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Exclusive: Coles CMO Reveals Value Of AFL Partnership

W
ith the 2021 AFL Grand Final fast approaching, Ministry of Sport spoke with Coles chief marketing officer (CMO), Lisa Ronson, about the value of partnering with the league and activations during the finals.

Discussing the increased commercial activations in the lead up to the Grand Final, Ronson said the increase of fan engagement during the finals allows for better performing activations.

“We focus on the whole season, not just the finals, because obviously we’re a sponsor of the broader AFL and AFLW, but we know fans get a bit more engaged as the finals season kicks through,” Ronson told Ministry of Sport.

“The first thing we did was launch our Coles AFL TV commercial, featuring some of our ambassadors with Eddie (Betts) and Anthony (McDonald-Tipungwuti), and we had Mark Taylor in there as well and that’s gone down really well.

“We’ve had a lot of fans and our team members respond really well and particularly to the track, which was Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, but it was performed by Electric Fields, who are from the Anangu region, and it came across really well.

“It brought a big smile to peoples faces.

“Then we did the Coles AFL fan awards and the finals fan vote, and all those were really supposed to do is connect with fans.

“We know everyone’s always double or triple screening, so we jumped on that trend and had fans vote for either their favourite player, or their favourite moment in the game.

“We’re announcing the winners of the fan vote tomorrow (Thursday),” she said.

After becoming an official partner of the AFL at the start of 2020 immediately prior to the AFL season being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ronson said the pandemic has created a greater focus on innovation.

“When we were going through our deal with the AFL, we were in the horrible bushfire season so one of the very first things we did was support the bushfire appeal, we had some of our team members go along and support that,” Ronson said.

“We will also have 200 team members going along on Saturday to support at Optus Stadium (with the team members to assist in the stadium service due to staff shortages).

“We’ve just had to be creative and innovative to be honest.

“We would normally, as you would expect, activate on-ground and with people, but we’ve just had to shift that all around and focus on engaging the fans.

“We’ve had viewing audiences really strong because people can’t get to the games obviously, and a lot of our partnership centres around the Coles centre circle and that’s one thing that hasn’t had to change, which is fantastic.

“We’ve just had to work really closely with the AFL and with our ambassadors to shift some of our programs like Coles Healthy Kicks, which has gone to a digital and virtual program.

“Today, we’re announcing the extension of our partnership with Eddie Betts, now that he’s retired, he’s got more time to work with us on things like Healthy Kicks and adapt them for the Indigenous communities and when we can, getting out to some Indigenous communities and distributing things like different books.

“The heart of the partnership has very much been around our joint priorities with the AFL around helping Australians live healthier and happier lives, that’s our purpose as a brand and its very aligned to what the AFL is trying to do in the community.

“It’s all about diversity, inclusion, health, being happy, and how we can activate that both through our team members and with our customers.

“While we have had to change things up quite a lot, the partnership is really strong and we’re always their shoulder to shoulder to try work it through and we’ve done what we can for the AFL and likewise.

“It’s a really strong partnership and that hasn’t changed because of COVID.

“Because we’ve had to look at the partnership from a different perspective and do things in different ways, there’s a greater collaboration to try and figure it out quickly.

“As you well know, some of this stuff was pivoting within days, things shutting down and not being able to do simple things like production and the activations.

“It’s forced a greater ingenuity and a lot more innovation and creativity, which is always good for relationships,” she said.

When asked about the activations and delivery of the 2021 AFL Grand Final, Ronson said: “It’s going to be in a different way this year, but we will have 200-plus team members there loud and proud helping out in the stadium, so we’ll be visible, and I think that shows we’re trying to help and lean in to make it the best Grand Final we possibly can.”

“We’ve got product in our stores, so all Australians can go in and get different AFL products to entertain depending what situation they’re in from a lockdown perspective.

“We’re really proud of the efforts we’ve done this year, is it different to what we would have done in a non-lockdown society?

“Yeah, it’s different, but it’s still going to be fun and hopefully bring joy to our team and our fans,” she told Ministry of Sport.