Chess in marketing and sponsorship in chess, the anomaly

It is perhaps quite intriguing that chess features quite heavily in advertising about strategy especially in print advertising but the game itself does not account for a great deal of marketing spend as compared to other sports like Rugby, Soccer and Cricket. This seems like an anomaly. Is there a disconnect of some kind in the marketing and sponsorship space around chess? Marketing and sponsorship tend to go hand in hand. Marketing is exposing the brand in specific ways to a specific audience. Sponsorship invests money to get visibility in that audience. These are very simplistic definitions but hopefully they do capture the essence of these activities. One could argue that the mere fact that there is quite a good deal of marketing and in popular culture might suggest that even more money should be going into its sponsorship.

Why do corporate marketers love chess when talking or communicating about strategy?
Chessbase writer Albert Silver answered this question to some extent in one of his articles. He wrote the the following in his article about chess in commercials: Chess is commonly used in print advertising, most often linking its image of intelligence and class with the advertiser’s product or service. However, it also has been used many times in TV commercials either directly or indirectly to promote anything from luxury cars, to cell phones, the military, soft drinks, or sports.

In his article Albert went on to share commercials that have featured chess. Here are a few of these commercials:

Here are more recent ads featuring World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. The first ad is an Altibox one. Altibox is a gaming company in Norway. The second ad was done by Porsche. In that one Carlsen teams up with legends like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and the late Mohammad Ali.

So far we have spoken about the usage of chess in marketing and in commercials. Now why don’t we see more companies getting involved in chess sponsorship. Let’s look at a few possible reasons.

Could it be about accessibility of chess
Other games and sports such as rugby, soccer and cricket seem far more popular when it comes to accounting for marketing spend. How does scenario arise and why is it the case? Perhaps a quick answer would be that Rugby, soccer and cricket are far more accessible games and easier for the beginner to understand what is going on. In a classical game players could go for an hour before a move is played. Surely this would be unbearable to even the die hard fan. If that is the case why do these games not feature as well in strategy because I think it’s impossible to excel in these sports or sport in general without a finely executed strategy. However, if chess were not that accessible then why does it feature so much in advertising. I am sure that marketers have done their homework before using chess to convey their ideas.

There are many many chess tournaments
It is even more intriguing when one considers how many chess tournaments take place across the world during the year. One only has to look at an App like Follow Chess to see that there are several tournaments taking place at any given time. Should sponsors and marketers not be falling over themselves to get involved in chess. Over the years I have seen quite a good number of print adverts with a set. Even in movies there is a good deal of chess. Here are a few examples of chess in some of the holiday movies.

Chess online offers  a great way for exposure
There is an incredible amount of chess activity online. There are millions of people who play chess online on the internet and apps. The biggest chess apps for playing include Chess.com, Chess24, Playchess, Lichess. Players are spoilt for choice because there are now so many ways to play a chess game. Chess players will normally play blitz games online. These are games where each player has a few minutes to play the game. These games are convenient because they take very little time. For those whom time is not a big issue, they can even play games via correspondence where a move can take up to a day if not involved. These apps offer an opportunity for marketers and sponsors to get their brands involved.

How can marketers and sponsors bridge the disconnect
Companies could be more actively involved in chess to get more value from being associated with the game. There is a great deal that can be done around the game.There are many activities around chess. These activities include actual tournaments and chess leagues. Quite a number of countries in Africa run a chess league of some kind at junior and senior level.

Sponsorship of tournaments and players as well
There can be sponsorship not just of tournaments but the players themselves. In Africa we have very few grandmasters because our players are not able to travel overseas to get the necessary exposure. To become a Grandmaster you have to beat other grandmasters. In Southern Africa there are currently only 3 grandmasters, Kenny Solomon from South Africa, Amon Simutowe and Woman Grandmaster. It comes as little surprise that none of these players are actually based in Africa at the moment. To advance in chess these players had to spend a great deal of time overseas.

Getting staff to get involved in chess
Some companies in certain industries have their own soccer or rugby leagues where staff play on specific days like a Wednesday and Friday. Given the amount of investment required to get a soccer game going, the soccer kit, infrastructure and the field and venue, a chess league would involve much less. A chess league between different companies could even be held online if the companies are too far part, say in different parts of the country.

Chess could be a marketer and sponsor’s dream
We feel that chess could be a marketer’s dream especially when one considers how cheap chess material is. Setting up a game of chess would take minutes. It would be more involving and expensive to setup a photo or video shoot for outdoor sports like rugby, soccer and cricket because of the infrastructure that they require.  If marketers and sponsors are more in sync around chess it could be a big win-win not just for the brands involved but for the game and the players who are involved.

Here is a small sample of movies that have featured chess. Some of these movies have been blockbusters. For some reason chess has been very popular with the X-Men movies.

Chess Scenes in the X-Men Films

For those who are  looking for movies that are dedicated to chess, here are a few:

First up is Magnus. This is a movie about Magnus Carlsen from child prodigy to chess genius. One of the brightest minds of the century and now reigning world chess champion!

Pawn sacrifice based on the life of Bobby Fischer

The deeply inspiring Queen of Katwe

Short clip from movie “Knights of the South Bronx”. Great lines for building enthusiasm while introducing the game of chess.

 

 

And the classic, Searching for Bobby Fischer

Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

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