Champions League Final: The game that stops a continent

Wembley: hosting this year's Champions League Final
Wembley: hosting this year's Champions League Final

Brands are rushing to cash in on Europe's 'Super Bowl moment' when the Champions League final kicks off at Wembley on Saturday, writes Alex Brownsell.

This Saturday night's UEFA Champions League final has thrown together a contest that has UK advertisers licking their lips in anticipation.

The tie between Manchester United and Barcelona at Wembley Stadium on 28 May is one of the most eagerly awaited of all time among British football fans, given the participation of a Premier League powerhouse, a London setting and Saturday-night scheduling. Anticipating a UK 'Super Bowl moment', advertisers have responded by getting their wallets out.

ITV is expected to gain about £8m in revenue from ads screened during its coverage, with brands such as Heineken, Ford and BMW paying between £175,000 and £225,000 (up to 65% above the average station price) to feature in the broadcaster's eight three-and-a-half minute breaks. Some estimates have even suggested the price might top the £250,000 associated with The X Factor final.

Excitement

UK marketers often complain of the lack of major event TV moments, beyond ratings-winners such as The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, so the likely UK audience of more than 10m has brands rushing to launch timely ad campaigns.

Yet, despite the excitement from a European perspective, the activity fails to match up to the eye-popping investments made by US advertisers around the annual Super Bowl broadcast.

Earlier this year, brands paid $3m per 30-second TV slot, with most constructing one-off ads. Conversely, brands on this side of the Atlantic are generally using the Champions League final as a springboard for scheduled marketing activity.

Here, Marketing takes a look at the work being run by some of the main advertisers around the big match at Wembley.

MCDONALD'S

McDonald's, an advertiser known for its deep pockets, has continued to forge its strong links with football by taking ad slots during the match next week. The fast-food chain, a long-term sponsor of the FA, grass-roots football and the World Cup, is not running a football-specific ad but will be promoting its latest Great Tastes of America limited-edition burgers. On the day of the final, the Texas Grande variant will be the subject of the ad.

A McDonald's spokeswoman says it looks to big TV ad opportunities to push its products and the spot also fits well with this football heritage.

XBOX

Microsoft will debut the trailer for its Xbox 360 game Gears of War 3, set to launch in the autumn. The ad, booked by UM, will air directly after the final whistle of the match before being rolled out globally. It will show a 'ragtag' group of marines from the game, banding together to fight. Rory Behrman, Ideation director at UM London, says: 'This momentous sporting occasion is a great fit for our audience. We know our audience demands entertainment from the advertising they consume.'

MASTERCARD

Champions League sponsor MasterCard will push its 'Witness history' activation campaign through a series of broadcast bumper ads during the final, as well as additional swathes of above-the-line, digital and experiential activity, such as its MasterCard Sport Court Debate held in London this week.

According to Paul Meulendijk, head of sponsorship at MasterCard Europe, this year's final presents a huge opportunity to target consumers across the globe. 'With the final contested between two three-time winners at Wembley, how much bigger could it be? This is the creme de la creme,' he says.

FORD

For several years Ford has used the Champions League as a platform to launch TV campaigns. The manufacturer will adapt its global Focus work for the final this year to promote the centennial celebrations of Ford of Britain. Mark Jones, Ford's European sponsorship manager, believes the Champions League final is more important than the Super Bowl to advertisers when it comes to social media interaction. He adds: 'It is in the live experience, like the UEFA Champions Festival, and in social media that the Champions League is surpassing the Super Bowl.'

WILLIAM HILL

Bookmaker William Hill is advertising during the half-time break of the Champions League final, when it will promote its in-play options which allow customers to place bets during matches.

UK gambling rules allow bookmakers to advertise during live sporting events, and William Hill marketing director Kristof Fahy believes it has backed a winner with the Champions League.

'With two of the biggest club teams in Europe, no competition in terms of the sports schedule and a first-time Saturday kick-off, this Champions League final has the potential to be a big night out for William Hill,' he says. 'With in-play betting and mobile growing rapidly for us, we're hoping for extra-time and penalties.'

LYNX

Lynx is using the final-whistle slot of the Champions League final to premiere a TV ad campaign for its latest variant, 48-hour anti-perspirant Lynx Dry: Full Control.

The Unilever-owned brand has secured, through its agency Mindshare, simultaneous slots on Sky, ITV and Pub TV during the final ad break, where slots are rumoured to be priced in the region of £250,000.

'We looked for a unique, high-impact single spot to launch the new Lynx Dry antiperspirant,' explains Mindshare account director Michael Hyman. 'The final-whistle break is arguably the most expensive ad break of the year, but it's the UK's version of the Super Bowl. It's estimated that the ad will reach about 6m men in what is the ultimate engaged environment.'

HEINEKEN

Heineken, which is in its sixth year as an official sponsor of the Champions League, is running its latest TV ad during the final. The spot launched earlier this year and introduced the global strapline 'Open your world'. It will air as a 60-second spot on ITV and a 30-second spot on Sky Sports 1.

It is also running, as it does for the Grand National with the John Smith's brand, a comprehensive outdoor campaign in an attempt to 'paint London green'.

Through a combination of static, digital and backlit sites encompassing road, rail and air routes into and out of London, it will seen by 75% of all adults in London an average of 24 times over the next fortnight.

Rick Lawrence, marketing manager, Heineken UK, says of the outdoor activity: 'This is a campaign with a scale and reach that truly befits the world's most international beer brand and Europe's most prestigious club football competition.'

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