• Transform magazine
  • May 21, 2019

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A rock and a hard place

The Rock of Gibraltar stands at a mighty and auspicious precipice. It overlooks three countries, two continents, one of the most important bodies of water in the history of the world and the place in which the Atlantic Ocean either begins or ends, depending on one’s perspective.

This coincidence of geography had poised Gibraltar for an unusual position in modern geopolitics. It’s stance as a British territory jars with the fact that it clings to Spain’s Andalucia by only the most tenuous linkages – both geographically and otherwise.

Amid the economic crisis in the Eurozone that has plagued the continent for the past five plus years, all of these factors served to work against Gibraltar – both geopolitically and otherwise. This was the challenge that the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) faced in December 2012.

The GFA, the seventh-oldest football association in the world, sought admission to UEFA – the governing body for European football – a process that would require 27 yes votes from the 53 existing members. In its previous attempt to do so, GFA garnered only four votes. London-based creative and communications agency Maverick was enlisted to support the campaign. Maverick approached the bid with a focus on the experiential aspects of the GFA brand.

“We were very keen to relay their passion and tell their story,” head of brand experience at Maverick, Andy Myring, says. “We felt that we had to really get the population of Gibraltar behind this to show UEFA, the national association and the people of Gibraltar how ordinary people are engaged in football. It was beyond politics.”

Again, Gibraltar’s unique geopolitical situation came into play, but this time, it was an asset upon which to build a successful campaign. Maverick targeted the individual members of UEFA – all 53 of them – with one-on-one meetings, letters and other communications to tell the story of Gibraltarian football. Crucially, though, they carried this out in each nation’s native language.

Myring emphasises the importance of language in creating a brand experience. “If you can communicate in the local language, people feel connected with the brand or begin to have a relationship with it. Maverick’s network of locally-based translators was tasked with the important job of ensuring communications with the 53 delegations would enable that connection. “We got fantastic letters back from national associations saying that they were thrilled to have someone write them in the local language; somebody had showed them the respect and had bothered to write them in the local tongue and it was also word perfect.”

Gibraltar’s position at the junction between Europe and Africa, as one of the last remnants of Britain’s European empire, as a member of Europe in its own right all allowed football itself to create allegiances across the continent.

The communications campaign was complemented by an audiovisual tour de force designed to engage people with the GFA’s personality, history and bid. One element was a video, part of the We’re Ready series that Maverick produced to tell the story of the GFA through the passion of its players. This way, the 120-year-old club was able to have its say. Dennis Beiso, chief executive of the GFA says, “There is no better reflection of a nation’s identity than with 11 men on the field. For many people, sports, and football in particular, is a very definite marker of identity and when your participation of your national team is questioned or denied, then that creates a very real sense of identity confusion.” It’s emotional element served to engage viewers in the world of Gibraltarian football. Another of the videos provides a properly swashbuckling, high-impact account. The one-two punch of emotion and passion grabbed the attention of the European football world and earned Maverick a couple of high-profile industry awards in the process.

The other key experiential part of the campaign was a photography exhibition designed to tackle the misconception of the GFA as a faceless organisation. The Faces of Gibraltar exhibit put Gibraltar’s history to use once again as it told the stories of the GFA’s past, present and future.

Myring says, “The translations and presentations explained the case, but the physical environment was where people could be immersed in the passion.”

The photos, taken by Gibraltar-based photographer David Parody, feature portraits of GFA fans, players and employees. The exhibit was housed in a 17th century-era army barracks – harkening back to Gibraltar’s history – and highlighted the stories shared by old time players, young fans and Gibraltarians about their passion for football.

The layout was simple, allowing focus to be drawn to the large-format prints adorning the walls of the barrel- vaulted room. “The films had an animation to them and the translations and presentations explained the case, but the physical environment was where I think people could be immersed in the passion,” Myring says. “People realised just how important it was for them to get into UEFA. It’s something that really galvanised the nation and was able to show, in a very human way, why sport, and football in particular, was important for Gibraltar.”

In the end, the six month campaign that reached 54 national football associations across 49 countries came to a head on 24 May 2013. It was a Friday that changed the history of Gibraltar on nearly every level. Its people and its team, tied together since 1895, were validated in their quest to join the Union of European Football Associations. The story, though, doesn’t end there for GFA. It’s new stadium is set to open in 2016. It stands on Europa Point – the point where Europe fades away into the Mediterranean on one side, the Atlantic on the other and across a strait of just 23 kilometres to Africa. Talk about experience.