Canesten and Bayer 04: Soccer campaign is on target for brand awareness
An integrated campaign reaching soccer fans in Germany achieved its goals of leaning into synergies between Canesten, the Bayer brand and the Bayer 04 Leverkusen soccer club, promoting awareness of Canesten for nail fungus, and having brave and playful conversations in a highly emotion-driven market.
Recently celebrating its 50th birthday, Canesten is a long-standing and well-recognized consumer health brand for Bayer. And its story is certainly not over yet: Canesten for nail fungus has been identified as a growth pillar for the brand. The challenge? No one wants to talk about nail fungus. It is seen as a ‘shameful’ or uncomfortable topic. Therefore, the Canesten team’s communication goal was clear: find ways to ease the discomfort, and create a supportive environment for conversations about nail fungus to give consumers a more open attitude.
This was achieved through an integrated marketing campaign centered on the slogan, “No one wants it with nail fungus.” Through some humorous brand activations depicting personal situations, it lightened the mood while at the same time highlighting that there are situations where nail fungus should not be ignored.
As the campaign took off, it became clear that creating an emotional connection to the brand – and the subject of nail fungus as a whole – really worked. And there was one group, which most of Canesten’s competitors were not targeting, where there was a particular opportunity to stir up emotion and create awareness: male consumers.
What existing subject is a vehicle to reach the male market in an emotional context? Of course: soccer. And in the world of soccer, there could not be a more natural partner than Bayer 04 Leverkusen, our very own Bundesliga soccer club in Germany.
Winning on and off the field
To maximize awareness, teams from Bayer and the soccer club worked closely to devise an integrated campaign with many touchpoints. The brand and its key slogan appeared on the stadium advertising boards during matches. That was just the start: other touchpoints included a television advert, flyers, newsletters, advertising on the stadium ‘big screen’, social media, and even appearing in the video game FIFA 23.
How did it all come together? The first step was to have an open mindset and strive for new ways of thinking. Bayer AG and Bayer Vital were eager to collaborate more closely and create win-win situations. Back in 2021, Consumer Health team leaders including Tobias Boldt, Matthias Steimel and Linda Obermeyr engaged in a brainstorming session with Sven Theobald to identify synergies within the Bayer 04 sponsorship.
Matthias, Category Director, had been a strong advocate of promoting the nailset to the male target group for a long time, and pointed out that soccer is the perfect fit for the brand. Linda, Senior Brand Manager of Canesten, was keen on positioning the brand in a more emotional and personal way, and on trying new ways of reaching the target group. And Sven Theobald provided support and trust to enable a test-and-learn approach.
The team quickly expanded with Dana Ackermann, the Junior Brand Manager of Canesten, and Stefan Knöppel, the Digital Manager of the brand. Everyone also collaborated closely with Bayer 04 to form a strong one-team approach.
“The partners were very open and co-operative – an integrated campaign was a new thing for them, too,” reveals Dana. “Lots of creative ideas were shared, and we worked out together where to be brave and where not to over-step. Their input was crucial in getting that right.”
The reaction: Risk and reward
It was a courageous campaign, and it received a lot of attention – in some cases even polarizing opinion. One of Germany’s best-known soccer podcasts, Fums & Grätsch, noticed it and talked about it in one episode. There were also some strong reactions to the activations on Bayer 04’s social media pages – demonstrating how proud and emotional soccer fans can be.
“It was certainly polarizing but it achieved the central aim: drawing attention to the brands,” says Dana. “Even if we got challenging comments, we were still getting people to talk about the subject and break free of taboos.”
“The responses from fans indicate that they really care about their club, and want to fight for it. But I’m confident that we knew where the limits were and never over-stepped the mark. We were brave, we benefited from the experience of the Bayer 04 social media team, and we engaged cleverly with recent topics, such as the departure of Julian Nagelsmann from Bayern Munich.”
“As a result, the brand now has a more lasting connection to soccer in the minds of the audience. It’s not going to end as soon as the campaign does.”
Providing the assist for other brands
The campaign is still running and garnering more interactions. But it is already clear that this approach – stepping out of your usual ‘comfort zone’ and promoting synergies with the umbrella Bayer brand or other related brands – is a potential winner. And other brands are taking note. The cancer awareness campaign ‘Stell Krebs vom Platz’ (Send Cancer Off The Field) is another one using the crossover between Bayer and soccer to increase its reach.
“Combining the Canesten brand with other topics was an effective way to build emotional links and trust. The result was something different to everything else you see in the market, and it worked,” says Dana. “We’re happy to share assets and advice with any other brands looking to work in the same way.”