What Brands Can Learn From The Weekend Tailgate

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 3, 2014

Even though I’m partial to MLB playoff races (Go, Giants!), and the start of a new English Premier League soccer season, college and professional football are now in full throttle and I’m looking forward to one of my favorite weekend rituals: the tailgate. Whether I’m at home or in the stadium, the camaraderie, hopeful anticipation, and true Americana fare all make me smile. Beyond the cheering, touchdowns and cheerlearders, weekend tailgating has become a large moneymaker and Americans spend $35 billion to $50 billion annually on food, drink and gear to make a day of the game.

It is no wonder that big brands are tapping into America’s pastime to reach and engage such a passionate, committed and engaged audience. Recent campaigns from Coca-Cola and Frito Lay are evidence to that fact. Coca-Cola, in partnership with ESPN’s College Gameday, has developed a daily strategy for its Coke Zero brand that highlights the ongoing preparation that fans take in advance of Saturday’s game. It’s not about the game, it’s about the countdown to game day.



Frito Lay is taking a slightly different route by focusing on the 17-week NFL season and issuing a weekly party challenge, as part of its Tostitos brand, with opportunities to win gear and cash prizes. Both strategies leverage traditional and new media and are classic examples of topical, audience-focused efforts.

As a marketer, I love watching how digitally integrated and socially engaging these campaigns have evolved. A few years ago, similar activations would have been executed exclusively in traditional media, but today they leverage Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. The added reach, and always-on access to content, make digital channels a must-have for any brand trying to connect with consumers. With that in mind I’ve pulled together a few tailgating-inspired best practices for future brand campaigns:

It’s all about preparation: Just like determining what food you’ll be providing, or what cocktails you’ll be mixing, the content you want to deliver must be planned in advance. By understanding your audience, you can tailor your messages so they are on point and “hit the right spot.”

The right location makes all the difference: Do you want easy access on your way into the stadium or a quick exit post-game? Party with your usual crew? Location is critical in tailgating and the same applies for marketing content. Ensure that you are placing the right content where the audience wants to find it. Whether it’s image-heavy content on Instagram and Pinterest, or video-heavy content on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, the right location can make a campaign stand out. 

Make sure you have enough time to appreciate the festivities: I prefer to get to the stadium early so that I can get the full game day experience. Campaigns must do the same. If the content and messaging aren't delivered with good pacing, in a thoughtful way, then its impact is minimized. For campaigns, make sure you view the event in its entirety, from pre-event to post-event. Time the delivery of messages, regardless of the channel, so that the audience can consume them at their own pace. They’ll thank you for it with greater engagement.

As you bite into your next chili cheese dog, or scoop your favorite guacamole, consider what you can learn from your weekend tailgating ritual, and how you might apply those lessons to your marketing campaigns. If you want some culinary inspiration, check out these tailgating tips.

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