This week has been a dire one for finding stories compelling enough to care about. Most sites have been content to do end of year roundups (few can match Jonathan Wilson's Tactics of the Future post on the Guardian, featuring a sub-header labeled "The Hegelian Model"), others are providing dribs and drabs on the on-going crap coming out of Seattle on MLS CBA talks, and the story on the English sites seems to be the Manchester City mess, of which I shook most of my sillies out on Monday.
So yesterday I came across a post on Fake Sigi on ESPN's decision to market their upcoming World Cup coverage with something called the Group of Death, a heavy-metal band concept that no one really quite understands. ESPN has gone the blogger route to drum up interest in "the concept," getting various writers to fall in line and talk about "the concept" so that it will catch on and "go viral."
At first I thought, what the fuck does this have to do with football? Or the World Cup, the most important tournament in the world's most popular sport?
Then I had a visit from the Ghost of Soccer's Present, who showed me an army of sport bloggers attending conferences about in-post product placements, meme marketing, and getting things to "go viral," spreading the disease of product awareness through the "trusted voices of the blogosphere." I can't tell you how often I've come across insider blogger sites that have declared the era of ad impressions "dead," and the best way to succeed is through building and maintaining "corporate partnerships" by way of writing about worthy soccer-related products in your posts which leads to me "not wanting to read your blog." I realize bills need to be paid, but there must be better ways to do it than being an ESPN wank-job, or pretending to have a strong opinion about a product only after a company has offered you free shit.
It was only after a subsequent visit from the Ghost of Soccer's Future that I started to think "viral marketing concepts" are going to die off in the 2010s. The Group of Death is a lousy concept because it's stupid to use heavy metal music to promote Africa's first World Cup and perhaps the most important soccer tournament in US history. ESPN has decided to be stupid, and in the 2010s, stupid will lose. Stupid will not get people with money to spend to watch soccer on TV. Nor will stupid get people to buy your soccer-related product on the internet. On-line readers are now savvy enough to know when a corporation is shoveling them shit specifically designed to "go viral" and therefore destined never to do so.
What if instead ESPN had decided that 2010 would be a banner tournament for American soccer, a cultural turning point on the game's future in America regardless of the outcome of the group stage, and found a way to sell it that way? What if ESPN had solicited features from respected independent soccer writers on lesser-known facts from American soccer history, in exchange in mentioning ESPN's upcoming coverage of the 2010 tournament? Or produced a series of short, well-made doc-ads on domestic American soccer stories for YouTube, something bloggers might just go and embed on their own, with little or no prompting? Why not just market the tournament as if it already was the most important in American soccer history, and a turning point for the sport in the USA?
"Oh, but using an intelligent approach mans we won't reach the lowest common denominator," says the marketing man. But perhaps you don't want the LCD, because you can't market high-end products to the LCD, and the LCD is unlikely to like soccer no matter how Heavy Metal your "marketing concept" is. Just a thought, really.