Sports and Experiential Marketing – What’s the new play?

Same Game, New Rules

SWISH. The atmosphere is nothing less than electric. Everyone is on their feet now. Time stands still as thousands of eyes are all fixed on the same scene unfolding in front of them. The faint swoosh of the net and blaring of the buzzer is drowned out by the eruption of roars from the crowd…Whether you’re a Sportscenter junkie or an occasional fan, it’s hard to beat the thrill of live sports. In a non-COVID world, sports and experiential marketing go hand-in-hand, but for the time being, stadiums remain empty or only partially full. Regardless, sports fans and brands alike have found creative uses of technology to bridge the gap between the couch and the court-side. 

Here’s a brief look at the landscape of sports and experiential marketing as its evolved:

IRL to AR

With consumer behaviors in constant flux, marketers are challenged with the task of adjusting along with their audiences. After a tumultuous 2019 season, the NBA was forced to halt play in March just before the playoffs. The season suspension was the first sobering moment of just how widespread the impact of the virus would soon become. At the time the season was suspended in March 2020, there were still 259 games left in the 2019/20 NBA regular season. 

Photo credit: usatoday.com

With the proverbial shot-clock ticking, the NBA and it’s sponsors weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. After months off, the season resumed within the highly monitored Disney Bubble with relative success, proving a path forward for contact sports like basketball. With the restart, brands have been quick to employ the latest in live-streaming tech to bring the experience and excitement of sport to fans. Michelob Ultra, the official beer of the NBA, didn’t miss a beat and took their sports and experiential marketing strategy online offering the chance for virtual court-side seats to the Finals. Using its Teams “Together” mode, Microsoft has designed stadium-like experiences for 300 fans to watch their teams play and interact with each other from giant 17-foot screens surrounding the court. While of course, recreating all the excitement online doesn’t translate perfectly, features like the “Tap-to-Cheer” option on the NBA and WNBA apps give fans and players a chance to make the best of an awkward situation. On the app, brands and athletes have a natural way to interact with sports fans who can still show their support and give their favorite teams the home-court advantage from their own homes. 

Home Advantage

Speaking of home advantage — with fans unable to come to them, brands are having to get a little bit more creative when delivering experiences. And Bud Light, a brand integrated into sports and experiential marketing more than any other, is taking that challenge literally. When sports seasons were allowed to resume, Bud Light was ready to go the extra mile for sports-starved fans. After the anticipated return of the NHL season, Bud Light teamed up with Drizly to deliver some celebratory beers right to fan’s doors in true hockey fashion – by way of a big Bud Light blue Zamboni. Since the campaign’s initial puck drop, they’ve expanded their delivery offering to include Bud Light Platinum and Bud Light Seltzer through 21 different retailers. Not to mention, as part of the There’s a Bud Light There campaign, the brand hailed the return of baseball season by creating a few video spots with a light-hearted quarantine-take on the classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. With a little ingenuity Bud Light has been able to make it easier for fans to find something to celebrate, even if it’s just some comic relief. 

Photo credit: twitter.com

The Pandemic-Proof Sport

Esports and online gaming leagues have surged in popularity since the pandemic hit. Though the leagues had to cancel live competitions in the wake of the virus, it still thrives online through streaming platforms like Twitch. What was once an online niche has exploded into the mainstream and brands are taking notice. We’re seeing big brands like United Airlines getting in on the action and initiating esports sponsorships during the pandemic. By teaming up with sports, they’re combining something tangible AND digital. This is an innovative, fresh, brand marketing opportunity for an established brand like United. This isn’t a one-off blip — expect to see more and more brands following suit as professional gaming starts stepping center stage.  

Taking a Timeout

Through all of the lockdowns, quarantining, and self-isolation, social media, and live video have offered all of us a way to safely stay connected as well as giving brand marketers another outlet for activation. Brands like GoPro and JPMorgan Chase rely heavily on event marketing and sponsorships throughout the year, but both brands found themselves facing the unique challenge of having marketing dollars set aside to spend on events and suddenly nowhere for it to go in 2020. GoPro pivoted to #HomePro — social media-based sweepstakes challenging consumers to find adventure in their own homes and submitting their most creative at-home adventure video or photo for a chance to win free gear, discount codes, and other prizes. Chase kicked off the U.S. Open tennis tournament with Chase Sound Check, a live virtual concert with performances by Khalid, Kane Brown, and Chloe x Halle and hosted by Serena Williams. Additionally, Chase launched the #UnlocktheOpen Twitter sweepstakes where the brand is delivering more than 8,000 free boxes of branded swag and treats from local bakeries to consumers who participate. Both campaigns have been a success with thousands of submissions from all over the globe proving that with a little creativity and new messaging, brands can still connect with fans from a distance. 

Whole New Ball Game

Of course, everyone is missing the thrill of in-venue sports and with football season upon us, this fall just won’t feel the same without time-honored traditions like The Bud Light x Broncos tailgating and stadium experience. But even with all this change, those of us in the business of building creative experiences are finding ways to stay connected and keep the relationship between sports and experiential marketing alive, even if it’s from a tv screen rather than a stadium seat. Agencies, brand sponsors, and technology developers have taken the change in stride and aren’t viewing it as an obstacle to overcome, but an opportunity for experimenting with creative solutions and emerging tech. By weaving together digital and live experiences into hybrid events, brands are pioneering new solutions to reimagine the fan experience and even bring a little bit of much needed normal to our lives. 

Why Pizza Hut’s Retro Arcade Worked

RTX 2015

You’ve probably never heard of RTX (think the video-game and internet culture enthusiast’s version of Comic-Con), yet Pizza Hut recently became it’s very first topline sponsor. The Yum Brands subsidiary rebranded the entire event as “RTX Delivered by Pizza Hut”, placed some very prominent signage all around the festival in Austin TX, and as the main attraction, set up a massive retro arcade gaming tournament, which included classic arcade games like Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, and Pac Man. Oh, and they also made sure to hand out tons of free samples of their Cheesy Bites Pizza to attendees, ultimately giving out over 8,000 slices. What made Pizza Hut decide to go all out for RTX, a relatively unheard of and niche event for internet addicts? There are a few reasons that this was a stellar move for the Hut.

Experiential Niche

As we often mention on this blog, major brands are beginning to realize the importance of connecting through experiential marketing, and doing so with specific sectors of their target audience, so that they can tailor the experience to suit the interests of those groups. Pizza Hut knows that internet junkies consume a lot of their product, and it pays handsomely for the brand to be the first pizza place on their minds when they’re about to dial for the delivery that will fuel their LAN party or late-night World of Warcraft binge.

First Mover Advantage

These types of conferences have been blowing up – TED, SXSW, and Comic-Con have all gained massive media attention, and often attract numerous celebrities. YouTube and social media celebrities that boast continually growing subscriber-bases make a habit of sharing their experiences at these sorts of events, leading to viral growth in attendees. VidCon, for example, may be the next SXSW, and reaches a much younger audience of frequent YouTubers. Pizza Hut is taking an educated gamble on RTX, because they’ve seen it’s massive growth over the last 5 years, and they know their customers are in attendance.

Authenticity

By creating a massive retro-gaming tournament, Pizza Hut was not only speaking their customer’s language, they were creating an extremely appealing and novel experience that they’ll remember for years to come. By roping in some relevant celebrities within the community, and setting up the whole thing to be shared and live-streamed on YouTube and other social media, they were able to reach an even larger audience than just those who were in physical attendance. And when your target audience is comprised of people who spend most of their time on the internet, that’s extremely important.

Learn more about Experiential Marketing.

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Astroglide pride parade

Are Your Brand Ambassadors Losing You Money?

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Brands spend small fortunes and dedicate countless man-hours to make sure that they are represented professionally to their customers. Just like your logo, your collateral, and your product, the people you hire to staff an activation play a huge role in how people perceive your brand, and whether they want to buy your product or service.

Think about it: When you go into an Apple store, you are immediately greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable, and approachable Apple employee. These “geniuses” are there to answer any and all of your questions (no matter how stupid) and to get you jazzed about the latest and greatest Apple products. Rest assured: everything about the “genius” is designed to welcome and disarm you, all the way down to their everyman’s wardrobe of ripped jeans, an Apple t-shirt, and a baseball cap. Creating an attentive, yet easy-going customer service experience has been crucial to Apple’s success, and they carefully select and monitor each of their employees to ensure that Apple is being represented in a consistent manner each time a brand-consumer interaction takes place.

The people promoting your product or service can make you or break you when a customer is making that crucial decision between your company and another company. During a face-to-face experiential interaction, the people that represent your brand create a first impression and help to establish and ultimately build relationships with your most valued customers.

That’s why at The Pineapple Agency we take the time to carefully and strategically vet all of the staff that will assist in our client’s activations. Through the years, we’ve established a few fundamentals to consider when selecting the right staff:

Industry/Product Knowledge

For Exede Internet, we wanted tech savvy ambassadors who could learn about the client’s internet service and be comfortable speaking to individuals with varying degrees of computer and internet literacy.

Brand Lifestyle, Values, and Demographic

With Astroglide, we carefully selected brand ambassadors that lived the ‘get freaky’ lifestyle and that were relatable (in terms of age, personal preferences, and cultural diversity) with the parade attendees and the brand’s target audience.

Friendliness/Approachability

The Sphero Gum Ball activation represented a unique challenge with an unknown product to many guests at the Mall of America, therefore it was critical for us to find staff that would work well together and create an engaging experience to go out into the crowds, wrangle people in, and give them a hands-on trial with the Sphero ball.

Authenticity

Wherever possible, finding people that already use our client’s product/service and love the brand are the best candidates, as they are already sharing their experiences and want to spread the love to all the attendees at the event.

Just imagine if Apple had rude, unknowledgeable, and disinterested employees working in their stores. Most likely they would lose customers, even if the products stayed the exact same. That personal connection is critical and can even help convert potential customers who are on the fence about making a purchasing decision.

So the next time you’re looking to staff a live, in-person experience come chat with The Pineapple Agency and let us help you find the perfect staff to help activate your brand! We make it our business to understand the intricacies of your brand and align that with a perfectly selected group of staff who are able to promote the brand, educate the desired audience, and create a strong, emotional connection with your brand during the activation.

Want to learn more about experiential marketing?

Let’s chat.

 

NCBA tradeshow booth

Why You Should Consider a Custom Trade Show Activation

NCBA Booth

Think back to the last trade show or convention you attended. Remember the massive amount of people? The crowded hallways? The hundreds of companies with booths that all looked almost exactly the same? Now, be honest: how many companies do you actually remember from that event? After a while, all the exhibitors just start to blend together, don’t they?

The terrifying prospect of being “forgettable” is becoming a reality more and more companies in the trade show and event marketing space. Without changing your strategy, you could be spending money every year on an activation that is not earning the highest possible return on your marketing investment.

If your company is considering purchasing booth space at a trade show, we highly recommend creating a custom trade show activation that sets your company apart from the rest, and creates an experience that attendees will remember long after they leave the show.

We believe in thinking outside the booth. We help our clients by not only fabricating a beautiful trade show booth, but also by working with them to create a comprehensive strategy that weaves their trade show experience into their existing marketing/sales strategy. By doing this, we can engage our client’s audience before, during, and after they have visited the activation space.

For a trade show activation, we place the highest importance on the DURING portion of the strategy. This is the critical time to stand out from the other companies in attendance, and to create a meaningful connection with the event attendees. With trade shows, just as with everything we do, we engage the audience’s five senses (sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste) as much as possible.

Sensory experiences have been scientifically proven to affect the deepest part of our brains, allowing for strong, intense connections between senses and perceptions. In other words, our senses have a great influence on our brand perceptions, associations, and our purchasing decisions.

To see the full power of engaging the audience’s senses, check out our latest custom trade show activation for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) here. We hit all five senses hard, creating a unique in-person trade show activation that engaged with nutritionists and dietitians. By focusing on two of the most powerfully memory-linked senses, (taste and smell) we were able to attract 1,200 hungry attendees in the first 90 minutes of the event by giving out homemade chili to those who stopped by the booth.

If you’re interested in creating a custom trade show booth, please feel free to contact us by phone, email, or interact with us on our blogFacebook, or LinkedIn page. We would love to help you create a trade show activation that sets you apart from the competition and helps your company generate a higher ROI.

Want to learn more about experiential marketing?

Let’s chat.