Call it taking inspiration from your setting. Los Angeles was an appropriate backdrop for Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku to release a video announcing Lukaku’s signing to Manchester United. The scene begins with Pogba relaxing in a Hollywood Hills mansion when he’s greeted by the Belgium striker. Lukaku informs Pogba that he’ll see in him at training the next day, to which Pogba clarifies his friend’s remark before dancing off. The skit was contemporary in context and medium: now at over 3,000,000 views on Instagram since it’s July 8th release, it played off the direct relationship between athletes and fans in short video form.
Pogba is an appropriate candidate to use social media for this type of announce. He was at the center of social media attention last summer when a video from Adidas’ twitter account indicating his move to Manchester United “leaked” earlier than the official announcement from the club. The video, pairing the midfielder with Stormzy, concluded with Pogba’s name revealed on the back of the artist’s United jersey. The video eventually getting pulled only added to its disruptive intrigue. Today, the production stands as a case study on a brand actively playing a role in a player’s transfer saga. Of the paradigm shift in marketing driven by social media, the study’s author notes that it was the first time “we’ve seen any sponsor so integrated into the transfer window”.
Although not every player or club has Pogba’s disruptive marketing instinct. Everton took a hi-def, cinematic route in announcing club record Gylfi Sigurdsson’s signing in August. That video, posted on the club’s Twitter account, begins with sweeping shots of Goodison Park, moving onto the city, finally to their academy training ground. Sigurdsson, dressed in Everton colors, is the final reveal followed by the requisite “#welcomeGylfi” hashtag. In two weeks, the video stands at 6500 retweets and 13,000 likes (a simple video of Pogba running into Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the striker re-signed with United last week has 5000 retweets and 16,5000 likes for comparison).
The signing video trend inevitably made its way across the Atlantic. Sigurdsson’s signing video made LAFC’s reveals of Bob Bradley (1700 retweets, 5,500 likes) and Carlos Vela (5500 retweets, 18,500 likes) as the first manager and designed player in club history understated by comparison. Resources aside, these reveals tapped into two important factors of social marketing: first, the easily meme-able simplicity of wearing a LAFC hat and looking up at a camera in front of a spare background. Secondly, each of Bradley and Vela’s signings - and the Pogba and Sigurdsson videos - had an element of surprise.
The ubiquity of this summer’s player reveal videos set ground rules for effective storytelling in this new genre. The video must begin with a perspective with an ordinary day for a club supporter to draw in a viewer. Like a David Lynch film, the quiet serenity is unnerving. We, the audience, know that there is something brewing under the surface. After the scene is established, the camera focuses on the new player who is hiding behind another object, whether it be a hat or a locker room door for the reveal (of course, it helps if the player is recognizable).
Chelsea hit all the marks in announcing center back Antonio Rudiger’s signing from Roma. That plot begins with an everyday, ho-hum experience: a father taking his child to buy a jersey of his favorite player. The child requests Rudiger, to which the dad responds that he can only have players who are on Chelsea. The cashier excuses herself to the back to reveal the turn: she asks Rudiger, who just happens to be hiding in a storage room, if the child can put his name on a Chelsea uniform.
But now we must point to a signing video gone rogue. Like the three act story structure, a framework can stifle true creativity, but is effective in grounding a story. The English version of Roma’s Twitter account put out a postmodern announcement of Patrik Schick’s signing featuring a monkey laptop meme, a singing lion, a photoshop of Schick’s name, and more lions. This was the “Tim and Eric” approach to reveal videos. The club then linked a fan explanation on their site which also just as nonsensical, proving that the point of the Schick video was that there was no point. The road to getting 5000 retweets on Twitter can lead down many paths.
The biggest signal of the new marketing world was in Juventus’ logo redesign last season in which the club broke with soccer tradition to enter a much larger conversation for the world’s attention span. The abundance of internet connections and smartphones created a paradigm shift of marketing of which we’re still sifting through the pieces today. But the fundamental truth remains: no longer are football clubs only battling each other for supporter attention and resources, but with every form of content ever created. We could watch a Juventus match, a Netflix series, and a Snapchat story all on the same device, changing channels with one flick. Hence, player signing videos that fit seamlessly onto our Twitter and Instagram feeds that we’re already scrolling through in the first place. Cometh the devices, cometh the ingenuity for hits and retweets.
I wrote about watching deadline day pass during the summer 2014 window. Looking back, the two big stories were whether Falcao would sign for United, and if Danny Welbeck would then leave for Arsenal. To sit around and watch a deadline show seems antiquated when players, clubs, and brands can deliver breaking news directly to us. The focus on the tactical fits of the two strikers symbolized a simpler time, when all we expected of our clubs were results and the pre and post match press conference.
Today, we’re accustomed to an all-access approach as clubs must remind us why exactly they resonate as we binge watch an HBO series or blast through a Spotify playlist. One would think that the soccer offseason would slow down without matches to discuss. Instead, considering the stakes, what we got was the summer becoming its own competition requiring a new form of storytelling to deepen a club’s relationship with its supporters and get noticed by the casual fan.
The promise of the internet, of Twitter, was to democratize content. Southampton’s 58 second parody video announcing Stuart Taylor re-signing for one more year got the same amount of retweets as Liverpool’s 17 second Twitter bit announcing Mo Salah’s $50 million signing in which he acknowledges the fans by scrolling through a Twitter account begging him to join the club. Here, neither transfer budgets nor tactics matter. Three points don’t exist in this world. It’s only our timeline, our attention span, and the ingenuity of the reveal.