The FA cup is guaranteed to throw up a few surprises and shocks every year. This time around, one of the most noteworthy storylines was the progress of Sutton United who made it to the fifth round, earning a televised glamour tie against Premier League opposition.

Media reports ahead of the mouth-watering fixture with Arsenal made much of the physical attributes of Wayne Shaw, Sutton’s reserve goalkeeper and member of coaching staff. At around 20 stone, he had acquired the nickname of ‘roly-poly goalie’ and was seemingly revelling in the attention he was getting in the press.

During the game, after Sutton had used all three of their permitted substitutions and there was no way that Shaw would actually make it onto the field of play, he was spotted by TV cameras eating a pie.

But this moment of comedy came at a price for Shaw. It was alleged that Shaw had been in cahoots with a bookmaker that was offering odds of 8-1 that he would eat a pie while on the bench. Shaw tearfully resigned and the headlines that should have been about Sutton’s heroic efforts instead focused on the whole sordid affair.

The incident had echoes of Niklas Bendtner’s antics at Euro 2012, when he dropped his shorts after scoring in Denmark’s defeat to Portugal to reveal the logo of bookmakers Paddy Power. UEFA took a very dim view, he was banned for one game and fined €100,000 - which was paid by Paddy Power.

Football fans deserve better. Brands dragging their team and the sport in general into disrepute isn’t acceptable. While the individuals also bear some responsibility - and risk serious damage to their reputations - brands need to have more respect for their audience when dreaming up these stunts and campaigns.

The pie-eating stunt revolved around a social media post and brands need to be aware that they can do a great deal of damage with a single tweet. Whether it’s an entire social campaign or just a quick win based on a current news event, poor planning can cause much more negative resonance than positive. The social media posts may achieve high levels of engagement, which might look great viewed through the lens of social measuring tools, but this is only half the story. If the engagement is negative, then the metrics are meaningless.

Some may argue that bookmakers try to establish a reputation as being a little ‘cheeky’, pushing the boundaries and accepting the consequences when things get out of hand. But this is a high-risk strategy and something that most brands should steer well clear of. Thanks to fake news and the often volatile nature of social media with its trolling and bickering, negativity can spiral out of control.

Brands need to understand that audiences tend to have emotional reactions to social media posts. Rather than risking negative reactions, they should focus on more positive sentiments. Quick, ill-conceived stunts are risky - well-planned inspirational campaigns are a much safer bet.

In order to create these campaigns, brands need to ask themselves what they want to achieve. What are the objectives? Who is the audience? How will success be measured? As well as knowing who their target audience is, brands also need to have a deep understanding of their audience and ensure that their creative agency does too. There is all sorts of data that can be crunched here - interests, likes, dislikes and so on - and data from previous campaigns can inform the brand of what format, subject, narratives and lengths work best.

It’s also important to think about how content will be consumed - just as important as the content itself. What device will it be viewed on? Does the content suit the device? Does the device have any specific features that can be utilised to make the campaign even more engaging?

More than anything, though, is that the brand shows that it has a deep knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. The world of sport is passionate, full of die-hard fans who know the game inside-out. Brands operating in this area must show their audience respect, obey the laws of the land and not bring the game into disrepute. The consequences for brands that don’t do this could be disastrous, and may also drag down individuals held as heroes by fans with them.


By Richard Wilson, co-founder and CEO at CLICKON

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