Data in Football - A Lesson For Us in Advertising


By Ravleen Beeston, UK Head of Sales, Bing Ads

The ‘beautiful game’ has been front of mind for many over the past few weeks as we’ve watched the triumphs and tears play out on screen, with England crashing out of the Euros half way through, Wales managed to fight their way to the semi-finals. Football fever has been alive and kicking across the United Kingdom this summer, but has also been front of mind for the brands sponsoring teams and the tournament alike.

However, beyond the goals, tackles and celebratory moments, football as a game and industry has a lesson for us in advertising.

Before the first whistle, 11 players walk out onto the pitch, each personally skilled in their own way but also equipped behind the scenes with more than the talent seen on our TV screens. Where once David Beckham’s right boot, or the hairdryer treatment from Alex Ferguson, may have got the goals and league table placements, football today is a different game.

When your budgets are as big as some clubs’, you want a trusted set of data analytics on which to base your decision. Instinct still counts, but it’s now backed up by mathematical talent spotters – and that’s just in player recruitment. Coaches and managers are arming themselves with stacks of insights as they head into their tactical war rooms.

It started in rival sport, rugby, with Sir Clive Woodward, who was the first coach to adapt player-tracking software Prozone to the game, installing it at Twickenham four years before the team’s 2003 World Cup triumph. In his words, “it removed a lot of the preconceived notions we had about how other teams played. It made a big difference when we started to see them as data, as opposed to teams we had never beaten before.”

Today, 19 of the 20 Premier League teams use Prozone. Each club now has its own team of data scientists and performance analysts pouring over indicators that allow measurable player performance or trends that characterise seasons. Further afield, you only have to look at F1, arguably the most data inspired sport of all, to see what insight and analytics can achieve when combined with some creative thinking and tactics.

Data delivers in sport.

Reflecting on this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, data and creativity remains our industry’s chicken and egg debate – Which comes first? Which defines success? Can they coexist? As the CMO of Unilever put it, “the magic and the logic”.

It boils down to always needing to answer the who, what, why and how. Who to focus a campaign towards, why a certain platform, what creative will resonate? As advertisers we’re continuously seeking out the answers on how best to cut through the noise and satiate consumer curiosity, to provide the right answer at the right time.

In competing to best answer a consumer’s need, you need to understand what it is you need to be serving in order to drive relevancy and be impactful. It’s the same as a football club needing to know who they should be putting forward for penalties based on their insights of their opponents. In advertising, data is what give us the context to human curiosity.

While football’s secret weapon seems today to be Prozone, for advertisers, search is crucial in unlocking a wealth of information that can be used to empower marketers in order to build a more informed picture of their audience’s wants, needs and desires.

At Cannes Lions we launched a new set of Bing insights, found online by following the #BingBites hashtag, which explored how brand sponsors’ campaigns were translating into intrigue with consumers, and therefore search volumes online.

Despite the bias to perhaps assume sporting or personal technology brands will lead during tournaments such as this, we found car manufacturers are in fact currently coming out top, taking the highest proportion of searches across the all up tournament and England team brand sponsors.

Official Euros brand sponsors, Kia Motors, accounted for 20 per cent of all searches followed by Orange and Adidas, each generating 19 per cent of searches. We found amongst England team sponsors, Vauxhall was also largely dominating with over a third (36%) of searches.

Despite the male dominated world of football, we found women are also key players in the run up to the Euros. Marks & Spencer is so far the second most searched for England team sponsor (26%), with females accounting for over two thirds of searches for the brand.

Data driven marketing and creativity, through depth of audience understanding can, and will, allow brands to emotionally connect with diverse audiences. In turn, being able to answer a consumer need in the right context, with the right information.

Just as football team managers are coupling data analysis with heated pep talks and side-line screaming, search has evolved to become a core digital intelligence ingredient and the depth of consumer insight it delivers is key to marketer success. Granted passion, talent and creativity are still critical to every game, but now data is also a driving force. Search isn’t abating and curiosity is shaping its future in today’s connected world. Its power in giving context to curiosity for brands cannot be underestimated.

For more search insights join the conversation at #BingBites