This post explores how this year’s Italian Serie A champions Juventus FC addresses the three dimensions of a brand’s functional aspects as identified by Kapferer (2008) that exploit the experience, mental associations and cultural influence of their sport brand. We will look at the following dimensions: sensorial, semantic and somatic.
The Routledge book release Sport Brands describes how brand extensions that foster the tangible and intangible influence of the brand have become common practice in the sports industry. Bouchet et al. (2013: 4) claim that “many sport organisations and companies are diversifying and extending their offers in non-sport sectors. … For most of them, their main currency is gained through their status and their uniqueness in their consumption sectors.” We will now analyze how Juventus FC approaches the issues of brand experience, mental associations and cultural influence.
The sensorial dimension
Bouchet et al. (2013: 39) explain, “The sensorial dimension of sport brands refers to the tangible characteristics of sport products and services, those features which can be experienced via all consumers’ senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch).” In other words, brands have to offer an all-around experience to their consumers’ senses.
In our context, this can start with having a cool jersey from a renowned apparel brand such as Nike, Adidas, Warrior, etc. Juventus have been working with Nike as their technical sponsor, who have kept improving on the club’s traditional black-and-white striped jersey and offering attractive away jersey alternatives. In the annual report of Brand Finance Football Top 50 (2013: 17), Juventus explain that in 2006/07 they changed the logo and are continually trying to adapt the brand to keep it modern. They continue with the statement, “In terms of intellectual property it is Nike who is reliant on us to protect the IP through our role as ‘Guardians of the brand’” (ibid). In October 2013, the club officially announced that Juventus had reached a six-year agreement with Adidas for a technical sponsorship deal starting from the 2015/2016 campaign worth €139.5 million (Football Italia). Obviously, Adidas and Juventus will want to improve the design and attractiveness of the jersey. However, changes can be tricky, especially when consumers already have a preferred apparel brand.
In my case, I am a Nike kid, and have been since I literally was a kid. My first pair of branded sneakers where Nike Terra TC and today all my training gear is from Nike. I simply like the shape and cut of their clothing and their shoes are the most comfortable to me. Plus, it takes me back to glorious sports moments of my teen-years. Now that Juventus jerseys and their training gear will be designed by Adidas starting from 2015 on, I am a bit critical and I can imagine that I am not the only one feeling like this. The Juventus brand might be able to convince consumers critical of the change by projecting some of their mythical characteristics onto their new partner. This might work with a targeted, ongoing communication that depicts both brands sharing the same vision and attitude. A flexible brand approach as defined by Basu (2006) might be in order here.
Coming back to our semantic dimension discussion, an important part of the tangible experience is the visit to a club’s home turf. Juventus Stadium, opened on 8 September 2011, is one of only two club-owned football stadiums in the Italian Serie A, alongside Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium (Wikipedia). The stadium offers a variety of services such as a) the Juventus Premium Club, a corporate hospitality project that offers 3,600 premium seats and 64 sky boxes, b) a 70-minute guided stadium tour, c) Area 12, a shopping centre adjacent to the stadium, d) J-Museum (the Juventus Museum), and e) different business, cultural and social events.
Lovelock et al. (2004) write in their Edinburgh Business School textbook, Services Marketing, “The most powerful physical evidence is experienced by customers who come to a service factory and experience employees working in a physical environment. … Physical surroundings help to shape appropriate feelings and reactions among customers and employees.” They continue by stating three ways that physical evidence and the accompanying atmosphere impacts a customer’s behavior:
- as an attention-creating medium to make the servicescape stand out from that of competing establishments and to attract customers from target segments;
- as a message-creating medium, using symbolic cues to communicate with the intended audience about the distinctive nature and quality of the service experience;
- as an effect-creating medium, employing colours, textures, sounds, scents and spatial design to create or heighten an appetite for certain goods, services or experience (ibid).
In addition to apparel and the stadium, Juventus also has their own song, football schools and other products and services that can be shared with like-minded and foster a great brand experience. But we stop here with the sensorial dimension, since it would go beyond the scope of this exercise.
The semantic dimension
According to Bouchet et al. (2013: 40), “The semantic dimension refers to the symbolic function of services, products and brands and their ability to carry meaning and values. This dimension relies on the semiotic paradigm which considers that each object has an explicit dimension (the object itself) and an implicit dimension which relates to the mental associations and signs related to it.” Considering the Lewi-Rogliano (2006) model, and that the Juventus fan base is larger than any other Italian football club and is one of the largest worldwide (Wikipedia), we claim that the Juventus brand has already reached the myth stage. This means that Juventus has reached universal and global status and that consumers have the impression the brand has always been around and been part of their life.
Juventus could be taking advantage of the expansion and influential power that social media has and strengthen the mental associations that are created by the new digital communication tools. Mitch Joel (2013: 200) suggests in his book, Ctrl Alt Delete, “Spend your time connecting your business to influence… not reach.” In that sense, Juventus is on the right track. Their social media channels try to engage their supporters with content that raises emotions. The brands does that with a variety of different media: 1-minute pre-match videos on YouTube, 15-seconds line-up announcement videos on Instagram, a picture of a player that implies winning the match on Facebook, or simply with a tweet or status update that asks for motivational support of their fans.
Furthermore, by telling stories of glorious moments and tie them to memorabilia or apparel enforces the mental association with the club. Wearables that have the Juventus crest on them are most probably the best example. Even better are clothes that per se carry certain history, like the Nike Authentic N98 jacket. Nike.com explains that the N98 (short for National 1998) originated as a tribute to the 1998 Brasilian National Soccer Team. Since, it’s been perfected by Nike Sportswear, and today it exudes sophistication and style for different clubs such as Juventus, Celtic, Manchester City and more.
The somatic dimension
Bouchet et al. (2013: 40) state, “The somatic dimension refers to the body and corporal practices expressed and manifested through buying and consumption behaviours and rituals. … [S]ports brands should be considered as transmission mechanisms of values, gestures and rituals.” In preparation of a Juventus match, Twitter is filled with selfies of fans wearing their black-and-white jersey with pride and emotions and sharing that with the worldwide web, and Juventus’ online managers embrace that phenomenon by retweeting selfies, comments, etc. to incorporate their fans into the brand. An activity supporters most definitely appreciate and makes them feel part of the brand. That leads, consciously or unconsciously, to an appropriation and incorporation of the Juventus brand. The ritual of wearing the club’s jersey during a match at home, in the pub or in the stadium makes supporters feel integrated in the brand and possibly own a part of it. Already the action of going to a shop offline or online and spend good money on branded apparel or game tickets strengthen the brand-consumer bond and, therefore again, a fan’s mental association with the club. Juventus gives its supporters worldwide the opportunity for appropriation and incorporation of the brand by offering easy access to buy official branded apparel and social communication channels for engagement.
Second screening has become a global and social phenomenon since Twitter. The ritual of tweeting one’s euphoria and frustration during football matches in real-time with the world has reached unprecedented proportions. Think of all the comments, online and offline, of supporters giving unsolicited advice to the management of a club on match-day. They think to know exactly what the club needs to be more successful and have the feeling that they are entitled to make decisions for the club. That is the case because they unconsciously feel to own a piece of it, or at least are part of it… which from a branding point of view is a good thing. ‘I wear Juventus, therefore I am Juventus’.
Sahami et al. (2011: 4) conclude in their research paper, Real-Time Nonverbal Opinion Sharing through Mobile Phones during Sports Events, that “TV viewers’ sense of connectedness and enjoyment increased by sharing opinions [through a mobile phone app]. Remarkably, even those users who watched the matches in groups still used [their] app to virtually connect to non-collocated fans.” From this we can derive that it is crucial for a brand such as Juventus to engage their supporters in transmitting their values through digital media and keep up/foster rituals like sharing selfies that include branded apparel and opinions concerning the club.
Brand experience, mental associations and cultural influence are imperative for the sustainable success of a football brand. The sensorial, semantic and somatic dimensions give valuable insights into the actions a brand needs to take to define immediate future steps. Having attractive branded apparel and a stadium worth the visit will definitely enhance the mental association for a fan and boost her or his loyalty towards the brand. Furthermore, continuously communicating the values of the brand and dialoguing with followers can keep important rituals, like wearing the team’s jersey on match-day to more contemporary rituals such as second screening, alive. By doing so, these rituals might spill over to other stakeholders, turn them into fans and hopefully activate them to join the rituals on a regular basis.