Real time marketing lessons from Leicester City Football Club

On 2nd May 2016, Leicester City Football Club performed a miracle, clinching the Premier League title. The whole world stood up and applauded. At the beginning of the season, Leicester had been 5,000 -1 to achieve this feat. To put that in context, the odds of Kim Kardashian becoming the US President and Elvis being found alive were both 2,000-1.

This is the ultimate underdog story, a tale of valour and team spirit triumphing in a sport increasingly characterised by self-important egos and financial inequality. We all see a bit of ourselves in Leicester, they inspire us to think nothing is unachievable. Their victory celebration was a moment of true collective engagement. And like with any moment such as this, brands were quick to jump on the bandwagon.

When done well, there’s no doubt reactive marketing can be a truly effective way of infusing personality into brands. But the problem is too much of ‘real time’ content is awful. At iris, we call it Urgent Genius. But we look around and we see a lot of content that isn’t urgent and isn’t genius. What started life as digital bits intended to entertain and bring warmth to brands has morphed into a totally different beast. Too often now it’s contrived visual pollution, which actually detracts from the spirit of a moment, rather than contribute to it.

Never was this divergence so striking as with Leicester’s epic moment.

Captain Morgan

Captain Morgan, a rum brand, played a blinder. The spirit brand released a limited edition bottle of their rum honouring Leicester’s triumphant captain,Wes Morgan, who also rather handily captains the Jamaica national team.  The bottle features the Morgan adorned in nautical Leicester colour blue and white robes. This one was a no brainer, and was so well received the player himself shouted them out on Twitter.


Crisps brand Walkers is an institution in the UK and was founded in 1948 in Leicester. Its long-time brand ambassador, former footballer turned TV personality Gary Linker, is one of Leicester’s most famous sons, and famously pledged to present Match of the Day in his pants if his beloved Leicester managed to win the league.

When Leicester completed their remarkable feat, Walkers took out a full-page ad featuring Linker superimposed on a muscular frame with L.C.F.C tattooed across his chest and wearing nothing but underwear, holding a special bag of Salt and Victory flavour Walkers crisps. These commemorative bags were sold in local shops and all profits went to the Leicester’s charity foundation. This association is dripping in credibility and adds to spirit around the victory moment. At its core it’s just one Leicester institution honoring another.

However, other brands weren’t quite so charming in the way they went about trying to align with Leicester.

Virgin Media

Virgin Media, the broadband and TV provider, generally perceived as the underdog in the UK pronged live football TV market came out swinging with a tactical message "Leicester. Proof the best football isn’t the most expensive.”

By no means offensive, but it still feels a little forced. It feels more about Virgin Media than it does about the underdog spirit or Leicester's moment in the sun. As one fan pointed at when it was shared on Facebook “Where was Virgin when Leicester were in the 3rd division?”


While I’m no sartorialist by any stretch of the imagination, supermarket chain Asda’s ‘Vardy Cardy’ feels like a Christmas cracker joke gone wrong, a novelty item that isn’t even novel. Asda has been quick to point its clothing subsidiary George is headquartered in Leicester, but given Asda is originally from Yorkshire and now owned by Walmart - the link is tenuous at best.

What sets apart the first 2 from the last 2 is quite simply, authenticity.  For the first two, the associations are so rooted into brand’s heritage, image, lexicon that they almost feel inevitable. This inevitability and authenticity is what distinguishes what is fitting, from the stuff that just fits.  Agencies need to start respecting that line more. We have to hold ourselves to higher standards, find our voice, not excuses to speak. We must ensure our creative is contributing to the spirit of a moment, not the clutter around it.

To borrow an Apple ideology, there should be a 1000 no’s for every yes. If you’re unsure about a reactive opportunity, ask yourself what’s our authenticity? Does it feel inevitable?

And if the answers don’t come spring to mind instantly, don’t say yes.

The writer is James Honda-Pinder, senior strategic planner at iris.