The UEFA Champions League tournament is a big deal. A months-long matching of the top teams in all of European football, the tourney pairs the best of all clubs, regardless of league. It’s the biggest annual football event in Europe, with the final drawing more viewers than the Super Bowl. For sponsors of the event, it’s a great way to reach millions of consumers, and this year, longtime sponsor Heineken has devised a way to reach its fans in the heat of the moment: when they’re watching a game.
With its #ShareTheSofa campaign, which is running throughout the tournament until the May 25 final, Heineken is allowing fans to directly connect with former UCL superstars over Twitter. During select matches, people can connect with stars such as Ruud Gullit, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Owen Hargreaves, Hernan Crespo, and Fernando Morientes, who will be on hand to respond by tweet, photo, or Vine video. Responses can be funny or tactical, depending on the personality of the player, but the goal is for people to feel as though they’re really connecting with the players.
Paul Smailes, Heineken’s global head of digital, says that the roots of the campaign were deeper than simply wanting to do something social. Since the UCL sponsorship is the brand’s biggest worldwide, activated in 220 markets, Heineken set out to leverage social media and digital to engage fans at scale, thus bringing greater value to the sponsorship. But it wasn’t until they started exploring social media behavior that the idea for #ShareTheSofa hit.
"We found out that 70% of Champions League viewers watch the games at home alone," says Smailes. "And we were quite surprised to find that 65% of people already use a mobile device while watching TV. And with live TV, Twitter is the number one platform people use. When we brought those insights together, and because we can scale it, we felt this idea was a great way for us to gain value from our sponsorship. We also thought that if these consumers are indeed watching the game alone, how can we bring value to that experience and moment?"
Tim Snyder, account director at DDB & Tribal Worldwide, Amsterdam, the agency behind the work, says that they knew Heineken would never steal attention from UCL matches, so their intent was to create fun and lightweight interactions with fans. "Our ultimate goal is the make watching the Champions League even better with Heineken, rather than distract from it."
Supported by digital media buys before and during the game, #ShareTheSofa operates as you’d expect from a real-time social campaign.
"The content that is published to Twitter and Vine is all created in real time," says Snyder. "It’s a very fluid process that aims to answer as many questions from fans as possible as well as surprise and delight the audience with richer content—like having the player’s answer interpreted by a jazz band."
It’s those surprises and each player’s casual and honest responses that Heineken hopes resonates most. "It’s very flexible, very off the cuff. We want their personality to come through because obviously the fans are there to engage with them, not necessarily with us," says Smailes. "It was important for us to partner with someone of stature, and someone UCL fans really idolized. It’s about making fans feel like they’re really engaging with this person." And for those who do engage, there’s a chance to receive a random act of kindness after each #ShareTheSofa match, which could include swag signed by the players.
Smailes says the campaign, which is running on every match day until the final, has been working. When it first began in the early stages of the UCL tournament last fall, he says the effort’s earned reach was about 24 million impressions. Now that’s it’s returned with the knockout rounds of the tourney, numbers have swelled tremendously. A recent match hosted by Spanish footballer Fernando Morientes reached 87 million impressions. Research done by the brand has shown that Heineken’s brand awareness is up 11%, sponsorship association is up 6%, and purchase intent is up 7%, based on this activation alone.
"In total, so far, we’ve have 340 million reach and impact," says Smailes. "As each match goes along, more people hear about it and it’s so easy to get involved with it that we’ve seen it grow and grow thorough the matches." Which means at this rate, Heineken’s going to need a bigger sofa.