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Vox pop: What's the best brand alignment with a sporting event?

By The Drum Network, Staff Writer

April 3, 2020 | 10 min read

Sports events are the ultimate prize for advertisers. Huge audiences at the very height of engagement and primed to pay attention to every single detail. As a result, brands typically pay huge sums to be associated with sporting events - but what's been this best single example of that over the past few years? In this Drum Network vox pop - A Sporting Chance - our members provide some examples...

Aline de nadai

Matthew Duhig, co-founder, FX Digital

When it comes to sport, nobody does it like the NFL. The U.S.’s largest and most successful American Football league is the richest in the world, with revenues that surpass even the English Premier League.

The billions of dollars generated by the NFL attracts huge brands when it comes to advertising. Nowhere is this more evident than the The Super Bowl. The 3-hour-plus game is the definition of prime-time ad space, with the most expensive slots retailing for $5.6m.

Needless to say, brands don’t mess around when it comes to creating viral and attention-grabbing content for these golden windows. This year, for example, saw Pringles team up with adult cartoon Rick & Morty for some meta comedy about the characters being stuck in a Pringles commercial.

It was fascinating to see Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant going toe-to-toe during the Super Bowl. The battle of the two largest voice experience brands is showing no sign of abating and there seemed no better arena for them to lay down the gauntlet than the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida during Super Bowl LIV.

Amazon’s #BeforeAlexa campaign worked well. Featuring Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi, the ad took a look back through time to highlight the pains of living without Alexa before the advent of voice technology. It was funny, high-budget and well executed.

As the Super Bowl ended, The Kansas City Chiefs lifted the Lombardi trophy, but it was Google who won the battle of the voice assistants. Their ad, simply titled “Loretta”, tells the story of an 85-year-old grandfather who talks to his Google Assistant to recount his favourite memories of his wife. He recalls their old photographs, storing this information so as his memory fades, he will be able to rely on his Google Assistant to stop him forgetting.

“Loretta” chose the deeply evocative story of an elderly couple over flashy partnerships and celebrity cameos, with the unnamed grandfather an actual grandfather of a Google employee. Teary-eyed viewers took to Twitter in their thousands to explain how the commercial touched them personally. The beauty of this ad is how it captures how important voice technology can be to each and every one of us, helping to preserve our best memories even as our minds degrade. On the biggest stage of all, understated, yet unforgettable, Google won the battle of the voice assistants.

Will Quick, strategy director, thisisthemarket

The meteoric rise of the esports Industry saw it generate over $1 billion dollars in 2019. With audiences of more than 443 million across the globe, it already has a bigger following than Rugby and American Football combined.

One of the biggest games in esports is Fortnite, which has 250 million players, with a record of 78.3 million playing in a single month. Fortnite are the kings of branded partnerships, that take place in the form of live, in-game events.

In December 2019 they teamed up with Disney to create an event to promote Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I don’t think there’s ever been a brand partnership quite like it.

The partnership kicked off with 15 minutes of exclusive video content that could only be watched by people logged in and playing when it began.

A live stream of the event by Muselk shows what happened. It features X-wing and TIE fighter dog fights, the Millennium Falcon, Jedi mind tricks, an exclusive interview with J. J. Abrams and a 30-second clip from the movie.

Disney provided unique content, created specifically for Fortnite. At one point during the event people heard a special video message from Senator Palpatine, which wasn’t in the film itself. If you watch Rise of Skywalker you’ll see a message in the opening crawl that specifically mentions this quote from Palpatine. Through this exchange, Fortnite has genuinely become part of the Star Wars brand universe, and vice-versa.

For the following two weeks players could find and use lightsabres in game, play unique Star Wars game modes and win Star Wars skins for their characters.

THAT is a proper brand partnership.

One of the key points of this event was that not only did gamers watch the content live, in-game, but they also live streamed themselves as they watched it. Fifty-thousand people logged in to Fortnite to see it “in the flesh”. Over three million people watched those gamers watching it, live. Over three million people watching different angles of the same event.

All promotion of the event happened organically, by the players, for the players. To date, there have been 8.7 million YouTube videos created around this single event, with god-only-knows how many hundreds of millions of views between them.

There was so much more though. For example, Ninja, a Fortnite player who earns $500,000 a month from streaming himself, teamed up with Mark Hamill to play Fortnite together on Xbox.

If that isn’t an inspirational brand partnership in sport, then I don’t know what is.

Luc Edwards, executive producer, TVC

Sometimes you can’t beat a bit of serendipity - when the stars (or clouds) align, unexpected things can happen. The Guinness Clear campaign, launched last year, is a lovely bit of work from Diageo promoting responsible drinking and is part of their title sponsorship of the Six Nations. Title sponsorships are usually pretty boring – just stick your logo on everything and make sure the broadcasters are briefed to use it as much as possible.

I love rugby and I really love the Six Nations - but I’m not really much of a drinker so Guinness Clear is aimed right at me, like a perfectly weighted spiralling kick to the corner. Despite all this, it was still a surprise to me that I was so genuinely pleased to see Scottish and English supporters braving Storm Ciara at Murrayfield in Guinness Clear raincoats.

It says everything about the game of rugby that the teams continued to play in appalling conditions with Guinness Clear raining down from the skies on them and the fans. The raincoats were a stroke of genius, and also got quite a bit of screen time.

Scott Cullather, co-founder and CEO, INVNT

Countless brands activate around the Super Bowl, but they are generally aligned with sport, which makes complete sense. Getting a little more creative and deciding not to compete though, can open up fresh new doors. A few years ago, PepsiCo’s Super Bowl activation did just that.

An arts and entertainment alternative located in New York’s Bryant Park, PepCity offered unique variations on the sports theme, with poets, dancers, visual artists, rap stars, the casts of hit Broadway musicals, and sports and radio personalities taking to a custom build stage, meanwhile a celebrity chef innovated dishes using PepsiCo products as featured ingredients – think creations like Cherry Pepsi–infused bacon.

The dome shaped PepCity attracted 13,000 visitors and there were queues weaving down the street, meanwhile #PepCity saw 7.5M Twitter impressions, transforming attendees from solely partici­pants in the experience to powerful brand ambassadors for PepsiCo. The activation was successful because it both entertained and offered consumers something different to what other brands were offering elsewhere across the city.

Ben Fitton, copywriter, Woven

Proving that sports campaigns don’t need Nike-style budgets, Paddy Power’s 2014 Shave the Rainforest skit - in which PP pretended to carve “C’mon England” into the Amazon rainforest - had the lot.

Cleverly, PP leaked the images over the dark web, knowing their controversial nature would organically carry them into the mainstream – and thus convince viewers the stunt was real.

And it worked. Its shock value stole attention, it got people talking and, best of all, it pissed people off.

“Go bust, you c***s”, “…a thundering shower of c***s and “…disrespectful, disgusting c***s” came the outraged – and impressively consistent – reply.

Of course, it was all a hoax. But instead of just saying ‘Ha, gotcha!’ PP’s follow-up plonked the cherry on the cake.

They released the same image, but this time from PP’s official channels and with a different message ‘carved’ into the forest:

“We didn’t give the Amazon a Brazilian.”

The chef’s kiss was the sub copy: “We leaked a fake photo and everyone went nuts. But every 90 minutes, an area the size of 122 footy pitches is chopped down, and no one gives a monkey’s.”

Mystery, outrage, humour, purpose and bucketloads of earned media… Paddy Power had done it again.

Ged Colleypriest, founder, Underdog Sports Marketing

So much talk after London 2012 was about legacy. The one clear and tangible legacy of the Games, for me, has been the way in which we view disability sport in this country. Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics played no small part in this. Offering a prime time platform and a brave marketing campaign that celebrated disability sports stars and their stories. All of which helped take the heroics of Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds and David Weir and turn them into household sporting names.

The coverage put an end to disability sports being seen as plucky and brave, concentrating on the sport and not the disability. The ad campaign that ran alongside it 'Meet the Superhumans' was brave and bold, even declaring 'Thanks for the Warm Up' the day after the able-bodied Games finished.

A new audience sat up, took notice and crucially, tuned in to sports that they never had before. Its successor, four years later attracted some criticism for adhering to the 'supercrip' trope, which does raise a bigger issue about disability in advertising in general. It'll be interesting to see how Channel 4 evolve for this year's Paralympics in Tokyo as so much has changed in disability sport since 2012, not least the perception it has in the public eye. Something the broadcaster has done huge amounts to change.


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