The car marque’s name was seen on the shirts of the Premier League giants for the first time in a competitive match this weekend (16 August) as it kicked off its £50m a season seven-year shirt sponsorship. It will put cause-related marketing front and center of the effort in order to reach drivers in emerging markets it claims are more willing to pay for brands with a purpose.
Chevrolet says it will create football programs that positively impact deprived children in communities in key markets such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and China, believing that consumers are more willing to pay for brands with a purpose.
Grassroots initiatives are being developed in partnership with the One Word Futbol Project children’s charity that has already spawned one million footballs donated donated to more than 60 countries since the United deal was first agreed in 2012. Most recently, Chevrolet made its Premier League bow by asking United players to take to the pitch with the names of 11 young mascots – plucked from deprived areas in its focus markets – on their shirts ahead of their opening match against Swansea on Saturday (16 August).
Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer of Chevrolet, says the “gesture” reflects a conscious decision to refrain from “wasting” budget on “shouting” about its ties to the team and instead foster a more regionally targeted and cost-efficient strategy.
Mahoney told Marketing Week: “Partnering with Manchester United is about driving awareness for us in our key growth markets where the club is one of the most recognised brands around. You don’t need to do a lot of extra marketing when you have 40 or 50 million people watching every match. [The strategy] for us is more about how we create a platform that fosters creativity and ingenuity both externally with consumers but also internally with our staff.
“Around 10 years ago over 60 per cent of our sales were in the US. Now around 65 per cent of our sales are from international markets. We know that people are increasingly drawn to brands with a purpose and there’s a cynicism that can greet commercial partnerships, particularly in sport. What we’re doing with CSR is making it more connected to our wider ‘Find New Roads’ [marketing] strategy in a way that makes us more relevant to sport and ultimately our customers in order to drive trials, purchases, loyalty and brand equity.”
The ‘Power to Play” strategy will also extend to the brand’s racing, baseball, hockey and athletics properties. Chevrolet announced a five year-deal with the Brazilian athletics team last week (15 August) as it looks to boost its profile in the region ahead of the Olympic Games in 2016.
Mahoney, who replaced Joel Ewanick last year, is focusing the brand’s efforts around delivering a tighter media mix through digital and establishing media partnerships to accelerate awareness at scale.
Mahoney spoke to Marketing Week about expanding Chevrolet’s digital footprint and the impact of United missing out on European football this season.
Marketing Week (MW): What does the brand’s focus on digital and media partnerships mean for traditional channels such as TV and press moving forward?
Tim Mahoney (TM): TV and press are great at getting people to think about Chevrolet but more and more people are researching about car brands online. By the time they hit a dealership, they know more about the car then you could ever imagine. They’ve checked prices, looked at inventory, all that engagement is now happening online.
It’s an area we’re pushing forward through user-generated content and our work with companies like Facebook. In some markets the second-screen is very much the first screen so there’s greater opportunities to connect with 65 million people on an individual basis. Media planning and partnerships are key to pushing our storytelling at a higher level where we’re able to reach consumers faster than ever have done and with the right mixes.
MW: How has United’s failure to qualify for Europe impacted the brand’s sponsorship plans given the global reach of the Champions League and Europa Cup?
TM: It’s not really an issue for our strategy. It’s less about where the games are being played and more about the power of the [United] brand and that fanbase. The Premier League has a massive following worldwide and there’s so much interest in the team with the new manager coming in and it feeling like the club’s emerging from its transition period.
MW: Chevrolet switched its automotive sponsorship with Liverpool to Vauxhall following the announcement its cars will no longer be sold the UK from 2015. Will it do the same to its automotive deal with United?
TM: Chevrolet will continue to be both shirt and automotive partner with United. It made sense with Vauxhall being a UK brand to focus our efforts through Liverpool and use United to push Chevrolet’s more globally focused objectives. We’re creating alignment so that the Vauxhall and Opel brands can cover Western Europe. Some of the UK-focused Chevrolet marketing team has been absorbed into Chevrolet global division, some have gone to Vauxhall, others to Opel and some have gone. We’ve right-sized the team and its pretty much complete now.
MW: How does the CRS activity tie back to the ’Find New Roads’ marketing strategy and how will it inform future activations?
TM: We came up with the ‘Power of Play’ as a way to unify everything we do from a sponsorship perspective, whether that’s basketball or racing in the US or football around the world. We’ve been working on the idea for about a year and tried to come up with a concept that was going to allow us to make CSR engaging to fans and pave the way for better integration with our marketing. We’ve grown dramatically outside the US over the last 10 years but in some ways we’re still a very new brand in some of those markets. Companies have an obligation to do right and we wanted to make activations around our efforts engaging and relevant to football fans who could potentially become Chevrolet customers.