Whistles blow (then are quickly sanitized), sneakers screech an ex-ballroom-parquet, and broadcasters emphatically argue a holding call from thousands of miles away, but sports are back. As it has with many other industries, COVID has spurred innovation and creative problem solving this summer in the sports world, leading to the delivery of some atypical but surprisingly engaging broadcast demonstrations. Just as in-game atmospheres have grown with the times (gone is the cigarette-smoke filled old Boston Garden where an NHL player once beat a fan with his own shoe), so too must the elements of broadcast. And while look and feel may be different, the canvas for marketers to engage with fans and generate value for brands is now more expansive than ever. A Jumping Off Point Professional leagues around the world have done everything in their power to prevent their products from appearing lonely and silent - most leaning into digital enhancements. When the Premier League returned in May, producers borrowed audio stems from the FIFA video game to add crowd noise to make broadcasts feel more natural (and drown out mouthy players). A few months later the NBA followed with an even bolder auditory demonstration and virtual fans lining the (branded) courtside. The MLB is serving digital display ads in foul territory and even the pitcher’s mound. And the NHL has filled its two bubble arenas with “mega screens” meticulously developed to serve an immersive visual experience with 12 new camera angles (NHL). These new opportunities will only offer more creativity in the space, which has already seen its fair share of genius. Why Should Advertisers Get in the Game? AMP published an article in May postulating about what the COVID sports solutions would look like and raising the question of whether $2.5B in lost ad dollars could be saved in a condensed fall slate. While we don’t yet have an answer, brands, properties, and talent alike have reached into their respective bags of tricks to try and make the most of the circumstances. But what makes the sports world such a valuable platform for advertisers? The answer is quite simple: a captive audience. In the "olden times" four TV stations with a few hit shows dominated the airwaves. Viewers needed to be in their seats at 8pm sharp, millions locked into their favorite program at the same time guffawing at Marcia Brady. A marketer’s dream. Today’s content consumer, however, is able to tune in and out of a Pandora's box of entertainment options, flying through ads on their favorite pre-recorded sitcom, and deftly transitioning from Hulu show to Twitter video during an ad break. Sports are considered to be a last bastion of the engaged, connected viewer. These events must be watched live, else one risks water cooler ostracization. The connection between viewer and competition also creates an especially powerful association with partners and sponsors who share the screen with a fan’s favorite players and teams. Furthermore, sports highlights are gluttonously consumed long after a game’s result is known. This is especially true as more leagues allow their content to be freely shared on YouTube and Instagram in an effort to make their products more accessible to an interconnected global audience. The benefit to marketers is not immaterial, as stadium display assets, logos, and broadcast clips will likely serve millions of additional impressions after the final whistle. Making The Most of Playing Time Smart digital players can find a multitude of ROI opportunities across the sports industry value chain -- A fan watching Tuesday night's game will likely be simultaneously following along the conversation on twitter, bleacher report, and fantasy sports apps. 74% of fans under 35 watch sports on a smart device and 66% use mobile apps to supplement gameplay with additional content according to Immersiv. These individuals are engrossed in a vast ecosystem of fandom, and marketers can add immense value to brands and customers alike when they can seamlessly offer relevant content and facilitate relationships across these platforms. According to research from Cap Gemini, 70% of fans say emerging technologies have enhanced their overall viewing experience and 92% say if they enjoyed their tech experience, they would spend more on online subscriptions. Brands that embrace this digital transformation will create economic benefits and acquire high LTV consumers while powering a new chapter of fandom. These multi-device aficionados are the future of sports/entertainment consumption: introducing a “second screen” creates more dynamic broadcast opportunities and enlightens new formats and fan interactions that blur the line between advertising and content. Data points towards a desire for new types of engagement as well -- Tech Radar research indicates that four out of five consumers expect their sports streaming platform to offer “different” ad experiences. Advertisers have begun to find native opportunities in the “Last 5 Minutes Presented by Rocket Mortgage” or “Free Throws sponsored by Alaska Airlines” (a logo & broadcast deal with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm that will also donate one million airline miles to the “Free Throws for the Future” program benefitting various youth organizations), but there is a blue ocean of non-disruptive creative activations. When messages are integrated into the broadcast and serve to present, rather than interrupt, brands are able to avoid such negative correlations, and even embed themselves into the popular culture lexicon. Sports viewers also understand the financial importance of advertising to their favorite clubs, and the positive correlation these deals (both broadcast and sponsorship) have with their team’s ability to pay the most talented players. Increasingly, sports gambling plays a part in the viewing experience, which only enhances the need to see every second live. These activities also shorten the psychological distance between sporting event and commercial transaction, and thus purchase intent -- this may open the door even more for brands to tie in offers natively to the vast ecosystem of a sports fan’s content consumption. Because of this inherent value to sports marketing, the vertical has been a hub of digital invention for years and is now entering a new era thanks to advancements in technology and a rapidly changing entertainment environment. The best of such concoctions, whether they be from brands, teams, or leagues put user experience first and allow personalization and control for every fan’s unique preferences. More connected, fluid viewer engagement can only lead to better leads and customer relationships for sponsorships and advertisers, creating a space where incentives are aligned to make fandom ever more exciting. Best In Show Here are 4 cases from the past decade that showcase exemplary digital marketing activations in sports, and some postulation of what we can learn from these efforts. Burger King & Stevenage FC https://www.sportbible.com/australia/football-gaming-news-burger-kings-genius-marketing-strategy-to-team-up-with-stevenage-20200924 On Saturday evenings, Broadhall Way lights up for 2,700 supporters to watch Stevenage Football Club play League 2 football. Nestled into the borough of Hertfordshire 29 miles north of London, the team currently sits a respectable 5th in the table, and would be largely unknown to the general population had it not been for a prescient $50,000 shirt sponsorship investment from Burger King in 2019. Why would a brand invest (admittedly frugally compared to Fly Emirates $70M deal with Real Madrid) in such a property? For digital marketing purposes of course. Knowing their logo could be served to many more if gamers in the much anticipated FIFA 20 release chose to play as Stevenage, Burger King devised a campaign to invigorate a sizeable portion of the 10 million FIFA 2020 players to choose to compete with the club: The #StevenageChallenge was born, a promotion in which gamers unlocked special Burger King deals & prizes, such as “A Nutmeg for Nuggets,” when they shared highlights of their goals using the club on Twitter. The effort became a viral sensation as bloggers and casual gamers alike delighted in “vundergoals” from their new unlikely heroes. During the week-long campaign over 25,000 goals were shared, the club became the most used team in Career Mode and on Twitch (serving exponentially more impressions), and for the first time in club history, team shirts sold out (The Sun). This activation showcases the mutually beneficial relationship brands and sports properties can have. Matisse Thybulle – Brand Building Through Content The 3 and D specialist from Philly was a rookie on the court, but a clear veteran of digital media off of it. His masterfully edited YouTube series on life in the NBA bubble was an instantaneous viral success. Thybulle’s videos invited viewers to an intimate behind-the-scenes of NBA life in Disney World, and profoundly catalogued many of the invaluable discussions happening around the NBA’s continued support in the fight for racial justice. Matisse was the MC of the NBA world to millions who tuned into his channel to experience a season unlike any other. This position grew his brand immensely (although he had already begun to turn heads as a Tik-Tok extraordinaire), landing him a (distanced) interview on Jimmy Kimmel, and setting up a new series of videos about life away from the team during the off-season. Matisse is an incredibly gifted natural storyteller and videographer, but athletes everywhere can, and have taken note (see copycats in the NHL and elsewhere in the NBA) of how to use these platforms and their positions as community leaders to share their experiences and raise awareness about important issues. MLB Road to The Show In 2013 AMP Agency supported Playstation’s effort to own Opening Day. The campaign began months before the season opener, however, with a simulated season, projections, and highlights to spur debate among ultra fan "seam-heads” about BABIP regression and wRC+. Geotargeted "hype" videos for each team, powered by the game's graphics engine, gave fans the opportunity to share highlights before a single pitch was thrown, and a real-time content studio during Opening Day games distributed celebration footage for the victors to share and bask in. The activation culminated in the creation of lifelike digital baseball cards for influencers on Vine which were shared out the next day to command attention and expand the network of impressions after the games. Unibet Live Odds and Match Insights Sports fans are some of the most knowledgeable data junkies out there. Ever since “Moneyball” led to the proliferation of quantifiable performance metrics, major sports leagues and teams have invested heavily in real-time movement data collection, not just for teams to make personnel decisions, but to share with interested fans via broadcasts and beyond, in no small part due to the potential gambling applications. Message boards are filled with spreadsheets painstakingly created to analyze exit velocity patterns or player impact estimates, and fans happily spend hours consuming such investigations to base their wagers on. Unibet taps into this knowledge-seeking endeavor by using display advertising that engages in a real-time data conversation with the customer. Especially with sports gambling, the odd data anomaly and hint at arbitrage spawns an instantaneous interest. A simple click thru to Unibet’s Match Insights widget then presents access to an entire sports data suite, a persuasive tool to convert this user into a new Unibet customer. Orlando Magic App Even in the pre-COVID era, sunny Orlando was also a hub for the NBA’s inventive digital capacities. In 2014 the Magic launched the Fast Break Pass (a tiered monthly ticketing subscription program as opposed to single game/season ticket packages) along with an advanced mobile app developed by VenueNext that gave fans more choice and personalization than ever before. Through the app, individuals can upgrade their seats in-game, use location tracking to receive turn-for-turn directions within the stadium, order in-seat concessions, and convert unused tickets into “Magic Money” for concessions, merchandise, and even parking. A whopping 90% of season ticket holders use features of the app, which allows the team to personalize communications and distribute demographically relevant and timely offers to each of these valuable fans. That platform is also a meaningful advertising platform and drove $500k in ad sales in 2016 to FanDuel and Sun Pass (Florida’s prepaid toll program). This model is also used by the NFL’s San Francisco 49’ers, who sold $750k of advertising packages to eSurance during the 2014 season according to Mobile Sports Report. These numbers have likely grown in the years since as usage expands. Now What? Now that we’re all thoroughly convinced of the efficacy of digital sports activations, here are some parting learnings to inspire your 2021 campaigns: Real Recognize Real -- Giving something of standalone value (chicken nuggets) as opposed to worthless trinkets (think branded foam fingers) can drive user participation. Keep customer lifetime value and acquisition costs in mind. Leverage the Nuances of Each Platform -- A knowledge of customer usage patterns is imperative. Brands must know why the consumer is there in the first place if they are to communicate productively. Free agency news is almost always broken on Twitter while trick shots are gobbled up on Tik Tok. Not only does it inform the context in which a brand meets a consumer, but it also can indicate the type of advertising fans are likely to partake in: Challenges on Tik Tok, hashtags on Twitter, and photo-sharing to Instagram. Campaigns should always be tailored to take advantage of the network effects specific to each desired action. Remember the Game -- The best digital sports activations are based on the endemic capacity for sports to exhilarate and connect. If an activation does not involve the thrill of victory, agony of defeat, or inspire a collective pride you may have wasted your $$$. These emotions are hard to construct in the commercial world, so do your best to harness that passion!
Jacob Steinfield, Assistant Account Executive May 7, 2020 An acronym soup for breakfast: COVID, WCS, and KPIs It does not look like our distancing days are going to go anywhere soon, but even when mobility comes back – and we rise dramatically from the couch – consumer relationships with brands will have been transformed. There's some debate over habit-forming timelines. Conventionally, 21 days was the magic number needed for permanent changes to occur (based on research published in Maxwell Maltz's 1960 bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics), but more contemporary researchers have found the length closer to 66 days. Either way, our COVID journey will certainly surpass both, and we have undoubtedly developed new attitudes and conditions that will remain as the world slides back into normalcy. This is especially true in consumer expectations for brands as embedded community leaders, given the instantaneous pivot to solemn commitments to employees & customers in response to this emergency. There is a new standard for purpose from these entities: The uncountable statements of “togetherness” and ventures for collective healing will not be allowed to merely dissipate in the post-COVID era (which will not be such a binary distinction either). Learning from those who have delivered effectively and creatively in these conditions (see Light, Coors) will be imperative as consumers are more inclined than ever to use their buying power on companies whose actions and values align with their own – and uncommitted to companies who merely shouted for everyone to remember they existed. As Adweek reports from social psychologist Hillary Haley, “[People] don’t just want to be helped, they want to provide help themselves, and they’ll reward brands that act as facilitators.” Take Spotify for example. This week, they launched their Music Relief project, with a new Artist Fundraising feature that gives listeners the option to donate to their favorite artist directly or a relief initiative of their choice. Donations will be matched by Spotify up to $10M, and users are given immense freedom to provide much-needed support. During this time, our client Eastern Bank has also successfully delivered on the values of their long-standing Join Us For Good brand campaign. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, they have pledged $10 million in aid to those most affected, became founding donors and administrators for the $25 million Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, and provided pathways for people to join them in giving efforts along the way. The brand has deep roots in local volunteering and service, with this additional leadership making it clear that commitment to their communities is not new or temporary, but endemic to their brand’s DNA. Brands & marketers must consequently re-calibrate the levers they use to turn communication and brand identity into desired outcomes. This brings us to an important consonant jumble: WCS – What Constitutes Success? Achieving a quantifiable level of success is not a new challenge in the advertising space. The rise of digital marketing made the wide world of impact measurement a much more complicated game. Near infinite opportunities for companies to connect with people, ever-consuming throughout their day, creates a dizzying array of data points to synthesize. No longer is a sales lift or focus group – both limited by bias – the only ways to measure effects. We can see the resonance in real-time with brand recall and changes in buyer habits, and instantly tinker, AB test, and iterate. This can, however, restrict the horizon of our improvement targets in the endless pursuit of immediate incremental benefit. It is important to take a step back from your anchored campaign norms to identify larger potential opportunities, especially as messaging expectations change. Customers are less motivated than ever by undiluted sales pitches or vague statements of pandemic camaraderie, growingly conditioned against them, and capable of tuning out through ad blockers and nearby alternative devices. Attention needs to be truly earned, and people react positively and strongly to premises that are relevant, important, and authentic to them – especially when those messages are tied to action beyond the advertising or purely-commercial realm. As The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull reports, “[Leadership] vacuums have often been filled by brands that see social issues as an opportunity to connect with customers — especially younger ones, who want to believe that there’s a right way to spend their money.” While it may be challenging in our current circumstances to rationalize, brands are on the right track trying to compel outcomes that benefit society. In fact, consumers have growingly defined brands themselves by their social practices and philanthropic priorities. Cooperation opportunities are key for marketers to validate brands as forces of communal good, but there is a huge opportunity and need for brands to give more direction in achieving such results. While hope and community belonging are fabulous intentions, the onslaught of purpose-based messaging inundating our timelines and networks with solemn background music often do not give specific, convincing instruction to achieve these goals. This is where marrying commonly-shared desired outcomes to internal metrics of improvement can create business objectives that are sincerely important to the customer – like the aforementioned Coors activation. Coors raised spirits with a unifying metric of donating 500,000 beers, while also focusing on definitive financial impressions by contributing all merchandise profits to COVID relief efforts. Cause-based marketing may pose difficult questions for ROI, but we can use our skills in translating data-driven insights to make cause-related messages as productive as our commerce-related ones. To do so, marketers must re-define their KPIs – Key Performance Indicators Good marketers understand that true ROI is based on the lifetime value of your relationship with the customer, and the positive externalities that being in their network entails. To achieve such fruitful relationships, marketing initiatives must find a compelling way to demonstrate not just shared values, but a common purpose, all while facilitating ways to connect the two. Consumers understand that advertising is aimed to drive action, and when that action is one they consider worthy, it creates an association of aligned incentives. Considering the enormous challenges in global health, environmental protection, and human rights, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t be compelled to think favorably of a campaign intentionally designed to improve these worthy outcomes. Converting favorable perception into action can be a difficult task, but brands can ignite such behavior by communicating KPIs that are meaningful to both the company and consumer. Conveying a measurable definition of success for your civic engagement program helps alleviate public concern about motives. Non-monetary KPIs can also be constructive, such as donated cans of non-perishables, volunteer hours, or shelters built. These not only create attainable goals, but valuable bonds for the company and consumers to work together toward. To build this new type of relationship with customers, brands often partner with philanthropic organizations that have endemic popular trust. It’s a form of assuaging concerns about the integrity of their efforts. However, with hundreds of brands flooding the market with cookie-cutter COVID-19 responses, such partnerships alone cannot galvanize when consumer individuality is not recognized. Advertising is often powerful because it speaks directly to a specific need, but when a sea-of-sameness permeates throughout, that influence dissipates. To break this mold, AMP helped its client GIANT Food Stores launch the national #MoreForAll campaign, aimed to mitigate panic shopping by spreading direct, actionable instructions and driving awareness through digital conversations. Across media platforms, and with influencer help, local individuals instructed followers on ways to extend the life of their produce and urged them to be considerate of their peers. AMP was able to measure overwhelmingly positive sentiment and engagement, the topic clearly resonating with followers, and GIANT was able to see definitive reductions in over-buying. Even when the COVID-19 era subsides, there is a heightened expectation and opportunity for companies to continue to support communities. Large organizations can use their scale and connections to create value beyond their immediate spheres of influence, and engrain themselves positively into the public consciousness. When normalcy returns, brands should look at the successes of these charitable causes moving forward, and see that ROI can be earned and sustained with marketing that optimizes its positive impact on consumers’ daily lives. Key Takeaways Brands are increasingly defined by their conduct as community leaders and responses to social needs Leading firms are developing stronger relationships with consumers by empowering buyers to make a philanthropic difference with their spending Cause-marketing is most effective when campaign KPIs are also pertinent to consumer ideals, and messaging clearly illustrates how specific actions by both parties can catalyze an outcome that is mutually rewarding.