A member of the Linkedin group “Sports Business Institute Barcelona – Marketing & Management Professionals in Football” posted an interesting question, which he was asked to answer as part of an interview for a marketing role with a top football club. The question is:
“You are tasked with communicating the launch of a new mascot to fans, and to ensure the mascot forms a part of future marketing campaigns. How will you do this?”
It sounded like a fun challenge. Therefore, I took the liberty to develop my own answer, which I am sharing with you in the following paragraphs. If you have anything to add or have a completely different solution to the problem, feel free to share it in the comments below or write me on Twitter.
This exercise will be based on Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and their mascot Germain.
Include a mascot, but why?
Growing up in continental Europe and watching mostly the Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga, I assumed that mascots were simply not relevant to football clubs in a marketing context. The only mascots that were explicitly visible to me and that I was aware of were used in the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship; Ciao, Striker, Footix, or Berni, Rabbit, Goaliath to name a few. Furthermore, I was not even aware of the existence of Germain, the PSG lynx mascot.
Marketing professionals and academics see potential benefits in having a brand mascot. Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the 2012 London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), explains, “We’ve created our mascots for children. They will connect young people with sport and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history. By linking young people to the values of sport, Wenlock and Mandeville will help inspire kids to strive to be the best they can be. (fih.ch, 2012)”
The Brandelicious blog depicts what role Chuck, the Chupa Chups mascot, plays in the brand’s marketing efforts: “For the 50th anniversary of the brand in 2008, Chupa Chups has created Chupa Chuck, a global mascot that embodies their new moto “Live a life less serious” … The Chupa Chuck concept surfs on the trend of people sharing their bad life experiences on social media. (candymarketimbd.wordpress.com, 2011) ”
Sagyan Sagarika Mohanty underlines the growing importance of mascots and their impact on brand awareness by stating that, “Brand mascots give visual cues to brand’s consumers. They are characteristic figures which can build an identity and help to create and express brand’s personality. They also help the target market to identify, remember and understand the brand. (ijcem.org, 2014) ”
In 2010, PSG made use of the club’s 40th anniversary and introduced their new mascot, Germain, during their pre-season “Tournoi de Paris” (Paris Tournament) in their home stadium at Parc des Princes. According to the club, his role is to entertain the audience during the pre-match warm-up and meet children in the family sectors (psg.fr, 2010).
It can be argued that the above-mentioned cases show that mascots are used to transport stories and be the linchpins of their respective communities. Seth Godin (2008) compares a community to a tribe and explains that “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” Adapting Mr Godin’s statement to our football mascot marketing context, the following claim crystallises: A brand community (=tribe) is built around a story (=idea) and the mascot is the virtual visualisation (=leader) of that community and/or story.
Before proceeding to answer the main question of this exercise, How do we communicate the launch of a new mascot and integrate it in future marketing campaigns?, we will analyse the facets of what will be the context in which the mascot will creatively be making its marketing appearances.
Defining the marketing context of Germain the lynx mascot
In order for a football club to incorporate its mascot into its marketing communications, the story of the mascot and the world it lives in must be congruent with what the brand stands for. Hence, the mascot should reflect the club’s traditions, personality, and values.
Bradley University unveiled their new mascot, Kaboom!, in 2014 (bradley.edu, 2014). According to Dr Michael Cross, former director of athletics at Bradley University, the lessons learned from their mascot development and launch include: a) Know your traditions, b) know your mascot’s desired personality, c) know your audience, d) choose your performers wisely, e) identify your goals when introducing the mascot, and f) plan next steps for promotion (Athletics Administration, Nov 2014:35). To define our marketing context, we make use of lessons a), b), c), and e). Point f) will be the continuation of this task, our final marketing communications plan.
Know your traditions
Even though Dr Cross was referring to the design of a mascot (Athletics Administration, Nov 2014:35), instead of to its marketing development, it is essential for a marketing manager to know and understand the traditions of a club to create possibilities for the mascot in different settings. As follows, we list the most obvious historical facts of PSG (compiled from Wikipedia, retrieved 18 July 2015):
Founded: 12 August 1970 by the merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain
Nicknames: Les Rouge-et-Bleu (The Red and Blue), Les Parisiens (The Parisians)
Home: Parc des Princes (since 1974)
Training centre: Camp des Loges (since 1970)
Legendary tournament: Tournoi de Paris (since 1975)
Crest: Eiffel Tower and Saint-Germain-en-Laye through the fleur-de-lys
Arch-rivals: Olympique de Marseille (match known as Le Classique)
Most popular mottos: “Ici, c’est Paris!” and “Paris est magique!”
Owner: Qatar Sports Investments (since 2011)
Honours (domestic): 5 Ligue 1 championships, 1 Ligue 2, 9 Coupe de France, 5 Coupe de la Ligue
Honours (European): 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup
Know your mascot’s desired personality
Again, Dr Cross was more referring to the physical attributes of the mascot (Athletics Administration, Nov 2014:35); nevertheless, they are connected to the brand personality the mascot will stand for. The Brand-as-Person model by David A. Aaker can be used to make sense of the personality of a mascot. “Like a person, a brand can be perceived as being upscale, competent, impressive, trustworthy, fun, active, humorous, casual, formal, youthful, or intelligent. (Aaker, 1996:78)” For example, Germain can radiate the personality of a family-friendly football aficionado, is a proud, fun, and youthful Parisian, as well as competent on and off the pitch.
Mr Aaker (Aaker, 1996:78-79) suggests three possibilities how a brand personality can create a stronger brand:
- Create a self-expressive benefit that becomes a vehicle for the customer (fan) to express his or her own personality. Derived from the example above, for instance: Germain is a friendly football aficionado, as well as a proud, fun, and competent Parisian with a winning mentality.
- Build the basis of a relationship between the customer (fan) and the brand. Bühler and Nufer (2010:69) quote Alan Edge (1998:18), who describes football fans’ perspective in regard to their relationship with their club as follows: ‘Being a fan goes far beyond the bounds of simply regular or even spasmodic match attendance; fandom is not just limited to literally following your team. There are evidently deeper bonds at work; stronger unseen ties, linking fan to club and club, in turn, to the local community.’ Therefore, PSG could build ties with their fans, and having a figurehead like the mascot Germain in various forms of marketing communications, can strengthen or facilitate a bidirectional stream of communication.
- Communicate a product attribute and thus contribute to a functional benefit. For example: ’In Greek and North American mythology the lynx is considered an elusive and mysterious creature and is believed to have supernatural eyesight, capable of seeing even through solid objects; as a result, it often symbolises the unravelling of hidden truths, and the psychic power of clairvoyance. (Wikipedia, retrieved 18 July 2015)’ Applying the above-mentioned attributes to Germain, our lynx mascot, it could be suggested that the PSG brand carries a team with footballers of superior strength and ability.
Know your audience
As mentioned on their website, the target audience of Germain are children and families (psg.fr, 2010). It is advisable to use marketing research tools like questionnaires or interviews on a regular basis to gather data about the perception of the mascot among fans. Such information can be used to adapt personality features if/where necessary and use the mascot more effectively.
Introducing the new mascot
As the saying by William Edwards Deming goes, ‘In God we trust, all others bring data. (Hastie et al., 2001:vii)’ It is essential to define goals for any task, measure and analyse the outcome, and take necessary adjustments to correct further actions and be more effective. In this section, we will define the disciplines to be used in the launch of a new mascot and its respective objectives.
For simplicity reasons, it will be assumed that there are no budget limitations and that the launch of the new mascot will be accompanied by a promotion mix as described by Shank (2002:330), which includes 5 elements: public [and/]or community relations, advertising, personal selling, sales promotions, sponsorship.
Public and/or community relations
As depicted by Dr Cross (Athletics Administration, Nov 2014:35), “Bradley’s staff worked to craft a memorable, high energy production that introduced the mascot to the public during a men’s basketball game. The introduction included fireworks, smoke, music and use of a professional performer in the costume to make sure the introduction was unforgettable. For those who couldn’t attend the game, Bradley developed videos as part of the launch that allowed the mascot to be introduced to Bradley Alumni around the world. Media attention from the unveiling included USA Today, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and a host of other media outlets.”
In order to create a dialogue and acceptance among the local community, sporting organisations can become socially engaged, which creates goodwill among the local population and at the same time positive word of mouth endorsement is created (Bühler and Nufer, 2010:146). PSG took a similar approach as Bradley University with the launch of Germain in 2010. They launched their new mascot at Parc des Princes during a legendary tournament, which creates publicity in the local community and opportunity for local media to talk about it. Publicity focuses on the use of unpaid, non-personal promotion of a sport product or service through a third party that publishes print media or presents information through radio, television, or the internet; the goal of any good publicity is that it is viewed as coming from an unbiased, neutral source (Schwartz et al., 2013:239).
Offering all attendants the possibility or, better, animate them to film sequences of the launch, take pictures with the mascot, and share them instantly on social media can be a viable outlet to spread the word of the launch and raise awareness. Popular [social media sites] often serve as continuous platforms for sports fans to communicate a seemingly endless stream of information regarding any aspect of live sport gin event, including ancillary scenarios that have nothing to do with the game itself (Sutera, 2013:42).
Advertising is a non-personal form of mass communication that offers a high degree of control to those responsible for the design and delivery of advertising messages (Fill & Jamieson, 2006:35) and is paid for by an identified sponsor (Shank, 2002:330). Helen Katz explains how the task of today’s media planners has become much broader than in times past as follows, “Instead of just considering the traditional media that they pay to put ads in (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, outdoor), the planner must think more closely about how to use media to deliver brand experiences to consumers in numerous ways. (Katz, 2014:54)”
It is advisable to place ads that communicate the launch event of the new mascot on traditional media; more detailed that means, use local media that reaches the target audience that might be willing to come to the stadium for the launch event. In the case of PSG, that would be local Parisian TV and radio channels, as well as Paris newspaper and magazines, and billboards. A low-cost solution would be to place online ads on social media platforms such as Facebook, Google Adwords, YouTube ads, sponsored tweets, etc. to promote the launch and raise awareness about the new mascot.
Next we apply the advertising campaign design as suggested by Shank (2002:330) and add our notes:
- Ad objective: i) Reaching as many people as possible that could want to attend the event; ii) raising awareness about the new mascot.
- Ad budget: Assess how many people need to be reached in order to bring enough people to the launch event to make it successful and allocate the necessary budgets to the individual media vehicles.
- Creative decisions: Define, with a creative agency or internal department, what the ads should look like. Different creative designs should be used for different media vehicles.
- Media strategy: Do research on the effectiveness of different media vehicles in regard to the target audience and define the vehicles to be used for the advertising campaign according to its cost-effectiveness.
- Ad evaluation: It is difficult to evaluate the performance of offline advertising. On the other hand, online advertising offers detailed analytical tools that help to easily evaluate individual ads and entire campaigns. I suggest laying focus on the following metrics: ad reach, total engagement, engagement rate, clicks, shares, sentiments; and break down the results according to different demographics.
Personal selling is traditionally perceived as an interpersonal communication ￼tool that involves face-to-face activities undertaken by individuals, often repres￼enting an organisation, in order to inform, persuade or remind an individual or group to take appropriate action (Fill & Jamieson, 2006:36). In sports marketing, personal selling is used to secure corporate sponsorships, selling luxury suites or boxes in stadiums, and hawking corporate and group ticket sales (Shank, 2002:383).
In the case at hand, PSG can take advantage of professional relationships with corporate partners to promote the Germain launch event and personally invite their partners as personal guests. Inviting partners to events is a common practice to strengthen and manage business relationships, as Bühler and Nufer (2010:22) mention by quoting Grönroos (1995), “[The nature of relationship marketing is] to identify and establish, maintain and enhance relationships with customers and other stakeholders at a profit, so that the objectives of the partners’ interests are met; and is achieved by mutual exchange and fulfilment or promises.” Furthermore, a dedicated meet & greet zone with representatives of PSG partners should be organised and PSG representatives should take the opportunity to welcome their invitees and make sure that all their needs will be taken care of. Simply put: make sure they will enjoy the event to the fullest and later go home with fond memories of the mascot launch.
￼Sales promotion comprises various marketing techniques that are often used tac￼tically to provide added value to an offering, with the aim of accelerating sales and gathering marketing information (Fill & Jamieson, 2006:36). In addition, all forms of sales promotions are designed to increase short-term sales (Shank, 2002:388). PSG could introduce the following possible sales promotions to accelerate and increase the sales of tickets for the event that includes the mascot launch: Providing discounts to families/groups (i.e. package pricing), students (rebate with student-card), elderly people, early-bird discount, special discounts for members/customers of PSG partners, etc.
Sales promotions can be accompanied by social media. For example, Facebook fan pages offer their administrators the option to create offers directly onto their Facebook page for their fans and followers and include coupons. Furthermore, making use of direct marketing to push promotions onto the target audience can prove to be beneficial as well. Tapping into an established PSG customer database – be it from ticketing or the PSG online shop – and addressing the target audience by their name and with customised offers is beneficial for the club that wants to offer the best possible and fitting promotion to the receiver.
Sponsorship is generally viewed as a promotional tool that involves the marketing of nonsports products through an association with a sports property (Fullerton, 2010:497). Nevertheless, sports products or services can provide sponsorship for the launch of Germain as well. The sponsorship process as proposed by Hawkins et al. (1995), mentioned in Shank (2002:404), includes the following four stages: 1) Sponsorship objectives, 2) sponsorship budgeting, 3) sponsorship acquisition, 4) implementing and evaluating the sponsorship. Exemplary and in reference to the case at hand, we will discuss the sponsorship process in the next paragraph.
The elements sponsorship objectives and sponsorship budgeting go and in hand; without the money, the most meaningful objectives will never be reached (Shank, 2002:405). A great many lists of sponsorship objectives can be found (see Cornwall, 2014:29) that can be well suited, if properly activated, for a special event at a football stadium. Exemplarily, the following objectives – not an exhaustive list – are defined with their respective possible activations, where applicable:
- Corporate/brand image enhancement: Arguably, PSG stands for a rather luxurious and elitist brand from a proud and fashionable capital city. The ideal sponsor would share these attributes to enhance that image.
- Direct on-site sales: A product that can be sold at hallway counters or from the stands has an adequate potential to make an impact as an ingredient brand. According to David A. Aaker, “A brand can also be leveraged entering another product class, not by a brand extension, but by co-branding … One form of co-branding is to become a branded ingredient in another brand (1996:298).” This means that PSG and the chosen sponsor should be willing and able to promote the event by, for example, having both brand names stand next to each other on a billboard, ad, or similar, and deliver the message together.
- Product/service demonstration platform: Similar as in the previous point, collaborating with a brand of a product or service that is easy to promote and does not need any explanation/education makes it easy for visitors to enjoy the stadium entertainment and potential free gifts/teasers from the sponsor. For example, food products like drinks, cookies, and chips, or apparel like caps and t-shirts are easy to demonstrate.
- Increased awareness levels: From a sponsor-perspective, having one’s brand name shown at Parc des Princes points the attention of 48,000 pair of eyes towards that product or service. From a PSG-perspective, choosing a sponsor that caters to a target audience with a similar demographic as their own, might open doors to new segments – a perspective that should not be underestimated.
- Gain media exposure: The right sponsorship relationship can be beneficial for both parties. Football media will write about the new sponsor, whereas the media from the industry of the sponsor will write about PSG. Both brands will gain media exposure in new industries/markets and reach potential new customers that were not on their maps yet.
We assume that the negations between PSG and different brands came to an end and that Berthillon, a French manufacturer and retailer of luxury ice cream and sorbet, with its primary store on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris (Wikipedia, retrieved 19 July 2015), becomes the main sponsor for the launch event of Germain. Why they are a good match can be concluded as follows: Both brands are from Paris and share a more luxurious brand image, which can radiate onto the brand personality of Germain as well. Furthermore, Berthillon can be an ingredient brand within the Parc des Princes and its ice cream products can easily be demonstrated and sold during the mascot launch event. And, both brands could share advertising costs by going co-branding and reach both individual audiences with the same advertisement.
After having implemented and activated the sponsorship properly before, during, and after the event, the last step will then be to evaluate the results. An appropriate report of the analysis of all defined KPIs will need to be elaborated and discussed internally and with the sponsorship partner.
Ensure the mascot forms a part of future marketing campaigns
After having discussed why it can be beneficial to have a mascot, having defined the marketing context of Germain the lynx mascot, and introduced it with a 5-element promotional mix, we move on to the last part of this exercise. This part will define the role Germain will take on in future marketing activities for PSG. We will apply the integrated marketing communications mix as discussed by Bühler and Nufer (2010:146), which is similar to the promotional mix as described by Shank (2002:330), which we used in the previous section, but ads corporate identity policy, promotes corporate events and direct marketing as stand-alone elements, and drops personal selling.
Advertising: Germain can be a figurehead for PSG and transport marketing messages through advertising. For example: Japanese J.League club Avispa Fukuoka occasionally uses their mascot Avi-kun in advertisements on buses and trains in the city. However, it can be thought of using Germain solely in advertisements that communicate sales promotions. That could provide a recurring theme to sales promotions; maybe having Germain wearing the PSG away-kit could mean advertisement with a coupon for sales promotion.
Direct marketing: As mentioned in the previous section, taking advantage of PSG customer data, which was gathered through transactions in the online shop, is an obvious next step to take in order to offer customers the most customised products and services. Germain can be the voice and face of PSG for the appropriate customer and product. It can be assumed that the database includes the age of the customer and their order history. If a 40-somthing customer has bought products for children it is safe to assume that there are children in her immediate surroundings. Hence, using a mascot can be very appropriate.
Sponsoring: The official jersey sponsor of PSG is currently Emirates Airline. Depending on what kind of sponsoring deal is signed, it could be thought of having a designated sponsor for Germain, which will decorate the jersey worn by Germain on to-be-defined occasions. This could be an extra influx of revenue and an interesting opportunity for brands that cater to a younger audience; an obvious idea that comes to mind in this regard is having stuffed toys in the shape of Germain. However, sponsorship contracts need to be carefully assessed and probably overhauled in the case of such an agreement.
A corporate identity policy seeks to establish a favourable reputation by developing credibility and trust between an organisation and its stakeholders (Jobber, 2004, quoted in Bühler and Nufer, 2010:145). The same can be said about public relations. The job Germain the lynx can take on in this regard is to be present and active at events and promote taking pictures with him for sharing on social media. That will promote the PSG brand, give exposure to the sponsor, and portray the brands as active in their community.
This was a very interesting task that made me rethink the inclusion of mascots in sports marketing. After doing some research in textbooks and learning that different teams that matter more or less serious, I still believe that a mascot should only be used in activities targeted towards children or their parents – at least in the case of European football. This is a subjective and unfunded opinion, which stems from my personal observations. It would be interesting, though, to know if my claim that European football aficionados do not care about mascots unless they are young kids or parents with kids. In any case, if you find out, let me know.