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3 key themes of sports marketing at Cannes Lions

3 key themes of sports marketing at Cannes Lions
Cannes Lions 2024

Women’s sports, humour and the return of big brands were the major themes of this year’s Entertainment Lions for Sport category at the Cannes Lions.

Louise Johnson, jury president of the sport category and UK and EMEA CEO of Omnicom Media Group sports marketing agency Fuse, said this year women’s sport has elevated from a discussion around parity to one of creativity.

The Entertainment for Sport Grand Prix went to Orange’s “WoMen’s Football” campaign by Marcel in France.

It tackled the misconception that women’s football was less technical and less entertaining, highlighting the fact that even in the weeks leading up to the Women’s World Cup, no media organisation had secured broadcasting rights for the tournament.

Secondly, humour has made a comeback. Having been on the jury in the 2021 edition of Cannes Lions, when the work was “very heavy”, Johnson was pleased to see “fun back in campaigns”. She told The Media Leader: “It’s OK to be entertained. You can have purpose and humour.”

Thirdly, big brands are back spending. “It’s a sign that everybody’s taking sports seriously,” she added.

Indeed, the Champions League and the Super Bowl are “still drawing big numbers”, proving the power of sports in attracting audiences for advertisers.

While AI has unsurprisingly been the talking point of the 2024 festival, there wasn’t much AI-related work in the sport category. As Johnson noted: “I thought it would dominate.” In fact, the work has been all about the creative idea first, while AI helps to bring it to life.

Louise Johnson jury
Johnson at the winners press conference this week


Looking ahead

Johnson hopes that enthusiasm in women’s sports will continue in 2025, advising marketers: “Don’t let it fall.” The use of humour is also anticipated to continue.

Another expectation is advertisers better leveraging cultural moments, where athletes may organically talk about something that a brand can then “jump on” through social listening.

The notion of participation will also evolve. Advertisers should be putting fans first ahead of their own brands in all of their communications, Johnson suggested.

Meanwhile, despite sustainability being a huge topic of discussion in the wider industry, Johnson noted with surprise that there was not much 2024 work that addressed this.

Going forward, this needs to change. She asked: “How do we use sports to think about these big issues?”

Eduardo Gil, International Partnerships , TP Vision Ambilight tv, on 23 Jun 2024
“Those of us who share a passion for football and marketing like to believe that football has the power to change the world for the better. And this kind of campaigns contribute to that, adding purpose to our jobs and projects where we put so much effort and dedication. But I am going to focus on your comments Louise about putting fans first and humor. Because that’s a great way to make a campaign relevant to an audience and fun to work on. Fans first, or customers first, is one of those words that are in all companies promises but rarely seen in actual daily practices. A difficult one, as it requires generosity and courage. A recent great example is The Superstitious Call (https://www.instagram.com/reel/C74IXv_NxQx/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link) appeared as part of The Real Hardcore Fans Club campaign from Heineken. As they put it, “ this campaign champions fan inclusion and diversity. It's about the unique, sometimes quirky behaviours, the rituals, and the unwavering passion that fans bring to the sport (…) It celebrates football’s unifying power (…) And that football belongs to everyone, transcending backgrounds, and beliefs.” I believe this is a growing trend in the industry, and it requires agencies, sponsors and properties to keep an eye, constantly, on what’s going on among the fans, what stories appear all of the sudden, outside of our meeting rooms and briefings. Because it’s all about the fans, not about the brands.”

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