Marketing and thinking more laterally

A global audience of 450 million watched Manchester City beat Inter Milan 1-0 in the recent Champions League final, according to UEFA, with a live average audience of about 150 million. For the millions glued to the world’s most important club match, it was all about football and glory, but for the brand sponsors, it was a battle for eyeballs and sales.

And the key sponsors were very happy to pay a fortune to play… Heineken, MasterCard, PlayStation – the big three – and Lay’s,, Gazprom, FedEx and Just Eat, stump up an annual total of $1.2bn, according to Elfutbolero. The exact amount is a well-kept secret, but there is no shortage of mega-brands desperate to join the competition.

What happens, though, if the competition is fierce and you can’t afford the big bucks? Or if the competition is fierce and you simply want to stand out from the crowd? One option is to think more laterally. And bravely. Marketing is often about saying the most obvious thing very well. Take a brand’s core value and then bang on about it. And then bang on about it some more. But sometimes thinking outside the marketing toolbox is a better strategy.

It’s football but not live football…

In the world of football, an excellent example is the incredible rise of Copa90, a sports business and YouTube channel launched in 2012 to disrupt the world of football media. Tom Thirlwell, the founder, had one fundamental insight. He was going to create a football content business without showing – yes, you guessed it – live football. Even highlights and goals were secondary.

That meant he had the freedom to ignore bidding for expensive rights to matches, the bread and butter of sports broadcasting. He focused on the fan experience, the context of football, the football without the actual football. Today it is a powerful and influential fan-first media company with more than 70,000 monthly fans.

“The founding principles were to create shows that shine a light on football stories, champion fan culture or deliver opinions you couldn’t see anywhere else,” Thirlwell explains. ”We wanted to tell the stories from outside the 90 minutes of the game that would then make the 90 minutes of the game matter even more.”

The channel is refreshing and fun and offers off-beat but compelling fly-on-wall stories. Dover & Out is about a team that never wins. Football on the Edge is an investigation into the sport in Greenland. And then there are more oddball ideas like the regular match day menus. You would expect to see Tequila and Tacos in Mexico and Texas on a food channel.

So what’s the big idea?

Edward de Bono, the guru who coined the phrase ‛Lateral Thinking’, put forward four main types of tools that help produce new ideas. They are more common sense than startling insights but are still helpful. Idea-generating tools help break prevailing thinking patterns while focus tools broaden the scope of the search. Harvest tools ensure more value is created from each new idea and treatment tools are designed to ensure the ideas are, ultimately, realistic and useful.

More interestingly, de Bono links lateral thinking with humour. Most good jokes require lateral thinking. They are made up of two parts – the set-up and the punchline. The set-up takes us down an expected route: A to B and then, presumably, to C. The punchline is an amusing lateral jump. Instead of C, we get L, or 23, or *%$. It is this moment of surprise, the twist in logic, that can create a laugh and, ideally, new insights. Here are four classic marketing twists we like:

1. Turning a (perceived) weakness into a strength – waiting for Guinness

A pint of Guinness takes longer to pour than other beers, which is a weakness unless you spin the story. Once the Guinness advertising focused on the skill of pouring and the anticipation of waiting everything changed. The slogan? Good things come to those who wait. Similarly, Heinz ketchup is relatively viscous and slower to pour than other ketchups so Heinz advertising implies more runny ketchups are lower quality.

2. A clever (and funny) joke – a left-handed burger from Burger King

On 1st April 1998, Burger King published an ad in USA Today launching the “Left-Handed Whopper” in which all the usual ingredients had been rotated 180 degrees – perfect for left-handers. The joke was funny, entered the top ten April Fool’s Joke lists and earned lots of brand awareness and goodwill.

3. Memorable (and annoying) wordplay –  Compare the Meerkats

In the UK the price comparison site market is fierce. Differentiation is difficult as the propositions are essentially the same. gained serious traction with a very unsubtle piece of wordplay – an advertising campaign that demanded consumers ‘Compare the meerkat’. It’s quite funny, it’s quite annoying, and it’s extremely effective.

4. A (cute) point of difference – don’t go there; live there with Airbnb

Airbnb allows travelers to rent places to stay on holiday. So it’s in competition with all the world’s hotels, hostels, BnBs, guesthouses… Wrong! The campaign Don’t go there; live there cleverly redefined what traveling means. It beautifully captured the spirit of adventure, of authentic experience, and contains a subliminal message, too. If you travel with Airbnb you are more than just a tourist…

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