No Mercy for Man City after Influencer Marketing Own Goal
There is no denying that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are often close to perfection on the pitch, but despite great efforts to replicate this success with their off-field activities, they have lurched from one reputational issue to another in recent seasons.
Last week’s influencer marketing faux pas follows the ill-advised tweet by Bernardo Silva comparing teammate Benjamin Mendy with the mascot of a Spanish confectionery brand, and more serious allegations of breaching UEFAs Financial Fair Play rules that are currently being investigated.
Founded in 1880, City are a club full of history and local pride but since their first foreign takeover in 2007 - and their subsequent ascent to the top of the English game under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group - they have been fighting a PR battle to prove that they are building something sustainable rather than simply buying their way to success.
Despite their trophy-laden recent history, City still lag behind their local rivals in terms of global appeal and fans of rival clubs take every opportunity to mock their perceived lack of support that has seen empty seats at the Etihad on a regular basis, despite the free-flowing football on offer.
So when an influencer agency brief circulated on the internet last week, it was an open goal that that was gleefully preyed upon by industry types and rival fans quick to put the boot in.
A post on an app called Tribe appeared asking for 18-55 year-old male 'Mancunians and/or Man City fans' to produce content that is 'fan-centric which has an element of FOMO at its core' that 'showcases the electrifying atmosphere that only Champions League live football matches can deliver'.
The ad explained: "The Champions League draw this year has given us 3 relatively unknown teams meaning our core fans are less likely to attend...We want to get across the great atmosphere of the Etihad through the use of influencers who can tell an authentic and genuine story of what it's like to be at the game."
The agency in question, PHD Media, took responsibility for the brief and admitted it “fell short” of its high standards and was created without the club’s knowledge. Whilst that may be true, for City the damage is done and the club is left exposed for trying to manufacture their brand.
Whilst there is sympathy for the way this has played out - the very fact that City are using influencer marketing agencies for this type of brief calls their judgement in to question. The advert itself uses language that demeans their opponents, is inauthentic and skewed to a male-only audience, at a time when more women are playing and watching the game than ever and diversity is paramount.
More importantly, given the great history of the club, why the agency representing them felt the need to use external influencers to manufacture an atmosphere and an emotion remains a mystery. There are thousands of passionate City supporters attending games home and away each week - telling the human-interest stories of these real-life fans is a far more effective and emotive way of showing what it means to follow the team.
Influencer marketing has become an established practice and when done well - with the right people, in the right circumstances - it is extremely effective. City are not the first sports entity to use this tactic - most major rights owners, rights holders and sponsors have dabbled with influencers attempt to reach and engage new audiences - so in many respects this should not come as a shock. Unfortunately for the Premier League champions, they have inadvertently become a case study of the perils associated if the planning and execution goes awry.