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    Activation is Key in Sports Marketing

  • A 30-second spot at last month’s Super Bowl went for nearly $3 million. So why is sports marketing the largest sector of the sponsorship industry—and how can you make it work for you?

    Statisticians aren’t sitting cross-legged in labs, running complex algorithms on Papa John’s Super Bowl sales. A supercomputer isn’t littering the floor of a scientist’s basement, crunching cross-promotions of the FIFA World Cup. And Harry Potter has yet to cast an ROI-analysis spell.

    Sports marketing is a tricky beast, predominantly because brands have no method of quantifying their return on investment, or their success rate at compelling consumers’ cravings.

    In 2007, consultants Kevin Clancy and Peter Krieg published a book on how to improve marketing practices. They cited a study asking participants to recall Olympic sponsors that made a lasting impression on them.

    Fifty-three percent of the sample thought of Visa, an official sponsor since 1986 that shells out millions of dollars every four years to associate itself with the world’s most promising athletes. Fifty-three percent also remembered Nike’s partnership with the games.

    On the surface, this survey represents a major triumph for Visa. But Nike is not an Olympic sponsor. With its trademark swoosh plastered brazenly across athletes’ jerseys, bags, and shoes, it is easy to see why Nike may have been mistaken as a premier sponsor. Visa’s return on investment looks dreadful compared to Nike’s, which gained equal eyeball recognition without ever writing a single check to the Olympics.

    “How brands can measure return on investment, that’s the million-dollar question,” says Bill Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report. “It all ties back to a company’s marketing objectives.”

    Return on investment trickles down to three basic ingredients: media exposure, awareness and purchase, and commitment. Among those three, awareness is often the most desirable element.

    Motivations for sports marketing, meanwhile, differ based on the size of the brand, its targeted consumers, and the avenue it advertises through.

    “There are a lot of organizations out there that are selling sponsorship, ranging from the Olympics to NASCAR, which are million-dollar deals, to every professonal sports team and venue, to every nonprofit festival and performing arts organization,” Chipps says. “So, obviously, there are a lot of organizations out there pitching sponsorship.”

    Sports sponsorship accounts for the largest sector of the sponsorship industry, an industry that grew a healthy 3.4 percent last year to $17.1 billion. Of that amount, $11.6 billion, or 68 percent, was spent on sports. The second largest category, arts and entertainment sponsorship, barely ruffled sports’ hair, accounting for only 10 percent.

    “The big properties that receive the big-time sponsorship dollars would be these marquee [sporting] events, whether they’re on a domestic or international scale,” Chipps says. “Here in the States, the Super Bowl is unique because it is such a high-profile event.”

    The Super Bowl is the largest national stage for advertisers, drawing about 90 million viewers each year, or nearly a third of the American population. With so many eyes at stake, brands begin brainstorming lucrative marketing strategies months ahead of time.

    Doritos, a subsidiary of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, fashioned itself into somewhat of a pop cultural cornerstone in the arena of Super Bowl advertising. In 2007, the sponsor launched “Crash the Super Bowl,” a contest encouraging fans to film and submit their own Doritos ads, with the top five landing on air.

    “‘Crash the Super Bowl’ was based around the idea of the Doritos brand wanting to find a unique way to engage with consumers,” says Chris Kuechenmeister, director of public relations for Frito-Lay. “Doritos consumers are younger, in that 18–24 sweet spot for the brand. This idea of creating videos and content and advertising and filmmaking was an area of interest for fans. … The thought was, ‘What’s the biggest stage for them? The Super Bowl, of course.’”

    Every year consumer-made ads have run during the Super Bowl, Doritos ranks within the top five of the USA Today Ad Meter, a live survey that polls viewers and presents real-time responses of their commercial rankings. In 2009, “Crash the Super Bowl” upped the stakes.

    “Two years ago, we offered up $1 million for a consumer-related Doritos ad to hit No. 1 on the ad meter, and sure enough, it happened,” Kuechenmeister says. “Two guys who were unemployed at the time from a small town in Indiana who created a spot for less than $2,000, and it scored No. 1 on the ad meter.”

    The primary objective of “Crash the Super Bowl” is to keep Doritos on fans’ minds while engaging their competitive flairs.

    “What’s unique is, you talk about it as advertising,” Kuechenmeister says. “We look at it more as consumer engagement.”

    Beginning in September when the contest is announced, fans submit entries, contestants campaign for votes, and buzz builds leading up to the game. A 30-seond ad becomes a six-month engagement.

    In 2010 Pepsi Max crashed the party. As with Doritos, fans could invent ads for the brand and in turn generate mass awareness for the relaunch of the Pepsi flavor.

    “I think a major benefit of that is obviously strengthening connections with our consumers, especially in this media age,” says Maria DeLorenzo, Pepsi Max communications manager. “In December, two months before the game, we’d actually had four times the number of earned media impressions than ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ had at the same time.”

    While the Super Bowl is known for its adventurous advertisements, not all promotions require marketing high jinks.