
With uncertainty surrounding the end of lockdown, some of the most effective brands seemed to lean on short-term objectives. For retail brands like Aldi, though, crafting impactful messaging is always a balancing act.
“Really effective retail communications has to balance the short with the long term – without long term you don’t have a meaningful retail brand and without short term you don’t have a retail business,” says Aldi UK marketing director Sean McGinty.
The key with purpose, says System1’s chief marketing officer Jon Evans, “is to make it about something we all care about and to focus on entertaining rather than campaigning.” Telling stories with people at the heart is also very important, he adds.
Not surprisingly, purpose-powered communication was a key ingredient for a number of finalists.
For Carlsberg, the Euros presented an opportunity to continue telling its journey of transformation with the wildlife-preserving not-for-profit WWF.
“Our pursuit of better goes beyond the beer,” explains Emma Sherwood-Smith, director of marketing for Carlsberg UK. “We also believe in creating a better tomorrow for us all and the world around us. Having told the world about our better beer, our focus for communications now shifts to sharing our stories of a better tomorrow.”
Gillette reminded us that human connections are well and truly alive in the post-lockdown world. “Being able to have both Raheem [Sterling] and his son Thiago in the ad was of course a powerful moment for us,” says Matt Thomas, Gillette brand director for UK & Ireland. “I knew we’d captured something special and, importantly, natural. Raheem’s a role model for many in his public life but above all, he’s a Dad first, a footballer second.”
Both ads for Gillette and Carlberg exemplified the need for marketers is to discover and articulate a business’ authentic purpose, now more than ever.
“At System1, we have seen an increase in the effectiveness of ads which show connection between people which is probably a reaction to the fact we have missed it so much during the pandemic,” Evans notes.
Go broad or go home!
It turns out not everyone watching Euros wants to be bombarded with ads about football! In fact, the best performing ads on System1’s scale were the ones that expanded beyond the football theme, or even overtly avoided it.
“We weren't tempted to go down the football route,” explains Laura Harricks, chief customer officer at Ocado Retail. “We really wanted to maintain broad relevance and showcase the breadth of our range during a landmark sporting event.”
Others like Kopparberg dared to invent an entirely new origin story for the “high-five” by cleverly tapping into our desire to reconnect with a more normal, happy-spirited past.
“There is something really amazing about seeing this symbol [high-five] of connection happen through the decades. Especially when over the last year we’ve been so disconnected,” says Noel Hamilton, Kopparberg’s executive creative director. “It’s a positive and energetic symbol which I think is why it resonated with people.”
Simply put, when the story is too topical, you risk losing the hearts and minds of many.
Context is king
Ah, yes, but...all that said, it is still crucial to remember context at all times. And this is how the ITV Village panel ultimately judged the winner in that final shoot-out.
The fact is that you don’t have to be a huge football fan to recognise commentator Tyldesley and get the gag. But Aldi won partly because its ad was well and truly grounded in the context of the Euros. It used a recognisable and relevant face, told a football-connected joke and made a nod to the ITV viewing experience because of Tyldesley’s connection to the channel.
“The ITV Village, our community of viewers managed by STRAT7 Researchbods, enables us to speak to highly engaged viewers on a daily basis about our shows and commercial partnerships,” explains Glenn Gowen, head of audiences at ITV. “Our Villagers loved the opportunity to choose the creative that they most liked in the context of the UEFA Euro 2020 final. The voting was close but Aldi was chosen as being the most contextually relevant and the advert that represented what they were planning to do in the build up to the final. A BBQ in the garden.”
Are you not entertained?
As ever, a great ad’s tonic is its ability to espouse those classic entertainment values of great stories, characters and soundtracks.
Aldi’s winning ad had it all.
“They get the basics absolutely right with brilliant use of humour, a strong cultural reference and lots of character,” says Evans.
“We’re the pirates not the navy – lovably disruptive – so, as well as driving sales, this ad further reinforced our tone of voice which helps make us distinctive,” says McGinty “Combining Clive’s legendary voice with the funny play on the good and bad swaps in life, made this a distinctively Aldi ad.”
Capturing the moment
Whatever the brand, live sport on TV brings reach and engagement on a massive scale. And when it’s international, that engagement and excitement can be off the scale altogether.
Looking ahead to next year’s World Cup, ITV’s free-to-air coverage will set advertisers up with a contextually powerful opportunity to be at the heart of a culturally impactful, nation-uniting, enduring moment with a hugely long tail. Because, as fans of the England football team know only too well, these memories stick.