How Microsoft engaged younger NFL sports fans
Winner of the Content Award at The Drum Awards for Media 2023, Microsoft set out to further leverage its longstanding sponsorship of the NFL. Here is the award-winning case study that explains how.
As a longstanding partner of the NFL, Microsoft set out to further leverage the NFL partnership to win the hearts of younger consumers through proving Microsoft’s ability to enrich the game. Heading into the ’22-’23 season, it was critical to continue creating connections and exposure with fans to further drive awareness of the partnership and showcase how Microsoft technology drives success for the NFL and its players.
Microsoft knew that in order to reach a younger audience it was critical to pivot from previous, linear-focused campaigns to a more digital and social native program. Additionally, it was crucial to secure rights to distribute content both within a media partner’s ecosystem and within Microsoft’s paid NFL media plan to allow for usage flexibility. Lastly, to further deepen Microsoft’s partnership with the NFL, incorporation of top-tier NFL talent continued to be key.
So, Microsoft teamed up with Overtime Sports, a leading Gen Z focused social-first sports publisher, to not only reach a younger audience, but also lean into the flexibility to create a range of talent-led assets that resonated in both editorial and commercial environments. Together Microsoft and Overtime built a range of assets to resonate within different environments and distribution touchpoints, pushing the campaign above and beyond a typical social-lead content campaign.
The “24 Hours” editorial assets leaned on Overtime IP and were distributed within Overtime’s media ecosystem, while the commercial assets leaned more heavily on NFL IP and were distributed primarily within the NFL’s media ecosystem. This dual approach allowed us to not only overcome rights limitations surrounding NFL IP usage, but also create distinct yet related content that reinforced the same message and strengthened results. Throughout the content, Microsoft tech was woven seamlessly into the talent’s personal and professional storylines, resulting in multi-faceted, compelling videos.
Furthermore, Talanoa Hufanga joined the campaign as lead talent which proved to be instrumental in the success of the content. A charismatic rising star with the San Francisco 49ers, Talanoa is also of Polynesian descent. By paying homage to his background, the content not only captured his authentic self, but also aligned with Microsoft’s existing efforts with the Polynesian Bowl and Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
Longform hero content was distributed across Overtime YouTube and Facebook, while unique, platform-optimized social cutdowns were distributed across Overtime Instagram and TikTok, reaching all corners of the partner ecosystem. These assets were more editorial in nature, leaning heavily into Overtime IP to connect deeply with Overtime’s millennial and Gen-Z audiences.
Creatively, the editorial content integrated Surface and key Windows features, showing instead of telling how Microsoft tech supports the NFL. Elements such as calendar, whiteboard, and Teams naturally underpinned the contents’ storylines, helping to push the narrative forward.
In addition to the editorial-driven custom content, the partnership also yielded commercially oriented assets which, in contrast to the editorial assets, leaned more heavily on NFL IP. We leveraged licensed NFL highlight footage, resulting in a second group of assets that connected with Overtime’s audience in a different way. To supplement the editorial assets, these commercial assets were distributed via paid support within Overtime YouTube pre-roll and Snapchat, as well as outside of the campaign within Microsoft’s NFL paid media plan on NFL.com and NFL Network.
To further Talanoa’s integration within the overall campaign, he posted 2 pieces of content on his personal Instagram account.
The campaign was live during the end of the regular season and through playoffs, with a portion overlapping with the 49er’s playoff push, increasing the relevance, timeliness, and cultural context of the content.
As a result, the partnership with Overtime drove double digit lift against the campaign’s primary objective of raising brand love for Microsoft, as well as near triple digit lift in unaided Microsoft/NFL partnership awareness.
Key media tactics such as IG stories and YouTube pre-roll dramatically outperformed Overtime engagement and VCR benchmarks, suggesting the audience’s receptiveness to the content. Cementing the success of the partnership overall, Overtime overdelivered on paid media goals, garnering 1.5M incremental views, representing a 25% over-delivery and almost $100k in bonus media value.
The combination of the 24 Hours and commercial assets significantly lifted brand love for Microsoft (+14%) . Exposure to any campaign element resulted in 90% stat sig lift to user’s unaided partnership awareness of Microsoft with the NFL with lifts highest when audiences are exposed to both campaign elements. Prior awareness of MSFT-NFL partnership had more significant impact on shaping users’ perceptions that MSFT supports sports/athletes that fans like (+12%) as well as connecting fans with sports (+7%). 79% of viewers believed that Talanoa was a good fit for the campaign and added to their enjoyment of the content. Highest engagement rate from Instagram Story (5.75%), outperformed its benchmark of .05- 1.5%. Highest VCR from Commercial Asset Pre-Roll on YouTube (85.51%), outperforming .50-60% VCR benchmark. 7.53MM views across all content, overdelivered against view guarantee significantly (+25%).