Cutting Through The Super (Bowl) Clutter Of Sports Campaigns

Did someone say sports marketing traffic jam?

Here is some of what will be happening in the sports landscape over the next several weeks: The Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics, David Stern retiring as NBA commissioner, the NBA All-Star Game, the Daytona 500 (which has been called Nascar's Super Bowl), the NFL Scouting Combine, NCAA college basketball conference playoffs, March Madness, MLB Spring Training, NHL Coors Light Outdoor Series, the start of the MLS season, the start of the MLB season and the build-up to the FIFA World Cup in June.

Not to mention the annual "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue" and the Academy Awards (March 2), which has been called "the Super Bowl of Hollywood" and pulls in more than $1.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to research firm Kantar Media, New York.

Some 100 million people could tune in this Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII, where 30-second spots were going for a cool $4 million, according to broadcast network Fox.

An estimated 190 million people watched the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The 2014 Games from Sochi begin Feb. 7, with 30-second spots on NBC  going for between $90,000- $100,000, according to industry analysts.

So what can marketers do reach consumers through the clutter?

"The marketplace is incredibly crowded this spring. Knowing the increased competition of marketing program launches, brands can do a few things to best set themselves up for success," said David Schwab, senior vice president/managing director for First Call, the celebrity acquisition and engagement division of global sports and entertainment agency Octagon.

"Beat the competition to the marketplace," said Schwab. "Look at appropriate dates and even times on the calendar to launch program assets. And take advantage of increased social media chatter to infuse your message into a relevant conversation."

Schwab said it would be beneficial for companies to develop content that can be used in multiple formats. "More and more, we are seeing long-form videos or teases kick off a marketing program," he said. "Sometimes without distribution cost. If the creative hits, it spreads virally just through normal social channels — and has potential for pickup by traditional broadcast TV."

The Super Bowl in particular is loaded with celebrities selling goods. This Sunday, viewers will see the  likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Don Cheadle (Bud Light), John Stamos and Bob Saget (Dannon Oikos), Scarlett Johansson (SodaStream), David Beckham (H&M), Steven Colbert (Wonderful Pistachios) and Ben Kingsley (Jaguar) pitching products as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks try to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

But using celebrities is far from a slam-dunk tactic.

State Farm reaches consumers and sports fans via campaigns that include two high-profile athletes, Aaron Rodgers, quarterback with the Green Bay Packers; and Chris Paul, all-star point guard with the Los Angeles Clippers.

"The biggest challenge is how do you crack the code," said Tim Van Hoof, assistant vice president of marketing for State Farm. "Consumers like to talk about their phones. They like to talk about food. They like to talk about their drink of choice. But they don't like to talk about their insurance. So it is more challenging in that regard."

State Farm has been running a series of humorous commercials with Rodgers in which he has brought a standard insurance term — discount double check — to life. Paul appears in ads as himself and as his fictional twin brother, Cliff, to support State Farm's role in assisting people.

But Van Hoof realizes that entertaining consumers and having them take the next step to actually using the product are two different things.

"People may remember that a commercial was funny, or that, in our case, Chris Paul or Aaron Rodgers were in a commercial," said Van Hoof. "But if consumers and viewers don't connect your brand with the creative, you missed the point."

According to Van Hoof, "We are seeing the results that our strategy is working. Not just at the level where people associate the [creative] with State Farm, but down to consideration, metrics, traffic, clicks and calls.

"This is what I preach to my team and our agencies every day: Great creative for a brand is something that delivers on the brand and for the brand," said Van Hoof.

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