By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
From Bourbon Street to the Black Sea, Companies are as Active as the Athletes they Back
Just like the U.S. Olympic team confronting slushy slopes and heightened international competition in Sochi, these are nervous times for marketers looking to promote their brands through big time sports.
Faced with a month-long embarrassment of mega-event riches, from last month’s Super Bowl to the Winter Olympics fortnight, this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and next week’s NASCAR season checkered flag in Daytona, marketers must make careful, sometimes difficult, choices about where to allocate their sponsorship dollars, lest they incur the wrath of shareholders and the more immediate wave of feedback from fans on social media. Just as athletes complain that they are under constant scrutiny thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices, the minute they launch, ad campaigns and activations are wide open to the “constructive” criticism of millions of users on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Olympic athletes and All-Stars never give up, and neither do sports marketers, whose on-site activations at mega-events continue to get more elaborate, as do the campaigns they launch on the very social media channels that often skewer them. Accordingly, we take a look at some of the innovative marketing action going on now on the shores of the Black Sea and off Bourbon Street.
According to the NBA, as many as 90,000 visitors will descend on New Orleans this weekend for the league’s full slate of All-Star festivities. The center of the action is the newly rebranded Smoothie King Arena, home to the newly rebranded New Orleans Pelicans. Friday night, NBA team owners and guests will attend a welcome party at the nearby Contemporary Arts Center, where they will reportedly be greeted by a giant concrete pair of the birds; the inaugural Bud Light District next to Smoothie King Arena will host private events throughout the weekend.
Shoe deals are central to most NBA players’ sponsorship portfolios, and the NBA’s big events are no different. Nike and Foot Locker are turning the Canal Street Foot Locker store into the "House of Hoops" for the weekend, while a 2,400-square-foot pop up adidas store in the French Quarter will feature a full assortment of official adidas NBA All-Star merchandise—including the controversial sleeved jerseys—as well as limited edition footwear and the opportunity to meet adidas athletes and entertainers through a multitude of events, product launches, concerts, and in-store appearances. The line-up includes NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dikembe Mutombo, All-Stars Dwight Howard, Damian Lillard, John Wall, and Joakim Noah, and hip-hop artist 2 Chainz.
Outside of New Orleans, fans can follow the adidas events online and participate in exclusive opportunities through social media with #adidasintheQuarter.
Thanks to the Bud Light District, and well, the fact that this year’s All-Star event is in New Orleans, getting a drink will not be a problem for NBA fans in the Big Easy. That has not proved to be the case in Sochi, where complaints about the dryness of the various Olympic campuses has been widespread—or, as one Canadian media pundit put it, “who wants to watch curling sober?” In this dry climate, Canadian Olympic Committee official beer sponsor Molson Coors is getting some traction for its clever “beer fridge” campaign – at Canada House and other spots, visitors can only open a Molson Coors beer fridge by scanning their Canadian passports.
While Molson Coors didn’t make the list, updated data from number cruncher Kontera reveals which brands are winning the Winter Olympic ad games so far based on amplification through content being read online, through social media channels, and seen on YouTube.
Clearly, based on the Kontera data, Procter & Gamble’s three month Olympic tie-in ad campaign seems to be paying off, as is Samsung’s multi-platform “Keep on Pushing” campaign based on its support of the Jamaican bobsled team and its promotion of its proprietary wireless communications platform, Wireless Olympic Works (WOW).
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From the Opening Ceremony on, the Sochi Olympics have centered on social media engagement, which has completely changed the water cooler conversation around the Games. According to a report by Hookit, Instagram is the leading social network when counting fan interactions, attracting 46.6% of all Olympic activity. Facebook is at 36.8% of interactions and Twitter at 16.6% of the more than 6 million fan interactions counted.
But USA Today writer Kelly Whiteside wonders whether social media is now “more compelling than the competition itself." Citing athletes including bobsledder Johnny Quinn, who infamously had to bust his way out of a bathroom, and figure skater Ashley Wagner’s whose “not impressed” look is these Games’ latest meme, Whiteside argues that the attention received from their off-course antics detracts from their performances on the ice and snow.
Back in New Orleans, the NBA and its stars don’t seem too worried that social media will detract from their brands. According to the league, there are 500 million followers and “likes” combined for all NBA All-Star-related league, team, and player pages/social media feeds (including U.S> outlets and China-based Sina and Tencent). As part of its social media activation this weekend, the NBA will make its first entry into the Snapchat photo-sharing platform and theSkimm online newsletter – the league will highlight Saturday night’s Slam Dunk Contest on Snapchat, while Clippers Chris Paul will contribute theSkimm, aimed at professional women.
The NBA will also continue its use of the Twitter Amplify feature to post near real-time video highlights of Sunday’s All-Star Game, including alternate camera angles now shown on TNT’s TV broadcast.
Not surprisingly, the clips have a sponsor: longtime league partner State Farm.