While stood waiting to board the Red Eye to Edinburgh last week I had nothing else to do but ponder one of those HSBC ads that line the boarding gates at Heathrow. I quite like them in an Economist-lite kind of way and one line grabbed my attention – ‘South South trade will become the norm’ and it got me thinking; we really do need to confront the realities of shifting markets and global wealth patterns. We’ve got to accept that the cosy Anglo-Saxon trans-Atlantic party has been well and truly gate-crashed and that all sorts of stuff we hadn’t or didn’t want to consider will soon become the norm.
So where’s this going? Given HPS’ specialism in bringing brands to market anywhere in the UK, it’s not our normal neck of the woods (and mine in particular – I’m far more comfortable pontificating on the merits of the manual gearbox over a DCT being honest), however the announcement of Chevrolet’s global sponsorship deal with Manchester United completely stopped me in my tracks. I read the piece through twice and felt like having a bit of a lie-down. It really did feel as though my entire belief structure was being given a bit of a wedgy.
Let’s look at this through a local or Little Britain lens; here’s a fully paid up pillar of ‘our’ sporting establishment being sponsored at huge cost by a brand that will soon cease to exist in the UK. Here's the kicker though: another successful and venerable brand owned by the sponsor's parent company (which happens to sit in the number 2 slot in the UK new car sales chart, having shifted over a quarter of a million passenger cars last year) is being given the proverbial cold shoulder. I can’t imagine how that must make Vauxhall’s UK Marketing Director feel. Well, I can actually. Go up to a colleague at work and delete that presentation they’ve been working on for weeks and then pour a minestrone Cup-a-soup into their keyboard. Chances are they’ll either hit you, or at the very least scream “What are you playing at, that’s not fair?!” in your face. That’s how they must be feeling. ‘Smarting a bit’ doesn’t really cover it, I’d imagine.
Changing our calibration, thinking big, being all grown up and globally strategic, the picture looks a little different. The Manchester United brand is grade A global property that just happens to have an M16 postcode. Chevrolet (née Daewoo of South Korean fame) is big in the BRIC bloc as is Old Trafford’s finest, so it’s a partnership made in heaven. Job done, sign on the bottom line and time to move on to a bit of M and A action in APAC (that’s mergers and acquisitions for those who don’t speak like me).
Looking at the whole shooting match from a distance born of objectivity and dispassion, what I find surprising is that you can knit disparate commercial entities together from different ends of the earth for the benefit of a mother brand that hails from another continent, while also actively marketing against the local brand despite that brand's domestic marketing strategy dwelling in the same space. Vauxhall, proud supporter of home nation football – remember that one? I genuinely cannot draw on any example that shares even the broadest or most superficial of parallels.
Brave? Possibly. Counter-intuitive? Seemingly. A sign of the times? Certainly.