Tomorrow (Sunday) is the day when Andy Murray takes on Novak Djokovic for a place in tennis history books – a Grand Slam is at stake. I, despite insomnia, will be getting up to watch the match to its conclusion. But in the meantime, I’ve been spurred on to write something about the marketing potential of Murray by one of my marketing idols, Mark Ritson, who commented that when it comes to brand Murray, ‘the bullshit is plentiful’.
Declarations out there before I begin – Mark is someone I am in slight awe of, and if I could learn from him in a classroom I’d drop everything to be there. Second to that, I’m Scottish. Thirdly, I used to be a member of the Scottish National Party, which in some people’s eyes will make me look like I spend my spare time with a saw near Hadrian’s Wall. Finally, I like Andy Murray. Fourth one probably most important.
So this week has seen a lot of speculation around the brand potential of Andy Murray. He’s signed up with 19 Entertainment, the agency behind David Beckham, and they’re talking ‘global ambition’. Everything crossed, we’ll either see the first Grand Slam winner from Britain in 75 years tomorrow, or it’s coming soon.
Putting this slightly to one side, though, I think Andy Murray offers marketing potential for the exact reasons many, including Mark, choose to target him for criticism:
– He’s dour in personality
– He’s Scottish both on his passport and in his communications
Instead, I think this turns him into an interesting marketing ‘property’. He’s living a couple of the rules of brand marketing – know your audience, and be relevant and different. Here’s why:
I’ve watched countless interviews with tennis players over the last couple of weeks. If I hear one more person say ‘they’re such a tough competitor’ I might just give up entirely. Andy Murray’s personality is much closer to the bone than any other player is willing to let down their guard to reveal – he reveals the emotion of idolising Federer, the competitiveness of growing up with Nadal and frankly not beating him now, and the desperation of trying to win a Slam (see his reaction to losing the Australian Open final in 2010).
His natural instincts might not be positive, but in terms of connecting with his audience I don’t know a more authentic and honest player.
Andy Murray is Scottish, by name and by nature. He recognises a deeply felt belief in parts of Scotland that our sportsmen are British when they’re winning, Scottish when they’re losing. I’m not going to go into why that is, but I think it’s a real insight, and this makes me think Andy is living the primary rule of marketing by targeting fewer people to generate a higher return.
This creates an interesting conundrum. If he’s losing, his brand value goes dramatically down. If he’s winning, he’s both the jewel of Scotland and undeniably one of Britain’s great sportsmen. But frankly, the middle ground doesn’t seem particularly attractive – in the 57 years of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, Scots have won it four times. Odds aren’t on his side if he plays by the rules of the game.
So taking this into account, Andy Murray has little choice but to create a bit of a challenger brand, both because that makes him authentic and because the norms of international tennis don’t fit with him. I once heard Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish, speak about how it was ridiculous that when one smoothie brand defines itself by a ‘Real and Human Challenger’ narrative, every other brand enters with the same stance. Why not be an ‘Enlightened Zagger’, or a ‘Democratizer’? Who needs two brands doing the same job? Andy needs to be different.
Andy Murray’s brand potential is great exactly because of the reasons people believe he might be limited – he’s not naturally beautiful, he’s not sweet, he’s not globe-friendly British. Instead, he’s good at tennis and he’s bloody passionate about it. Plus he’s got a good relationship with his Mum. He’s challenging the norms of the sports personality category, and because he’s authentic he has an opportunity to redefine what we believe sports marketing to be about.
I’ll buy his merchandise.
P.S. Mark’s first point, which I haven’t covered, is that Andy isn’t eye candy. I can’t disagree he needs a haircut, but I’d challenge anyone to look at his recent GQ Shoot and tell me he’s a lost cause.