Global reach: Does Manchester United Football Club have five hundred million ‘followers’?

February 18, 2013

MUFC red devilTudor Rickards

A market research firm claims that Manchester United Football Club is followed by approximately one of every ten people in the world. This figure has prompted much suspicion.

The claim was made by Kantar Sport, and is featured within promotional material by the football club which also has claims to have the greatest following world-wide.

The story was reported by the BBC [February 18th 2012]

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

The work was carried out earlier, and had already appeared on MUFC’s official website which stated:

The largest global football follower survey ever conducted has today [29th May 2012] named Manchester United the world’s most popular club, with 659 million followers worldwide.

The survey was carried out by leading market research agency, Kantar, and gathered 54,000 respondents from 39 countries. The club that Forbes recently named the most valuable in world sport was identified as the favourite team of 659 million followers around the world. Kantar found that football remains the world’s most popular sport, with 1.6 billion followers globally, reinforcing the results of a recent FIFA survey which produced a similar figure.
Richard Arnold, the club’s Commercial Director, commented on the long-term strategy that has made Manchester United the number one club in the world’s number one sport.

The BBC was more skeptical:

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

When an advertising agency makes statistical claims, it is a good idea to carry out a few simple tests to understand the degree of marketing speak behind the statement.

Schrank’s analysis

The advertising guru Jeffrey Shrank has compiled a list of the methods behind advertising claims in The Language of Advertising Speak. The Schrank article ‘does what it says on the can’ to borrow another advertising claim. Schrank lists ten ways in which advertising claims seek to imply more than the words claim.

The Manchester United Claim

In the case of Manchester United, this will be the owners, The Glazer family. It is worth asking: What part might the ‘one person in ten’ claim play in the strategic thinking of the owners of the club?

Note to students of leadership:

Can you apply the processes of map reading, testing and making to understanding more about the claim? What do you make of the statistical methods applied by Kantor? [intelligent assessment if you are not experienced with stats] How would you advise a competitive club on the significance of the claim for their own strategic considerations?


National Westminster Bank finds Another Way to change its corporate reputation

January 10, 2008

nat-west-another-way-ad.jpg
The National Westminster Bank is currently running an amusing advertising campaign. It portrays a group of banking executives as amiable buffoons. The message? We aren’t like that. We have another way. Will the campaign differentiate Nat West from its rivals? Or will it reinforce a general perception that all banks are run by amiable buffoons?

The issue is nearly as old as advertising itself. Does knocking opponents work in favour of the advertiser? Maybe the issue goes far deeper than advertising, and lies and at the heart of political campaigning, and beyond, to ancient themes of human duplicity and treachery. We should not expect a simple answer. Antecedents such as corporate reputation must be taken into consideration

Experts in marketing and corporate reputation are clear about the potential pitfalls of such a campaign.

Gary Davies is Professor of Corporate Reputation and has written widely on the subject as well as teaching on a Masters course on Communication and Corporate Reputation. Gary argues that

If the purpose of the ad is to differentiate Nat West from other banks then most certainly both the strategy and marketing literature’s emphasise the benefits of differentiation. However the reputation literature emphasises that for a service business advertising what you are not is counterproductive. So the customers and potential customers of Nat West will decide if they are, as they imply, less cynical and self centred than the (fictitious?) bank portrayed in the ads. They explicitly state that there is a different way and that is theirs. They will have problems if they are found out (as Lloyds were when they implied they would open another service point if the branch was busy and customers found that this was not always the case.) For example, they have now ruled out using overseas call centres, by deprecating banks that do.

Antecedents

In recent years, Nat West has made serious efforts to present itself as a leader in financial innovations, (having ‘another way’ of doing things). While it is dangerous to read too much into blog-based criticism, the following sample all suggest that the Bank was facing a big challenge in revising its practices and public image.

One Credit Card customer put it like this

Here’s a question for all the banks out there; do you want your customers to be happy and give you more custom, or do you want to irritate them so much they leave along with their spending habits? If you’re Natwest credit card services, I’m talking to you.

Another disenchanted customer noted

I would advise anybody wanting to start an account and especially younger people, to try another bank, any bank rather than the disgusting attitude of the National Disgrace …erm, I mean The Westminster Bank.

From The ITC we have a finding against the bank for somewhat dodgy advertising claims:

An advertisement first aired on 17 July 2000 made a number of claims about National Westminster’s service. Among these were that their programme of branch closures had been abolished and that monthly fees on arranged personal overdrafts were to be scrapped. The ITC received twelve complaints from viewers saying that branch closures were, in fact, still going ahead, and six complaints saying that overdraft fees would continue to be in operation until October or November 2000.

Finally, and quite recently we have another indication of how the Bank needed to address its customer concerns:

I’m a little cheesed off at Natwest at the moment. Their “no hassle” banking is starting to become full of hassle and it’s getting on my nerves …I popped into my high-street branch today to open up a new account (to handle rent for a new house I am living in) and, in my wisdom, thought that it wouldn’t be a problem. Walk in there, get asked a few questions and kaboom – a new account. Not only could I not open one, but I actually have to book an appointment at a time convenient to them for someone to help me fill in the forms.

We are getting there

Brutal self-criticism is rare in advertising. Unusual enough for a large corporation (Ford) to win accolades for confessing shortcomings in a campaign.

The Nat West may well be engaged in genuine efforts to give its corporate reputation a makeover. Unfortunately, the campaign message is not ‘We are getting there’, (a dangerous confession to make, from historic evidence, but ‘We are the only honest bank in the high street. Honest!’

This campaign may well win awards for its brilliant ads. But it seems unlikely to change the perceptions of consumers in the intended direction.