Eurovision: how to reach the audience of Europe’s biggest TV show

Credit: Vugarİbadov

With a little ingenuity, brands of all shapes and sizes can connect with the 180 million-plus viewers of all ages who watch the annual music extravaganza

What connects an Austrian drag queen, Abba and Dustin the Turkey? They may sound like the cast of a Brexiteer’s worst nightmare, but douze points for those who spotted they have all starred in the Eurovision Song Contest.

So why are you reading about them on a content marketing blog? With a global TV audience of more than 180 million people and a pan-European prime-time audience share of 36.2 per cent (more than double the average share of the same channels during normal programming), Eurovision offers brands an established and diverse audience, nonetheless united by a common set of values and experiences.

Caroline Frost, entertainment analyst and Eurovision super-fan, says: “Everyone in the hall is agreed on several things – that diversity, progress and tolerance are good things, to be protected and championed.”

If these values and feel-good factor chime with your brand, then how can you benefit most from Eurovision’s broad appeal?

Making your mind up

While in the UK Eurovision is a brand- and advert-free experience, as a consequence of it being broadcast by the BBC, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved in advertising and marketing around it.

Elsewhere the competition features advert breaks and thus has enormous appeal for global brands. Last year Eurovision was watched by people in 42 countries, including the United States and Australia.

The biggest companies – global food, drinks and consumer-goods brands – can afford to directly piggyback on the show’s appeal by buying advertising spots around and during the live show, or by becoming sponsors.

UK chocolate brand Cadbury, for example, launched a major Twitter campaign around the 2016 show, featuring pre-roll ads on videos shared from the official @Eurovision account, promoted tweets and buying the #Eurovision promoted trend on the day.

Brand manager Declan Duggan told Mobile Marketing: “We can capitalise on the natural interest rather than having to generate our own moment from scratch, while still having the creative freedom to bring that to life. We believe in being part of key moments in our consumers’ lives, but we want to do that at meaningful scale.”

Haircare brand Schwarzkopf has sponsored Eurovision several times, using its own site and social media channels to position itself as an expert and integral part of the live event, explaining how various looks were achieved and how its products can help viewers recreate them at home.

“Eurovision is an opportunity to get all the generations in the household together and watching the same thing on the same sofa on a Saturday night,” says freelance brand strategist Donald Cameron. “It’s easy to underestimate the value of that for people, but it’s the reason why companies are willing to pay so much for sports sponsorship.”

Importantly, notes Cameron, event sponsorship of this type only succeeds when brands spend the same again to promote said sponsorship to ensure it does not go unnoticed.

That sounds good to me

However, you needn’t be an official sponsor or spend large sums to create attention around the event. The city of Vienna, which hosted Eurovision in 2015, grabbed headlines and kudos around the world by changing the red and green men on its traffic lights to couples, both gay and straight, accompanied by love hearts. Aligning itself with the Song Contest’s values of tolerance and openness attracted the kind of positive publicity it is hard to buy.

This echoed one of the most successful examples of disrupting the normal sponsorship model, which came during the US Super Bowl in 2015, another must-see TV event. Volvo decided not to spend $4m on an official advertising spot, but instead ran “The Greatest Interception Ever”, which asked people to send a tweet with the hashtag #VolvoContest during any rival carmaker’s ad, putting forward the name of friend who deserved to win a Volvo. The result? 55,000 tweets were sent, Volvo trended around the world on Twitter during the game and the company said sales of XC60s, the model which was the competition prize, were 70 per cent higher that February compared with the previous year.

You’re not alone

Twin screening – watching an event and simultaneously commenting on it via social media – is now a large part of the appeal of big live shows such as Eurovision, and a key way to bring audiences together around a single hashtag that anyone can jump in on.

Some 7.4 million tweets about Eurovision were sent on the day of the show last year and Twitter data offers still more context for brands; analysis by Kantar Media showed that people tweeting about Eurovision 2017 also had an interest in food, non-alcoholic drinks brands, clothes, computer games and electronic devices.

The quirky nature of the competition – “Whether it’s high Austrian camp, banging Swedish EDM or Russian grannies belting out a folk tune, nobody is ever less than 100 per cent enthusiastic, and the optimism is infectious,” says Frost – opens the way for brands to have fun with it on social, too.

Drinks brand Innocent, for example, explained sometimes confusing elements of the show – how countries vote, as well as why Australia was even there – in simple graphics firmly in tune with its friendly and quirky brand voice.

Paddy Power always brings its own irreverent style to the bookmaker’s 649,000 Twitter followers on Eurovision night, offering the latest odds throughout the evening, as well as swear words aplenty, with more on Snapchat.

Eurovision is also a good excuse for a party – something that retailers have cottoned on to, offering their social audiences party-planning ideas and products to make the evening go with a swing..

“For a family brand, Eurovision is a great platform for reaching your customers and reaching them at a time when they’re in the mood for togetherness,” says Cameron.

One step further

Even Eurovision itself is experimenting with new ways to broaden its audience and build anticipation ahead of the live show; every stage of the competition was streamed live on YouTube for the first time in 2017, with the contestants’ music videos and backstage previews posted well in advance of the performance itself.

And this YouTube content attracted large audiences – Italian contestant Francesco Gabbani’s video got 86 million views in advance, for example.

So, how else can companies get involved?

Partnerships are another route. Rolex and IBM supply scoreboards and analytic capability to Wimbledon, highlighting the accuracy and reliability of their products in a high-stakes environment. Companies that are, or wish to be, involved in the complex live broadcasting process of Eurovision can do the same – the competition was originally set up by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 1956 to showcase what broadcast technology was capable of. The polyglot nature of the show must also make it one of the biggest nights of the year for simultaneous translation services.

Osram – the “official lighting partner” for the show since 2015 – capitalises on this by creating YouTube videos showing off some of the different lighting effects this “modern, digital lighting technology” company is capable of, while content on its website promises viewers that the light shows it is putting on at both semi-finals and the final on May 12 will be a “fascinating and awe-inspiring experience”.

Whether viewers are watching it for the performances, the irony or the geo-politics of the voting (who will vote for Russia this year?), it’s a major opportunity for brands to find new audiences on and offline.

“The point of watching is not for the musical quality, although there may be a few good songs,” says Cameron. “It’s about watching a contest unfold, the unpredictability of who will win, and watching it together so you can shout at the TV, laugh and sing along.”

How Eurovision helped to bring out the vote

Eurovision’s ability to engage millions of people across Europe and beyond made it a natural ally for a campaign to boost voter participation in European elections

By Ross Cathcart, Director, FirstWord

In 2004, my old employer Weber Shandwick was given a brief by the European Parliament’s office in London to improve UK voter turnout at the European elections to be held in June that year.

The initial research painted a bleak picture – suggesting the lowest number of voters ever, for any election, even compared with the 1999 European elections when the UK managed a turnout of just 24 per cent, the lowest in Europe that year.

This grabbed the attention of political reporters, and after it was covered on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the reasons for voter apathy in general, and towards Europe in particular, became the subject of national debate.

With everyone talking about democracy, the task was to turn that interest into votes for candidates. Some of this was traditional PR – taking reporters to Brussels to find out what the European Parliament really does and issuing regular press releases stressing the urgency of the situation.

However, grabbing the attention of those not obsessed with polling statistics – the vast majority of the British population – required a different approach. The campaign took a giant relief map of Europe on a road trip to six cities around the UK and flew a hot-air balloon with the EU flag on it at major public events such as Six Nations rugby matches and the Grand National.

Perhaps most importantly, it harnessed the popular appeal (8.3 million UK viewers watched the show that year) of the biggest pan-European voting event of them all, the Eurovision Song Contest (anyone who thinks Eurovision is not political should read this great piece by a political scientist from the University of Sydney). There was a downloadable party pack with score sheets, bingo cards and other paraphernalia.

The Royal Television Society was still producing Eurovision party packs as recently as last year, as UK voters continue to embrace the song contest, if not the EU any longer.

Whether it was Eurovision, the hot-air balloon or the headlines about D-Day for Democracy, the good news for the campaign – and for democratic participation – was that turnout for the European elections in 2004 increased to 38.8 per cent in the UK.