Engaging audience with the help of digital tools

Text: Simona Kruhar Gabršček | Read time: 10 min

Digitalisation enabled brands to engage different target groups – from younger generations who are difficult to reach offline to employees who are reluctant to adapt new technologies. Leveraging their sponsorship rights, Gorenje, Ljubljanske mlekarne, Petrol and Allianz Croatia managed to achieve their various goals – and win the SPORTO Awards 2018.

Gorenje’s fan group connected handball enthusiasts from different countries

The Gorenje brand, one of the leading European home appliance manufacturers, was faced with low brand awareness on most European markets, except those in the Adriatic region where the company has high market shares but is facing acceptance and loyalty challenges with younger audiences. Handball, as one of the growing sports, offered an opportunity to activate their sponsorship deal for EHF EURO 2018. As explained by Edita Gabrič Zager, Manager of the European handball sponsorship project for Gorenje, the agency Grey Ljubljana created the idea for the integrated #simplyfans campaign based on their wishes to merge the Gorenje brand’s philosophy “Life simplified” with sport, and introduce their sponsorship in an interesting way on the European handball court.

“A fan group #simplyfans was thus created with the campaign for EHF EURO 2018, through which we connected fans from Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We encouraged them to support the athletes together, regardless of where they come from,” said Gabrič Zager, adding that more than 700 fans from various parts of the former Yugoslavia had the opportunity to experience EHF EURO 2018 in a fan-friendly environment. Among the campaign ambassadors were the biggest handball stars Nikola Karabatić (France) and Ivano Balić (Croatia), elected as the world’s best handball players several times, and the Slovenian national team captain Vid Kavtičnik.

With the activation, Gorenje also wanted to rejuvenate the brand image and attract new customers. For this reason, they organised a prize contest on social media through Gorenje’s business branches in different countries and set up an online platform simplyfans.eu. As the next step, they focused on Instagram where they are sharing exclusive handball content through their official account @gorenjesimplyfans.

“According to the research for 2018 performed by Valicon, Marketing Consulting and Research, Gorenje as a brand is very strong in the Adriatic region, perceived as technologically advanced and innovative. Although all the effects of the sponsorship are still difficult to assess, the campaign received a very positive response,” revealed Gabrič Zager. Before the championship, their TV campaign reached almost 80 percent of the target audience in the Adriatic region, on average, while in Slovenia this percentage was more than 85. At the time of the championship, the main video ad was shown only during matches involving mentioned national teams, with the biggest reach in Croatia and Montenegro. In addition to Gorenje’s increased visibility on and next to the court, the company introduced another ‘visible’ addition during the broadcasts – Gorenje refrigerators as support for the teams placed directly next to the players’ benches. For the #simplyfans campaign, the company received SPORTO Sponsorship Award and qualified as Slovenia’s representative at the competition of the European Sponsorship Association for ESA Awards 2018.

Adapting to new conditions with a superhero

SPORTO Endorsement Award went to Ljubljanske mlekarne (and their milk brand Alpsko mleko) who wanted to bring their 8-year connection with Ilka Štuhec, alpine skier and Alpsko mleko brand ambassador, to a new level. According to Alja Učakar, Head of Brand Marketing at Ljubljanske mlekarne, they wanted to introduce a new, different and engaging branded content story. Their communication goals included reinforcing and broadening the emotional connection with the brand, and increasing the interaction with their followers and fans on their social media accounts. To do that, they ‘transported’ Ilka Štuhec to a parallel imaginary Alpine world of Alpsko mleko by creating a superhero version of her. “When we decided to create the animated character, our partnership rights changed. The scope and time for the production of materials were reduced, which made it even more important to use the time we did have in the best possible way. Also, at the time of the production, Ilka was injured, which ended her Olympic season before it even began,” said Učakar, describing the challenges and circumstances around the creation of the animated superhero.

The main video, presented under the brand’s trademark slogan “A Taste of Home”, also included the holiday – “A Taste of the Holidays” – and the Olympic version – “A Taste of the Cheering”. They developed a communication that could be used across all channels and on different platforms. This was topped off by an animated character of the popular skier that communicated with the followers on social “one-to-one” through a Facebook Messenger chatbot. During the PyeongChang Olympic Games (Alpsko mleko is also Slovenia Olympic Team partner), Ilka the superhero was playing a connecting role, cheering for the Slovenia Olympic Team together with the users and followers, hosting quiz and game shows, preparing breakfast menus for the Olympic athletes and congratulating them on their medals with attractive animations. This was the most fan-engagement-driven campaign on Alpsko mleko digital channels to date, with positive results for the brand on many levels. The Alpsko mleko brand recall as Team Slovenia sponsor increased by 50% compared to Rio Olympics.

“Adapting to a new situation is crucial, as this is the only way to communicate with relevance and reap the benefits of the collaboration,” is one of the key findings from the campaign according to Učakar. She emphasised another key aspect – the importance of new tools in increasing user engagement, especially younger audiences who play an essential role in the brand’s future. Ilka the superhero continued her adventures in February of this year with a new campaign, happening around the time Ilka Štuhec became two-time downhill world champion.

*Disclosure: sponsorship activation included SPORTO Magazine’s publisher, agency Sport Media Focus.

Entertainment and experience, not just another ad

Petrol, who has been sponsoring Slovenian national ski teams for 15 years, wanted to turn, through the sponsorship activation created in collaboration with Agencija 101, passive TV viewers into active team member supporters and revive the team spirit. To bring the brand and alpine skiing closer to young people, Petrol designed a branded interactive online game “Let’s Compete Together” featuring the national team members’ avatars, where users could pick their alpine skier’s avatar and compete for the prizes. “The target groups had a positive experience with the Petrol brand, which on average lasted almost five minutes. The online game was linked to the store, where the products were additionally labelled with the slogan Let’s Compete Together, and a percentage of the sales from these products was donated to the Ski Association of Slovenia for further development of Slovenian skiing,” said Valentina Erčulj Džuban, Sponsorship and Event Manager at Petrol.

The sponsorship was especially relevant because of its focus on digital activation mimicking the championship – ten FIS World Cup races corresponded to ten online games. Users skied as the national team members and participated in a parallel online championship with engaging results: more than 53,000 users; 546,000 played games and more than 1,500,000 branded products.

“With the online game, the users were offered entertainment and experience rather than just another ad. The user response exceeded our expectations, which is why, this season, we continued and upgraded the campaign, emphasising at the same time the transfer of digital into the real world,” explained Valentina Erčulj Džuban.

Therefore, this ski season, the venues and the main prizes of the online game corresponded to actual real-world competitions (FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Äre, Vitranc Cup in Kranjska Gora and Krvavec national championships), while the main winners also won the opportunity to experience the competitive spirit in person and see the competitions live. “The skiing momentum from the digital world was continued at Petrol gas stations and our HopIN stores where a special food product offer was created, along with the communication on digital, inspired by the main venues in the online game, for example the Äre burger, Vitranc breakfast and Krvavec smoothie,” concluded Erčulj Džuban. The activation was awarded with SPORTO Digital Award.

An innovative way to improve collaboration between employees

The new organisational change in Allianz Croatia affected 80% of its employees who were showing initial resistance towards digital solutions (one of the goals was to establish a habit of using the new Allianz Connect intranet), and were feeling lost, uncertain and demotivated.

A company survey in 2017 showed that the employees were very proud of the partnership between Allianz and Croatian Paralympic Committee, which led to a project where Branimir Budetić, Croatian Paralympic javelin thrower, sent the employees a personal letter, inviting them to participate in a survey. An app was then developed based on the results and the moto “beST – be stronger together” which addressed the employees’ main problems. The first level focused on breathing exercises to help them reduce stress, the second included soft skill training connected to Allianz Connect that helped them manage daily challenges and the third consisted of volunteering tasks. The participants were randomly grouped by the app in groups of eight – some of them have never met before – and by solving individual tasks, they received daily group standings.

A survey conducted in April 2018 showed that 72% of the respondents formed at least one chat group (compared to 60% before beST), 57% of the respondents believed that beST improved the communication and helped them get to know their team members better, and 84% would like to participate again.

“Having inspirational Paralympic athletes as the ambassadors in this project was a natural unfolding, since our employees pointed out the Paralympic partnership as the most inspirational in our portfolio,” said Vanja Bzik, Communications Specialist at Allianz Zagreb, adding that with the right strategy and a good partner, much can be achieved without investing huge financial resources. “We knew exactly what we wanted to achieve and had a vision of the end result. With a professional approach and effective work, we achieved something we initially thought was impossible to do – to unite the employees in being part of a corporate digital platform,” stressed Bzik. As the topic was not imposed, it was also warmly welcomed. “When we were presenting our new intranet and digital solutions, we faced great resistance. However, when the application beST and Paralympic athletes came in to do their little presentation, the digitisation was embraced with a big smile,” acknowledged Bzik.

With over 90% of the beST participants and 50% of those who did not participate expressing the desire for a new wave of “beST”, the project will continue. “We would like the employees to continue developing a sense of pride toward working in Allianz, to add new interesting tasks to the application and to contribute to the long-term impact of this project,” explained Bzik. Their goal is to build on the positive climate among the beST participants to attract other employees into the volunteering activities. “Tomorrow it will be something else, but the company will always keep focusing on the digitalisation,” concluded Bzik. The project (executed in cooperation with Vetturelli consulting) was rewarded with the SPORTO Award for the best Croatian sponsorship project and with the ESA Award for innovation, creativity and best practice.

The interview was first published in SPORTO Magazine No. 13 (May 2019).