Lindsay Foster – From the “Facebook Generation”

Published on November 8th, 2010

lindsayfosterBy Lindsay Foster, T2P.TV

When describing the plan for the 34th America’s Cup, Russell Coutts’ now (in)famous line, “for the Facebook generation, not the Flinstone’s generation” continues to reverberate off yacht club walls, discussed on boats and docks, and either criticized or praised by sailing websites, publications, and blogs throughout the world.

I’ve read both the praise and the criticism, I’ve watched the press conferences, and closely followed the happenings on Facebook, Twitter and the other media outlets. The one thing I have not seen, in all the discussion about the “Facebook generation”, is an opinion from someone who actually fits into that category.

Facebook was created when I was a junior in college, when you needed to have a college email address to even register. Those days are long gone, but having used it since its inception for business and pleasure, I have a pretty good grasp on how to work it. This is where I think most of these editorials and publications are missing the mark: the types of boat and the location of the event actually have nothing to do with engaging the social media outlets.

Mono or multi hull, San Fran, Valencia or Italy – it’s not going to matter to the millions of viewers Russell and Co. are hoping to reach, who are sitting behind their laptops watching the races on their Facebook and MySpace pages while texting and tweeting from their iphones and blackberries.

What my generation (and I think others too) wants to see is exciting racing in performance oriented boats. We want to know the people racing the boats more intimately. We want drama – doomsday deadlines, arguments, broken boats, and dramatic finishes. Give us your blood, sweat and tears, and we will give you our attention. Connect it through our various social media outlets, and we will do the marketing for you. We will post the videos to our friend’s Facebook walls, update our statuses and twitters in support of our favorite teams. We will buy the clothes and drive the cars of the sponsors of those sailors – but you have to connect with us personally and make us love (or hate) you.

facebookThe “Facebook generation” is stimulated heavily through visual multimedia. In short- just MAKE IT LOOK COOL! This is where the Volvo Ocean Race does an exceptional job – the Volvo Open 70, stripped down to white, probably wouldn’t be that exciting of a boat. But when you paint it red and splash a huge cat sail across it, people want to watch. We see the teams and get to know the guys sailing, we root for them to make it to the next port, we are engaged and emotionally invested in them. In turn, this increases and fulfills the branding of PUMA, and fulfills their ultimate goal of selling more shoes.

The social media trend allows you to connect with your audience on a personal, friendly level. No more simply turning on the TV and watching a sportscast or video. You have the opportunity to offer your own opinions and hear the opinions of your friends and fans. There is more “selling yourself” involved – and this engages your audience on a much deeper level. It builds the kind of relationships that sponsors need in order to brand themselves and make it fiscally advantageous to invest in the sport of sailing.

BMW Oracle Racing has an exciting opportunity I have yet to see them leverage. BMW makes some of the fastest, coolest looking luxury cars in the world, with a brand that reaches a much larger audience than the sailing community has worldwide, and could be used to increase interest and awareness in the sport. There has to be more they could utilize than to splash a BMW symbol on the sail. Shameful as it may be to say, things like beauty, money, and power encompass a lot of what my generation values.

It does seem a bit contradictory that all of the press conferences and releases I have watched thus far, and all the figure heads of the current organizing team, are men whose average age is over 35 – exactly the audience Russell has claimed to be eschewing. They are going to be hard pressed to connect with us if that does not change. I have yet to see if the BMW Oracle Team will be able to pull off engaging my generation – most of what I have seen on the 34th America’s Cup Facebook page is text updates about the boats or press conferences. The “Facebook Launch” of the AC72 was widely regarded as falling short of what had been promised.

The current America’s Cup PR team is trying to redefine the oldest active trophy in international sport, a daunting task to say the least. It is great to have a team who seems committed to increasing attention and media coverage, though they now need to fulfill these initiatives. With the Match three years away, I don’t currently see much accomplished, but I am excited to see what they have planned. Transforming the Cup, steeped in so much history of men who would be defined as the “Flintstone Generation”, Russell certainly has his work cut out for him having uttered that now pithy expression.

t2pLindsay Foster is the Director of Marketing and Advertising for T2Productions, which provides full production and on-air coveage for the sport of sailing.

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