Yesterday’s failed Bayern Munich stunt was an ideal example of what happens when creative energy fails to connect with the reality of the media narrative. For those who didn’t hear, the German football team wrangled a piece of PR trickery which fuelled an horrific backlash.
An announcement on their website that “a spectacular name” was to sign for the club invited fans to watch the name’s unveiling on the team’s Facebook page.
Needless to say, an incredible amount of furore was generated and fans eagerly tuned in at the proposed time in their thousands. However, following a short video clip from FCB’s general manager Christian Nerlinger, fans were treated to a view of their own Facebook profile picture, followed by their own name on the back of a Bayern Munich number 8 shirt.
Cue slow clap. It’s not hard to imagine the brainstorming session behind that one. The scene: a smoky little room, the unearthly glow of a dozen iMacs lending a superhuman sheen to the bearded mugs of the creative team. Who knows what blue sky heights they tapped into to get there, but the point is that when that eureka moment came and someone threw this ‘off the wall’ nugget of media disruption into the ether, everyone was clearly too busy congratulating themselves to think for a second about the fans themselves, and the ongoing, human narrative that would arise.
A football team’s stock in trade is the illogical, desperate and oddly beautiful passion of its fans. Football is not just another consumer product, and its fans are not simply consumers. Like the release of a Morrissey album or the unveiling of a new Pope, the transfer window is something that inspires interest and conversation that transcends the rational and borders on the obsessive.
In order to keep fans onside, buying tickets and following the team after the window has closed, the most important thing that a team’s communications need to do is inspire and retain trust. If the fans trust the team through and through, then no matter what disappointments or controversies come their way, they will stick by the team with religious ardour.
Ironically, of course, this ardour and support is something the stunt was clearly trying to acknowledge, and I’m not claiming that FCB was deliberately sticking two fingers up at its fanbase. However, the main shortcoming of creative is that it gets so wrapped up in its own genius that it forgets how the great unwashed actually think. In the eyes of someone who’s skipped a class or skived off that all important meeting just to watch the announcement of a name this is not a clever stunt- it’s a sick joke.
In short, the team weren’t thinking in narrative terms. They planned meticulously up to an initial moment of shock and disruption, but failed to plan for what would come after. Feeling betrayed and abandoned, fans have lost some of that crucial trust. While 20 years ago this may not have been such an issue, they’ll now whip each other up into a frenzy via social media, and likely leave in significant numbers.
I encourage clever media thinking, but when clever become smartarse, particularly in a supposedly grassroots organisation like a sports team, you’ve got disaster on your hands. Some good may come out of this fiasco if the suits who run modern sport can be made to see that.