Owning The Future, The Good And The Bad - Milestone Marketing

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on August 18, 2012

When Spain recently took on Italy in the finals of the Euro Cup in Kiev, it wasn’t just a fight on the pitch between two traditional rivals, between the La Furia Roja and the Forza Azzuri for continental domination, it was also an opportunity for two German companies to rake in millions of dollars in merchandise sales as shoppers flooded their stores the next morning.

You see, the Spanish national squad is sponsored by Europe’s largest sportswear maker Adidas and the Italian squad by its across-the river neighbor Puma. Two companies born out of the bad blood between brothers, if ever there was any rivalry between brands, it is this one. Nevertheless, irrespective of which team wins, each manufacturer must be ready for a surge in sales of the team’s jerseys and kits for the next coming weeks. If manufacturers are found wanting at this stage, they could potentially lose out on humongous sales and also allow counterfeit products to flood the market. Thus it is needless to say that marketing companies need to be prepared for “milestones” of these sorts and work towards exploiting them for their benefits.

In this world of ever increasing competition, marketing companies are looking to seize every opportunity they can to bolster sales and increasingly betting on anticipatory events, a trend which has given rise to a new marketing field of “milestone marketing”. Milestone marketing is essentially the process of cashing in on a euphoria related to an impending sporting milestone. Although not only confined to sports, it remains a dominant field because of the uncertainty attached with it.

The example of football above, although contemporary does not fully encapsulate the importance and prevalence of milestone marketing in today’s world.  In the world of big bucks sporting events the euphoria is generally short lived and companies want to cash in on these opportunities. This means being the first one to the post and this means factoring in a lot of uncertainty. Marketing in such a scenario becomes a huge gamble, sometimes which pays off handsome dividends and sometimes doesn’t.

We all remember the clamor over Sachin reaching a century of centuries. Without belittling the class of the Little Master, I would just like to recall the summer of 2011 when India toured England for 4 tests and 5 ODI’s. With the tour coming to a disastrous close and many fans disappointed at not having seen Sachin raise his bat for the 100th time, nobody has felt the heat more than maybe Coke, Canon, Future Group, Toshiba, a couple of other brands, Sachin himself and the BCCI followed close suit.

The reason I say this is because these big multinationals had huge money riding on Sachin’s hundredth ton. According to Mr. Navin Khemka, senior VP at media buying firm Zenith Optimedia, a media agency “a whole lot of advertisers which included brands both with associations to Sachin and others, planned to air ads across media including news channels, print media and online the day Sachin made his 100th 100”.

Coke India which signed up Sachin as its ‘happiness ambassador’ for a whooping 12 crores decided to print  6.5 million cans with 9 different designs each signifying a special Sachin ton. The 10th design was supposed to have the impending ton on the face and people were left waiting for it for more than a year.

The Coca-Cola can designs in the run up to Sachin’s century of centuries

The 10th design in the series which took more than a year to see the light of the day

In a campaign which was meant to be an answer to rival PepsiCo's 'change the game' World Cup campaign which helped the latter build its brand equity heavily, Coke was playing a relatively safe game hoping to cash in on the peak summer season which coincided with the English tour. Everybody expected the fireworks to happen but before we knew it, the Indian team got battered and by the time we knew it, the fizz was gone.

Similarly Canon India had its '100 good moments with Sachin' promotion and the Future Group was working on a limited edition non-standard pack for one of the existing categories to be launched in a few weeks' time. And as well all know, all these initiatives and the hype came to a naught and therein lies the pleasure and problem with milestone marketing.

Another incident which highlights the precarious nature of milestone marketing involves the world’s leading apparel supplier by the name of Nike, Inc. in 2011 Nike sponsored the English National Rugby team in the Six Nations Grand Slam. As expected the English made it to the finals only to face a formidable Irish squad. With all the hype being built around the English squad, it was expected to be a walk in the park but resulted in a dramatic rubbing at the hands of the Irish. Not only did the team have to face the disappointment of defeat in the grand slam decider, they now had an added humiliation: the leaking of Nike's grand slam celebrations advert, complete with heroic England stars.

The English team posing with the trophy despite the loss

Being their official kit sponsors, Nike came up with an advert saluting England as "Grand Slam Champions 2011" which was leaked on to the internet despite the team's defeat. The video showed England stars in a series of staged action clips before signing off with the team's red rose emblem. An alleged internal memo also went on to outline the "burst of digital out-of-home activity" that would celebrate the grand slam win. 

It also included plans of printing of 5000 limited edition T-shirts. Clearly in the spirit to “Just Do It”, Nike had clearly “Just blown It”. To the embarrassment of all those involved, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) issued a statement expressing dismay at the leak and denying allegations that the opponents were taken lightly.

Clearly these are not situations in which organisations would like to see themselves in but irrespective of whatever has been the past experience and considering the billions of dollars riding behind famous names and faces, it must be expected for companies to try and own sporting achievements and capitalize on the future. There is always going to be a risk regarding the future but good or bad, one thing is for certain, Milestone marketing and an effort to own the future is here to stay.

This article has been authored by Anirban Ghosh from IIM Indore.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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