Matthew Marsh is one of Asia’s best known motor racing personalities. A successful career on track included being the first driver to represent Hong Kong in the Le Mans 24-hours and to score an FIA World Championship point. He now works on the commercial side of the sport directing business in Asia for Just Marketing International - JMI – a specialist marketing agency of which WPP in part-owner. JMI’s clients include Diageo, GSK, LG, Nissan and UBS.
Paul Writer got together with Mathew Marsh to get his views on the marketing of Formula 1 and it’s potential for marketers in India.
PW: What do you think F1 means to marketers in India ? What should it mean in the long run?
MM: By comparison with other countries new to F1, marketers in India grasped quickly the value of F1 as a platform and understood how to use it locally. For proof look at the list of Indian companies that were involved in the inaugural Grand Prix last October: Airtel, Amul, Hero Motors, Kingfisher (and Dr Mallya’s other brands) JK, MRF, Sahara.
It would have been easy to be put off by the size and scope of F1 - to imagine it could only be used by global brands. After all only the Olympics and FIFA World Cup compare.
Similarly the entry price for involvement in F1 seems high. I’m sure it’s cheaper to use an IPL cricket player as a brand ambassador. But those companies which ‘got’ F1 understood the values with which they associated their brand – and how they could leverage locally a global sport.
So I expect interest in F1 as a marketing tool to continue growing. The local race has been the catalyst, of course. Now there’s an understanding that F1 of course allows a brand to promote itself internationally – but for a market the size of India it can be cost effective in the other direction. This is important because, to my eyes, most Indian brands are local.
To the consumer F1 says certain things: glamorous, exclusive, dynamic, contemporary, innovative, global… and these brand values can be used throughout the year regardless of where the races are taking place.
The challenge, of course, is to buy the right property so that it can be leveraged effectively.
PW: Was this your first trip to India? What's your take on the maturity of marketers in India?
MM: I have visited India occasionally since 1993 - including being a commentator at the Madras Grand Prix in the mid-90s. JK Tyres and MRF were the principal players back then, guided by the likes of Vicky Chandhok. He’s now head of India’s motor sport federation and father to F1 driver Karun. Vijay Mallya was a keen competitor then and soon after hisKingfisher brand appeared on the Benetton F1 cars. Now, of course, he owns the Force India team. So… nothing much has changed. It’s just developed.
It’s clear that India creates excellent marketers. This is illustrated best by the number who work overseas for the world’s leading advertising agencies and corporations. Our interaction with marketers locally in India has been positive. We were impressed by the number involved in the inaugural Grand Prix – whether directly or attending to take a look. Impressed but not surprised.
There was certainly more interest from marketers than we have seen in other markets new to F1. This shows the marketers in India understand F1’s value proposition and feel confident using it.
PW: What are the global trends you see in sports and hospitality marketing in 2012?
MM: We’re bullish about F1. Golf, tennis and soccer are popular sports but lack top drawer events in the growth markets. These other sports have tournaments in Asia, of course, but they are second-class compared to, say, Wimbledon or the US Open.
F1’s advantage is that every Grand Prix is equal in value to the teams and drivers in terms of the points scored and money earned. And each features the same participants. Beyond that it is now fair to suggest that Singapore’s Grand Prix is one of the most important, commercially. Shanghai and Delhi are not far behind.
So, as brands shift their marketing spend in the direction of emerging markets, F1 becomes increasingly valuable.
PW: Can you please tell us in a nutshell what your firm does?
MM: JMI helps brands analyse and acquire marketing properties in motor sport – and then activate them. We work only in motor sport because that focus gives us a profound understanding of the properties and how best to unlock the value for our clients – the brands, not the properties.
One of our shareholders is WPP and we represent a wide range of corporations and brands including Castrol, Diageo, GSK, LG, Nissan, Subway, UBS and Verizon Wireless.
PW: The art of successful marketing has changed over the years. How is your company transforming to keep up with current trends?
MM: Has the art really changed? Has human nature? Perhaps there are more options available to the client – and more tools to the marketer – but I believe the fundamentals remain the same.
At JMI we start by trying to understand the business of our clients. What does it feel like to walk a mile in their shoes? I don’t think this was any different 50 years ago for agencies on Madison Avenue. They just drank more martinis! Clients still hire an agency with which they feel empathy and have trust. And that comes down to ideas and the ability to execute.
The biggest trend for JMI is the shift of our business from being US-centric a decade ago to a truly global one now. Our London office houses about 40-percent of our global staff and we established a presence in Asia two years ago. Some of our clients – Subway and Verizon Wireless are good examples in the USA and we’re working with a beer brand in China – are domestic, single-market focused. With others such as LG and Nissan our meetings could take place in any time zone.
There’s one thing which might distinguish the use of F1 now from 20 years ago: integration. I think F1 works well in this regard. Integrating digital and social media, for example, works exceptionally well – there’s so much data and it’s visually appealing. We’ve spent a lot of time on that recently. Johnnie Walker’s ‘Join the Pact’ campaign successfully married social responsibility messaging with brand positioning – and over 225 million people interacted with it. They’ve also used ‘viral’ videos and an experiential programme where consumers actually have the chance to driver a Grand Prix car.
PW: Your favourite part of being a marketer?
MM: I’m not sure I am a marketer! I’ve been fortunate to have a diverse background but never been formally trained as a marketer. I grew up in the UK and moved to Hong Kong 21 years ago. I’ve worked in telecommunications at one end of the spectrum and been a professional race car driver at the other. That's given me a lot of different experiences and unusual perspective.
What I enjoy doing is getting to understand a client’s business needs. I then describe those to our ideation team and they do the clever bit! They are the ones who dream-up things like the UBS branding of the kerbs in F1 – something which had not happened before in 60 years of Grand Prix racing.
My favourite moment is the minute or so when the cars have left the grid on their formation lap. You can hear them going around the lap, warming-up. But it goes quiet in the paddock and the grandstands save for the camera helicopters in the sky. It’s the sound of expectation. I always think of the millions of people from around the world watching on their TV sets. All of us different but focused on the same thing. It’s been 35 years since I first watched the start of a Grand Prix but it still gives me the same buzz.
About Mathew Marsh - Mathew Marsh appears regularly on ESPN Star TV’s coverage of the Formula One World Championship and attends Grands Prix as an accredited journalist. The 43-year has a regular column in the China Daily – the largest circulation English language publication in the People’s Republic.
The following is a selection of the brands and companies which have worked with Matthew to use motor sport as a marketing platform: Budweiser, Clarksons, City of Dreams, Exxon Mobil, Franck Muller,Hawaiian Tropic, Holiday Inn, IBM, Michelin, Noble Group, Oakley, Red Bull Energy Drink, San Miguel Breweries, SC Global Developments, SGX, United Parcel Service, Valvoline, Uni-President, Vertu.
With his wife Jessie, daughter Megan – and their Lakeland Terrier dogs, Mui Mui and Parker – Matthew lives in Hong Kong where he is a permanent resident.