Hitting content for six: how brands are reaching cricket’s diverse new fans

Cricket is on a mission to widen its appeal and brands are lining up to join the gung-ho boundary-hitting party as the World Cup approaches

There was no traditional toss of a coin to signal the countdown to the Cricket World Cup 2019. Instead Nigerian-born poet Caleb Femi read a poem in East London, an Emirates A380 left its hangar in Dubai with a bright new livery and nearby the tyres of a Nissan X-Trail carved the shape of a trophy in the desert sands.

Why? Because cricket is undergoing an image makeover and attempts to capture the imaginations of existing fans, as well as convert new ones, are becoming increasingly inventive. From poems to road trips, videos to card games, many share a strong focus on storytelling. Out are stereotypes of men in whites, village greens and cucumber sandwiches. In – and destined for a lengthy innings – are stories of the game’s multicultural diversity and global reach.

More than a billion fans around the world watched the 2015 World Cup and this year’s tournament, which sees 10 countries battle it out at grounds across England and Wales, promises to be even bigger. Organisers and brands are increasingly recognising that content is key to tapping into this passion.

Are you in yet?

“The World Cup is going to be an amazing carnival,” declares Adrian Wells, director of marcomms and ticketing for World Cup organisers CWC 2019. “We want to celebrate diversity and the fact that cricket lovers are getting younger, more female and more international, especially Asian. It’s a great family day out.”

Part of the appeal is the World Cup being just one part of a remarkable summer of cricket. For purists, there is also the ultra-competitive Ashes Test series – a five-Test marathon between arch enemies England and Australia – to enjoy, as well as the women’s Ashes and the first ever Test match between England and Ireland. It follows another cricket big hitter, the Indian Premier League (IPL) – a professional Twenty20 series which concludes this month – that is now one of the top 10 most attended sports leagues in the world.

Cricket’s new inclusivity helps explain why the launch of the World Cup ticket campaign was not by a cricketing superstar at Lord’s, the home of the game, but by a poet in Brick Lane, East London, the home of a good curry. This increasing diversity is the key message of Femi’s supporting poem. “We are all one extended family, sharing the DNA of bat and ball,” he declares, and asks, “Are you in yet?” in a video that has already had more than 210K views.

A second promotional video called Festival stars former England star bowler Freddie Flintoff – not as a swash-buckling cricketer but as a star of musical theatre. In the film, directed by Peter Cattaneo of The Full Monty fame, he waltzes his way through city streets and English meadows to the sound of Imagine Dragons’ On Top of the World. It’s all trumpets, flags and steel drums. A bemused WG Grace would be left stroking his beard.

“Freddie’s a cricketer who transcends popular culture,” Wells explains. “It’s not what you would expect from cricket, and that’s the point – we hope to show cricket in a new light and engage new fans of all ages and cultures.”

Old school going social

To create powerful content across social media, which it is using as the key distribution platform, CWC19 has blended this multicultural theme with cricket’s rich heritage – its heroes and villains, great shots and catches, stats and data. It is a formula it developed at the last World Cup in 2015, when fans could enjoy real-time information, videos and engage in a rich variety of ways, from putting questions to captains after the game (#AskCaptain on Twitter) to voting for the day’s highlights (#PlayoftheDay).

It did the trick. The various CWC15 platforms generated 57.5bn social media impressions, 304m page views and 233m digital media video views, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing body. The ICC audience soared from 2.7m to 47m unique users between 2012 and 2015, while the number of Facebook and Twitter followers rose from 1.5m and 480k to 12m and 3.1m respectively over the same period.

“The CWC19 campaign will be bigger, better and have many new features than CWC15,” says Wells, “but it will still use a digital hub that puts fans, influencers and celebrities around the world at the heart of the creative.”

Global partnerships

This success has supercharged existing partnerships. CWC19 and Nissan, for example, have embarked on a global road trip to promote the World Cup – #CWCTrophyTour – with a Nissan X-Trail transporting the silver and gold trophy from Dubai, home of the ICC, to the UK via five continents and 21 countries. In the UK the trophy was switched to a zeitgeisty all-electric Nissan Leaf for a 100-day-long tour that ends on May 29, in time for the opening game.

The campaign has produced a huge amount of colourful social media content, from cricket grounds in Rwanda to Stonehenge, where shadows of the huge stones created the shape of a cricket wicket.

The tour was also perfect for showcasing the range of Nissan’s products. “Cricket is innovative and really changing its approach to appeal to fans,” says Marc Palmer, Nissan Motor GB’s former marketing communications manager. “As a global property, it allows Nissan to appeal to consumers not only in England but in markets such as Australia, India and Pakistan, too.”

Emirates, meanwhile, the airline that has been a global ICC partner since 2002 and is sponsoring the 2019 World Cup, has taken the story to the skies. A special Emirates Airbus bearing a colourful new cricketing design on its fuselage was launched by Virender Sehwag, the Indian cricketing legend, on a mission to spread the word of cricket around the globe. Its progress can be followed on Twitter via #CWCEmiratesA380.

Ashes to ashes – NatWest and diversity

Once the Cricket World Cup concludes in June, attention turns to the head-to-head rivalry of the Ashes – and the NatWest brand, which has been sponsoring cricket for 38 years.

NatWest is keen to underpin its brand promise – We Are What We Do – by encouraging participation and strengthening links between fans and the England men’s, women’s, age-group and national disability teams.

“As we embark on the biggest cricket season in a generation, we feel it’s never been more important to make it easy for everyone, anywhere, to be able to play, experience and follow cricket,” explains David Wheldon, NatWest’s chief marketing officer.

NatWest’s Cricket Has No Boundaries campaign includes a series of documentary-style videos that celebrate the diversity of the modern game. In Moeen’s Journey England all-rounder Moeen Ali talks about his journey from playing street cricket in Birmingham to winning matches for England.

How Cricket Saved Si Ledwith is a raw interview with Ledwith, a registered blind man who was bullied at school but discovered visually-impaired cricket and ended up playing for England. In support, Joe Root, England’s current Test captain, and Eoin Morgan, the one-day captain, don blindfolds to try the game.

Brands hoping to make a summer splash can also focus on the rapidly expanding women’s game as interest builds for this summer’s women’s Ashes. Stephen Duval, co-founder of 23 Capital, a specialist sports and music financier that sponsored the inaugural Day of Gender Equality T20 cricket match last year and a group with which we have done some work, is a huge fan of women’s sport. “There is a real buzz about women’s cricket at the moment,” he said then.

“We could have put our branding on any major sporting event, but we like to be innovative and do things differently. In terms of our sponsorship strategy, we think women’s cricket and supporting gender equality are a perfect match for us.”

It’s a funny old game

A lot of energy has gone into serious content this year, but brands can also exploit the light-hearted side of cricket. So expect more like drinks brand Rubicon’s quirky Urban Crictionary campaign that celebrates cricket’s “weird and wonderful terminology”, defining the game “one quirk at a time”. Games of charades played by famous cricketers will appear on YouTube with other content on social media, on packs, in store and at the grounds.

Similarly, a new Specsavers #Shouldve Series of humorous video clips for the opticians relives the “weird, wacky and wonderful” moments that have taken place during England Test matches, including former England captain Alastair Cook being hit in the most unfortunate of places, with online voting to choose a consumer favourite.

But you don’t have to be a sponsor to take advantage of the Ashes hyperbole. To celebrate England’s 2015 Ashes victory, for example, Danish brewer Carlsberg rapidly created a Daily Mirror ad that extended its ‘If Carlsberg Did’ campaign. The picture of a corkscrew with its arms out wide with the text “Howzat” and the banner: ‘If Carlsberg did Test matches’ was delivered in just three hours by London creative agency Fold7.

Similarly, celebrating England’s 214-run lead on the first day of the fourth test of the 2015 Ashes tour, Paddy Power promoted their decision to make an early payout with a jokey radio ad voiced by an Australian that turned into an expletive-ridden rant. The voice gave a four-letter twist to the bookmaker’s You’re Welcome tagline, ending with: “Paddy Power, you’re f*cking welcome.”

“Last summer saw a real step change in cricket in this country when England won the ICC Women’s World Cup and we saw a transformation in attitudes, coverage, viewers and attendees as England won in front of a packed house at Lord’s,” Wells concludes. “It was a memorable day that goes down in history for the women’s game and I hope 2019 sees similar drama and positive global engagement.”