As temperatures continue to drop and parts of the country experience winter storms, we find ourselves closing out another exciting year of college football. This year was especially thrilling because of the first-ever playoffs, allowing Ohio State to take home the championship against the University of Oregon.
While most Millennial fans were focused on the tailgates, camaraderie and rankings, they might’ve been missing something I care deeply about — the marketing!
Marketing has a major impact when it comes to sports, television and trending events. One of the most popular and ever-growing marketing trends is real-time focused. Real-time marketing is targeting the right people, at the right time about a current or relevant topic. This type of marketing can be challenging, but the reward is well worth it. Fans build a relationship with brands that have a similar interest — and become more “brand loyal” in return. Brands have been using this real-time marketing strategy in a number of ways, including capitalizing on college football season.
So why is college football important to marketers? Well, the numbers don’t lie. With some stadiums packing 100K+ fans and designated college football networks such as the SEC streaming in over 90 million homes, fans have proved their dedication to watching their favorite college teams, win or lose, week after week. And importantly, of those fans watching the games each week (both live from the stadium and at home), a major portion is the ever-desired marketing target — Millennials! So of course, brands are interested.
Brands interested in our target are not simply advertising their products anymore (Millennials are too smart to buy into that). Brands are now using different tactics to reach Millennials who could be interested in their brands and make them aware of what their brands can offer. Brands now have to find ways to reach the Millennials who are interested in their brand in unique and engaging ways, helping to foster their interests in and relationships with the brand. With this challenge on hand, brands are coming to social media for help — developing social contests, covering sports in real time, creating innovative event integrations and many other tactics to find a unique footprint into the college football marketing space.
Brands can no longer just sponsor bowl games or put their logos on stadiums. Instead, they must add their own special twist to get noticed. Best-in-class brands include Taco Bell, Jell-O, Zaxby’s. These brands have been in the college football space for years but have only recently started adding their own special twists.
Taco Bell has been a primary sponsor for college football and its bowl championships for years, but this year, the brand stepped it up another notch. This year, it pushed its limits by creating a football campaign targeting men in their late teens and early 20s. To engage its fans, Taco Bell purchased 3,000 tickets to create the first student section for the college football playoffs. Taco Bell gave out 500 tickets per school, per game. There was no gimmick or fine print; the represented schools were simply given tickets to share with their students on their terms.
ESPN tagged onto Taco Bell’s campaign by adding 60 seats — 10 per school, per game. Fans could enter to win these tickets by sharing their true school spirit on Instagram or Twitter.
Taco Bell certainly got noticed with its first-of-its-kind fan experience and pushed competitor brands to push the limits as well. Jell-O stepped up to the challenge by creating college team molds, perfect for any tailgate or football party.
Some brands focus less on the real-time experience and more on the advertising perks around the high-engagement time around the big games. Zaxby’s is an example of this with its “Prove Your Fanhood” campaign.
Brands are creating real-time campaigns around trending topics, but they are also creating real-time content based on social media trends. A number of brands took part in the conversations happening during the NCAA College Football Championship on January 12, 2015. Brands like Arby’s and Butterfinger engaged with fans using the game hashtags and talked about the major turnovers and fumbles Ohio State and Oregon were having throughout the game. The brands did not have a direct call to action but made puns and witty comments that Millennials found enjoyable and thus engaging.
These brands are just a few examples of scoring big with Millennials during the college football season, in real time. Trends change and evolve with time, but college football is a consistent seasonal opportunity that is here to stay, as long as there are fans out there supporting their teams.