Advertising has been significantly developed in the last 20 years due to technological advancement (Taylor & Johnston 2018, p. 549). Traditional advertising conveyed messages through media channels, namely print, broadcast, phone, etc. However, the advance in technology has given consumers opportunities to more actively participate in the marketing process by creating their own brand messages, accessing better information and even blocking unwanted ads. Advertising is concisely converting to engagement which (Taylor & Johnston 2018, p. 550) ‘is all about participative brand contacts in which consumers have actual or virtual experiences’. The case study Google extended its partnership with Australia Football League (AFL) until the end of 2022 is an example for the development from traditional advertising and communication to communication engagement. The knowledge about three different themes of engagement, three levels of engagement measurement, communication artifacts and other related information are utilized to analyse this case study. It highlights Google, AFL and fans as the key actors, mid-level engagement and Google Nest devices as the key artifacts to help AFL connect with their fans with the help of Google as the mediator. However, details will be illustrated as below:
- Communication engagement
According to Taylor & Johnston (2018, pp. 178-179) communication is a two-way process and so is engagement; however, engagement is about “give and take” – not just talking. Therefore, communication engagement can be considered as an advanced level of communication, which focuses more on who to listen to and what feedback to hear from them rather than just concentrating on who to talk with and what to say.
Taylor & Johnston (2018, pp. 34) reveals 3 key themes of engagement, including the social and relational focus of engagement, engagement as interaction and exchange and dynamic and multidimensional nature of engagement, which understand and define engagement in different ways. However, these themes still have connections; and their common central roles of communication in engagement are still about creating, nurturing and influencing outcomes.
- The first theme recognized the nature of communication engagement within a social and relational setting. The key actors here are organizations, partners, communities, etc. who are represented by their motivations, power characteristics, interests and world views. And engagement concentrates on the activities of defining, strengthening and maintaining relational bonds (Zaharna 1995, p. 371). As for the case study of Google and Australia Football League, the key actors here are Google, Australia Football League and their fandom. They have distinctive interests and power characteristics; however, it is essential to create and maintain strong bonds among these stakeholders. If the Australia Football League expects to maintain and even develop fandom in the annual tournament, the AFL fans want to get the latest news about the tournaments, watch the live stream on Youtube and vote for their favorite teams and players without any difficulties and only by staying at home. Then Google acts as the mediator between these two stakeholders and aims at getting more people using their services, namely Google Nest, Google Search Engine and Youtube.
- The theme of engagement that focuses on interaction and exchange is conceptualized as a dynamic and interactive process, where the central components are the emergence of participation, experience and shared action. Within this theme, engagement is the purposeful interaction with a balanced act among different stakeholders who willingly exchange resources to obtain their own benefits (Yousuf 2018). In this case study, there are three stakeholders, including Google, Australia Football League and their fans. In particular, AFL resources’ are its authority to organize the national football tournament in Australia and official news relating to this champion league; meanwhile, Google is a globally renowned technology company that is providing tools like Google Search Engine or Youtube that millions of people access to find information. These organizations collaborate with each other to get their own benefits. AFL can get more fans following their football tournaments, and Google expects to get more people accessing its platform.
- The third theme highlights the engagement’s dynamic and multidimensional aspects. It considers engagement as both a psychological and behavioral phenomenon that consists of the audience’s interaction with the content he decides to consume through a branded media platform (Chan-Olmsted et al. 2017). In this case study, the audiences are AFL fans, and their psychological reactions with the news that Google extends its partnership with AFL are happy because they can continue connecting with the game they love. Moreover, considering the fan’s engagement as a behavioral phenomenon, they have more opportunities to get updated news and vote for teams and players they are interested in.
Although there are different themes of engagement, the target audiences in this case study are the same. They are the AFL fans. And the other actors are Google and AFL. As what has been discussed above, they have different interests and goals.
- The Australia Football League expects to enhance the fan experience and develop fandom in the annual tournament. And besides men’s football, they want to promote the development of women’s football by demonstrating its values and signifying the movement it has created.
- The AFL fans want to get the latest news about the tournaments, watch the live stream on Youtube and vote for their favorite teams and players without any difficulties and only by staying at home.
- Google acts as the mediator between these two stakeholders and aims at getting more people using their services, namely Google Nest, Google Search Engine and Youtube.
The term engagement is defined differently in each industry. In some industries, engagement can be the time that people spend on a particular activity – the amount of time staying on a website; or the number of page views (Taylor & Johnston 2018, p. 551). However, Muntinga et al. (2011) believe that engagement is evaluated based on the user actions, for example like, share or comment on brand content. In the case study of Google and Australian Football League, the engagement of AFL fans with Google and AFL are slightly different from each other:
- AFL Fans with Google: There are several ways that AFL fans interact with Google. Firstly, the fans can watch powerful storytelling videos on Youtube; therefore, the engagement can be classified based on the number of views, likes, shares, comments and watching time on the video. Secondly, they can also use Google Nest devices to get the latest information about scores, news and trivia only by staying at home. AFL fans can also use Google Search Engine to vote for a variety of categories, for example, the Player of Round or the Fan Awards. These types of actions belong to engagement which is evaluated based on the number of searches by the fans. Therefore, the engagement Google expects AFL fans to do is more closely with the definition proposed by Muntinga and other co-authors.
- Fans with AFL: AFL expects to grow their fanbase, and more fans will follow their football champion league each year by increasing search volume for information related to this tournament and also number of online votes by fans through Google. With this analysis, the definition about engagement introduced by Muntinga and other co-authors also fit the relation between fans and the Australia Football League.
In order to measure the quality of engagement, Taylor & Johnston (2018, p. 39) propose three tiers, including lowest level, mid-level and highest level. And the tier 2 – the mid-level is the most suitable for this engagement. This tier’s indicator is relationship qualities which are measured through affective/cognitive/behavioral outcomes. The outcomes of this case study are the number of views, likes, shares, comments, search volume and online votes. And statistics show that the total visits to this website in the last 6 months is 18.32 million. The official Youtube channel of AFL has totally 225K subscribers and over 151 million views.
- Communication artefacts and outcomes
In the museum, ‘Communication Artifacts are created as expressions of human thought’ (Mayborn Museum). They consist of advertisements, ceremonial and documentary artifacts, personal symbols, art and exchange media. However, communications artifacts in the sports industry can be different. The advance of technology plays an important role in the case study of Google and AFL; therefore, media artifacts and digital artifacts can be considered as the identifiable artifacts.
- For example, the media artifacts consist of computers, cell phones, ipads, Google Nest devices. They help the audiences access the Internet to use Google Search tool to vote for their favorite football teams and players , watch storytelling videos on Youtube and use Google Net devices to immediately update trivia, news, score, etc. only by comfortably staying at their home.
- Digital artifacts can include a separation or combination of image, audio, video, text and animation. Therefore, they provide the fans with more detailed information when they are looking for information related to the Australia Football League. For example, when searching “AFL” on Google Search tool, the top result appears as the picture below. The digital artifacts here can be images of logo of different football teams, texts of football teams’ names and scores, as well as articles in the News tab and videos summarizing each match on the Final
Furthermore, the key artefact in this case study is Google Nest devices at home, which have been applied in 2018. Google Nest devices are the combinations of smart home products, Google utilizes smart speakers, smart displays and streaming devices to assist AFL fans to seek for update news, scores in different matches, trivia and more. All these activities can be done only at their home. Particularly, smart displays can be smart TVs that fans can manually type on search tools – Google Search to update the latest news. Or they can utilize smart speakers to search for information by voice. These devices help fans find it convenient and comfortable when finding news about the Australia Football League, and they can reach a variety of fans. For example, the man who is busy with his cooking still can obtain the news by using a smart speaker, instead of manually typing on search tools. It can be even applicable for the people with disabilities – for instance, the blind, because they can use the smart speaker to look for the news and listen to it. Streaming devices that can connect with Youtube also help the fans to enjoy the live football matches without wasting money to buy tickets and enter the stadium. Therefore, these Google Nest devices are applicable to different types of fans, and they encourage the fans to enjoy the football match economically and comfortably by staying at their home.
The partnership between Google and AFL in different perspectives supports the AFL fans increase their interactions with AFL and other fans. For example, the digital artifacts about the newest information of the tournaments can let the fans make the right decision to vote for potential football teams and best players. The live streams on Youtube can gather fans in one place to together watch the football matches and simultaneously interact with each other during the matches by leaving comments in the chat box.
- Reflective thoughts
My personal and limited knowledge about the area of Prof Comm specialisation, which consists of journalism, media, PR and advertising has been broadened after reflecting the case study of Google and Australia Football League – the two renowned company and association. Before that, I believed that Prof Comm is a one-way interaction that we as the journalists or media and advertising agencies will be merely considered to be successful by attracting as many people to know about our brand or articles as possible. My traditional advertising belief focuses on conveying the messages to persuade our audiences to agree with my perspectives. For example, when advertising a product, my ultimate goal is convincing consumers that it has unique benefits when being compared with other products. The consumers afterwards favorably evaluate the benefits of the products. However, the new ideas of engagement in communication are different which is demonstrated in the figure below.
Figure 1. Different paths to effective branding of traditional advertising versus communication engagement
Sources: Taylor & Johnston (2018)
However, the new ways of communication that concentrate on the engagement rely on the actual or virtually experiences of the brands, products or services by consumers. For instance, instead of using verbal or non-veral messages to introduce the product as what traditional advertising has been doing, communication engagement focuses more on stories. Particularly, we let a consumer directly experience the benefits of products as what we introduce; meanwhile, the other people can watch, take pictures or record a video to post to social media. With this approach, the brand can diversify the consumers’ experience in both actual and virtual ways. As people can virtually experience the products by watching videos and pictures on social media and reading objective reviews instead of the endorsement from celebrities or brand representatives.
Furthermore, in alignment with technological development, new ideas of communication artifacts or storytelling can also be updated. Particularly, in this case study, Google Nest devices containing smart speakers, smart displays and streaming devices can promote more interactions between organizations and their target audiences. And storytelling through Youtube videos give the audiences visually digest the information and remember it longer.
By reflecting on this case study helps me to change my perspectives about ways to do advertising and PR from one-way to multidimensional interaction. Moreover, with the advance of technology, I believe that encouraging more audience interactions, for example, shares, likes, comments and personal reviews is a better method to win the target audience’s trust and save advertising costs.