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No one in NASCAR attracts a larger crowd of autograph seekers than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will return the favor in November when he races an AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet painted with the names of his fans.
Under the “Get on the 88” promotion launched this month by Amp and Genesco Sports Enterprises, the first 70,000 fans to sign up at AMPEnergy.com using an e-mail address will have their names painted on Earnhardt’s car during the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Nov. 1.
“A lot of times you have a great prize that you’re able to give away, a trip somewhere, but you’re only able to give away a few of them,” said Jeff Filiberto, racing marketing manager for AMP Energy. “You can only actually engage and reward a handful of fans at most. With this we found a way to reward a massive amount of fans.”
If the car runs out of space, AMP will put extra names on Earnhardt’s pit stop banner, car cover or other signage around the track. It will use each fan’s e-mail address to send links to promotions, newsletters, coupons and other online content.
Fans will ultimately get to see their names online or in person. The site is equipped with a mapping program that will show individuals where their names are on the car. Race attendees with their names on the paint job can view the car using computer kiosks at the track.
Aside from giving fans a direct tie to Earnhardt, the promotion pushes people to a redesigned AMPEnergy.com, which features online quizzes about Earnhardt’s past and other content around the company’s investments in action sports.
AMPEnergy.com relaunched last month with around-the-clock content meant to give fans a reason to return on a regular basis. The site now has a sports section that posts up-to-the-minute news and allows fans to interact with Earnhardt and others through Twitter feeds, blogs, photo updates and video content.
— Jon Show
Puma needed a way to build grassroots interest in its entry into golf, which was more about the golf lifestyle than smacking a 300-yard drive. Puma also wanted to redefine the image of the golf lifestyle, from ill-fitting shirts and country clubs to a younger, more fashion-forward individual.
The brand partnered with Maxim magazine in 2008 on a tour that visited six trendsetting cities — Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale and Austin — to stage the Puma Open. This year the tour will go to 15 cities, with each stop hosting 144 recreational golfers willing to pay $75 each for a one-of-a-kind tournament.
As Puma states on its Web site, participants must abide by three rules:
You must be at least 21.
You must wear appropriate golf attire (the flashier the better).
You can’t wear metal spikes (does anyone still own them anyway?).
The Puma Open, run by Octagon, is played on an 18-hole golf course, but the competition has more of an amusement park, miniature golf feel than a traditional stroke or match play event.
On one hole, golfers only use a 7-iron from tee to green. On another, teams compete to see who can play the hole in the shortest amount of time. At the end of the round, the teams compete in a poker tournament, and the group with the best combined winnings from golf and poker is named the champion.
The after party has a buffet dinner and DJ, and cocktails figure heavily into the equation. Puma offers a 20 percent discount on its golf footwear, apparel and accessories, but the event is not about driving immediate sales, said Puma Golf business unit manager Bob Philion. “It’s about building the brand,” he said.
Puma instituted social-networking components this year, allowing its Facebook followers to suggest and then vote on a competition format for one hole. The winner: Contestants will drive with their putters and putt with their drivers.
There are also videos posted from each tournament on YouTube. When the New York event sold out in seven hours, Puma offered the last spot to whomever submitted the best video plea.
Puma also got its athlete endorsers in the mix with a series of humorous videos. Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon, NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne and golfer Erica Blasberg each make preparations to play in the event.
— Jon Show
Everyone agrees that engagement marketing is about putting a brand in direct contact with a buyer, and doing so in an environment that the consumer chooses. The agreement pretty much ends there.
Some call it the next step in the evolution from event marketing and experiential marketing. Others believe its roots lie in the advent of social networking. At least one marketer calls it the latest buzz phrase for something that good marketers have always done.
“Every couple of years we, as marketers, get bored and rename a piece of what we should have been doing all along, which is having a real, honest dialogue with consumers in their language on their terms and timelines,” said Elizabeth Lindsey, senior vice president at Wasserman Media Group.
Whatever the definition, there is no question that engagement marketing is changing the way that brands, agencies and sports properties are doing business. It is forcing a dialogue on how to customize sponsorship deals to put brands in direct contact with consumers.
“In today’s world, brands have the ability to engage with consumers at all levels, whether it’s at the beginning from a research standpoint, whether it be through digital and social media, all the way up through the retail experience and the point of purchase,” said John Shea, executive vice president of consulting for Octagon.
Brands issue a challenge
The roots of engagement marketing are a combination of the emergence of event marketing in the early 1990s, experiential marketing around the turn of the millennium, and social networking a few years ago. Today, engagement marketing is affecting everything on the spectrum of a sports sponsorship, from negotiation to planning, activation to measurement.
John Von Stade, Velocity Sports & Entertainment senior vice president and group director, estimates that engagement platforms among Velocity’s consumer brand clients have grown from 15 percent of the marketing mix three years ago to roughly 50 percent this year. He expects that to grow to 70 percent in the next three years.
Rather than negotiating strictly against rights fees, brands and agencies are now spending more time negotiating activation of the brand and engagement elements. Brands like AT&T also are trying to keep activation budgets flexible to turn engagement components on and off, as necessary.
“We are challenging properties to deliver different ways to engage their fans or their consumers using our technology,” said Tom Hughes, director of sponsorships and events for AT&T. “If we’re doing our job right working with the properties, if AT&T were to stop doing sponsorships, we want the fans to feel a loss.”
At this year’s College World Series, AT&T’s interactive zone near Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., immersed attendees in the company’s products. Fans could measure distances to their respective campuses using AT&T Navigator (a mobile directional device) or watch live television via wireless devices provided by AT&T. They also could sign up for exclusive text updates.
Engagement marketing is further pushing brands away from traditional inventory in a sports sponsorship to custom programs that offer an authentic feel. In turn, properties are ditching the age-old practice of regurgitated sponsorship decks with a company’s logo on the front.
That means negotiations are becoming more like planning or activation meetings to educate properties about brand identity. For example, Cisco was involved early on with the development of the new stadiums built by the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys to wire the buildings with the company’s StadiumVision. The system integrates video, voice, data and wireless services into the venues to enhance the fan experience.
The tenets of engagement marketing vary widely depending on the client, but a good engagement marketing program uses basics like sampling and builds a layered program that immerses a consumer in a brand. The goal: engage consumers in a dialogue to create awareness and ultimately drive purchases.
What makes it difficult to build a successful engagement marketing campaign is that there are no set group of elements to choose from. “If there were five or six standard components, then it would be no different than any other standard marketing tactic and people would forget about it,” Lindsey said. “It’s unpredictable, which is what makes it so unforgettable.”
Keep it real
Authenticity is an underlying factor in the success of any engagement marketing campaign. Lexus as a courtesy car provider at the U.S. Open is an authentic association between a brand and the needs of a property; Major League Baseball selling advertising space on its bases to a Spider-Man movie is not.
“In general advertising, consumers are going to smell inauthentic from a mile away,” Lindsey said. “If you’re asking them to participate in it, they’ll smell it from 10 miles away.”
American Express has built an entire marketing platform by using its sports and entertainment sponsorships to benefit its card members from the point of ticket transaction through the end of an event experience. For example, as a U.S. Golf Association and U.S. Tennis Association sponsor, American Express cardmembers can use their cards to buy tickets to the U.S. Open of golf and tennis earlier than the general public, and can watch the tournaments from special hospitality areas.
Teams and individual tournaments or races, as opposed to league properties, are more apt to build custom activation programs into sponsorships, said brand consultants, with NASCAR, its teams and tracks the model for their willingness to provide access to brands.
“It’s a blank sheet of paper,” said Mike Boykin, executive vice president of sports marketing at GMR Marketing. “You have the ability to include the brand at pretty much every touchpoint: the race car, the driver, taking the driver to the fans, to the customer, to the retailer. Point-of-sale materials. Interactive-themed activities like simulators or another race-related activity that fans can participate in. And the budget flexibility. If somebody wants to go over the top, they can. Or for somebody operating on a tight budget, NASCAR affords those opportunities as well.”
At the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race near Charlotte over Memorial Day weekend, Coca-Cola and Jim Beam hosted separate functions that allowed thousands of employees, race fans and corporate guests to sample their products in branded areas.
Coca-Cola, working with IMG, built a quarter-mile-long oval grill at the track on Friday afternoon and served free food and Coke to an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fans. Clint Bowyer, Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty — each a Coca-Cola-affiliated driver — helped man the grill. Attendees were encouraged to visit MyCokeRewards.com for summer grilling tips from celebrity chef Tyler Florence, who was also in attendance.
Jim Beam and GMR Marketing erected a 2,400-square-foot tent with branded umbrella tables and a 20-foot-tall inflated bottle. An estimated 3,800 people over the age of 21 entered the tent, which featured a live band, racing simulators, a Jim Beam race car and a mechanical bull. The second-biggest seller at the 25-foot-long branded bar was Red Stag, a new cherry-infused bourbon that Jim Beam is using NASCAR to help launch.
There isn’t a category that wouldn’t benefit from some form of engagement marketing, said agency executives, but such campaigns are more popular among consumer brands.
Cross-promotions between brands are also becoming more prevalent, especially in the restaurant category. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro received national exposure in May for a promotion with golfer Briny Baird, who landed eight of 10 golf shots from the top of the Omni Hotel to a bull’s-eye in Petco Park. In exchange for handing over an e-mail address, consumers received a printable coupon for a free appetizer.
Engagement marketing primarily remains a tool for business-to-consumer marketing, but there are examples in sports where brands are able to use the same tenets on the business-to-business side. IBM, the IT partner for both the Masters and the U.S. Open golf tournaments, takes clients through the back-end operations of the event infrastructure and how IBM technology is used.
“It’s a powerful tool on the B2B side if you can demonstrate your product in motion,” said David Abrutyn, head of global consulting at IMG.
Congressional backlash against sports sponsorship and concerns by brands that shareholders might perceive such spending as a “boondoggle” is also leading some companies to turn to charity to engage clients and consumers.
“One of the biggest things I’m seeing now — both in terms of engaging on the B2B side and consumers — is the whole issue of social responsibility, charity and philanthropic work,” said Jan Katzoff, head of sports and entertainment at The Radiate Group. He estimates the shift started 18 months ago.
Mercedes-Benz passed on an endorsement deal with Tiger Woods and ended up aligning with his foundation by donating proceeds from its nationwide dealer golf tournament.
A natural for social media
At its core, engagement marketing is about building a community around a brand, and social media is changing how brands reach consumers on a daily basis as networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter become more ingrained in popular culture.
The Joga Bonita branding campaign created by Nike and Google during the 2006 World Cup is credited as one of the more successful early versions of an online community in sports. The site targeted teenagers and provided a platform for soccer fans to congregate and discuss the World Cup in 14 different languages. It also provided content like ads and videos that were unavailable elsewhere, creating a key differentiator.
Social media is giving brands and their endorsers a way to have a one-on-one dialogue with consumers who are avid followers of their products, and is one more vehicle to communicate with an audience at a time of their choosing.
“Last year social networking was still an afterthought or an add-on,” said Kit Geis, senior vice president at Genesco Sports Enterprises. “This is the first year where it’s part of the original plan and it’s as important as the retail component, the media plan, the PR plan.”
Vitaminwater piggybacked on the Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James argument by allowing its Facebook fans to upload their own 24-second videos making the case for either Vitaminwater endorser. The videos and accompanying message boards attracted more than 4,000 comments during the NBA playoffs.
Brands are still struggling with how to take an engagement program and double and triple that audience through an online campaign. The social media components are often less expensive than event marketing but the results are harder to measure, said brand consultants, all of which makes it a tough sell to brands with pinched marketing budgets.
“Social networking is more of a gamble,” Geis said. “If we go on site to the Super Bowl or a Wal-Mart or to a race, you know the attendance there and you can predict your impressions and how many samples you’re going to do. You know what you’re getting into before you do it.”
There are also potential pitfalls in giving the general free rein to publicly comment about a product on a site owned or managed by that product where others will see negative statements.
Engagement marketing as a whole is more difficult to draw a direct return on investment, said brand consultants, so much of the measurement is return on objectives, or setting nonfinancial benchmarks that can be measured and evaluated.
Velocity has found its programs produce greater recall, better positioning, more intent to purchase, and a higher purchase rate than standard marketing campaigns. A study after last year’s ING New York Marathon found runners who interacted during the race with sponsors Powerbar and Poland Spring had recall percentage rates in the 90s.
“Engagement marketing sticks with the consumer far greater than any other marketing tool,” Von Stade said.
Marketers said social media campaigns, and engagement marketing efforts overall, work best when paired with traditional marketing campaigns and therefore are not expected to replace tenured practices.
“It’s a powerful tool that is probably in its infancy in terms of what it really means for marketers,” Abrutyn said.
Tostitos supplemented its annual title sponsorship of the BCS game in Arizona with a 2,500-mile race between two of the more passionate schools in college football.
The “Race to the Bowl” pitted six fans from both Ohio State and Texas — the two teams that competed in the Jan. 4 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl — in a race that started in New York City four days before the game.
Tostitos, consulting with The Marketing Arm, selected the teams from submissions on an official Facebook page that attracted more than 1,000 entries between Nov. 26 and Dec. 14. Individuals submitted essays and took part in interviews about their fandom.
Roughly 15,000 Facebook users became fans of the special Tostitos “Race to the Bowl” page. The site attracted the expected comments from fans jawing before and after the bowl game. But the page also provided a forum for users to comment on Tostitos products, such as one post begging the company to “please, please, please” never take away its jalapeño-flavored chips.
The two teams met in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 31 for their first challenge, a passing drill outside the “Fox & Friends” studio in Manhattan. After that, the teams walked up and down 5th Avenue holding Tostitos bags and asking for donations while performing their respective school fight songs. Tostitos produced videos of each competition and posted them on a special YouTube channel. The videos drew roughly 2,500 views in a week.
The teams then traveled to sports bars in their school’s respective hometowns to paint the school colors on as many faces as possible. From there they traveled to the Las Vegas Strip to toss a giant inflated Tostitos football through Tostitos goal posts outside Planet Hollywood.
Finally, the teams competed in an obstacle course in the shadow of a 15-foot-tall bag of Tostitos near University of Phoenix Stadium, which hosted the bowl game. The University of Texas fans were declared the winners and received $200,000 for their school’s scholarship fund during the bowl game’s halftime show. Ohio State, which also lost the real game, received $50,000 in scholarship money for the losing effort.
— Jon Show
Scott Grizzle, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of upstart computer search engine NeXplore, subscribes to the theory that consumers retain more information when they feel good, whether it’s buying a car, getting married or attending a sports event.
“It’s all emotional,” Grizzle said. “When people are upbeat and see things that interest them, that sticks in their mind. That’s one of the great things about sports venues.”
That’s why NeXplore is one of two Dallas-area tech firms drawn to Arena Media Networks, which partners with teams to sell and display advertising at their sports facilities. The firms have expanded their business through in-game broadcast feeds at select venues.
“Some companies see AMN as a branding play, but for us, it’s about exposure,” Grizzle said.
“People see our ad six to seven times within a given venue and it makes them aware, and drives traffic to our site. It’s been a perfect fit for us.”
NeXplore and wireless phone-service provider MetroPCS made the switch with AMN as the company changed its business model for 2009, moving from offering free-standing digital displays to inserting commercials and screen wraps on televisions throughout arenas and stadiums.
Seven-year-old MetroPCS, whose pitch to prospective customers is to pay a flat fee in advance for unlimited wireless service, has 6 million customers in 15 markets, and cracked the New York market in February, said Chief Operating Officer Tom Keys.
“You don’t find us on a billion dollars worth of TV [ads] like some other people that have 80 million customers, so just by the sheer scope and size of what we have and who we work with, we’ve got to be a bit more judicious in how we utilize our advertising spend,” Keys said.
MetroPCS first connected with AMN three years ago in its hometown of Dallas, when the two parties signed a deal for MetroPCS to advertise its product in the hallways of American Airlines Center, where the Mavericks and Stars play.
The agreement led to a separate deal between MetroPCS and Center Operating Co., the facility’s manager, where the company became a building sponsor with concourse branding exposure. MetroPCS is also a founding partner at Barclays Center, the Nets’ proposed Brooklyn arena project.
The firm’s target audience skews young, 24 to 35 years of age, with a 50-50 mix of male-female, according to Keys, so it made sense to promote its services at NBA and NHL games and concerts, events that tend to attract that demo in greater numbers, according to Keys.
“It was a concise way to get our message to a demographic that is interested in our products … individual consumers who pay their own phone bills,” he said. “We’re not looking for a subset of corporate customers.”
MetroPCS also runs ads through AMN TV in MLB facilities such as Rangers Ballpark, Dodger Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Tropicana Field.
Compared with higher ticket prices in basketball and hockey, baseball’s relative affordability allows MetroPCS to expand its reach to more families, where there’s a greater chance that mom, dad and the kids will be exposed to its brand, Keys said.
The commercials that fans view on AMN TV, whether they are hanging out in a premium club or waiting to buy food at a general concession stand, are flexible enough that MetroPCS can easily customize the content to fit the profile of fans in a particular market, Keys said.
“We can do a traditional 20- to 30-second spot, but then put the last seconds on call to action … with tags that are easily changeable,” Keys said. “It could be a brand-new handset introduction or a promotion you’re doing on a particular rate plan or feature. We’re not locked into anything.”
NeXplore, a three-year-old firm whose search engine has been active for about a year, advertises in most facilities where AMN has deals, and just recently signed a two-year extension that expands its reach to big league ballparks. It is NeXplore’s only form of advertising.
The company has seen tremendous growth during the past 12 months, compiling 7 million unique users in that time, with close to 2 million searches per day using NeXplore, Grizzle said.
“We are not competing with Google or Yahoo, we are just trying to get market share,” he said. “Our objective, out of the 50 to 60 billion Web pages out there, is to help them find what they are looking for more effectively.”
AMN’s creative department helped NeXplore produce its in-venue commercials. Through its own research analytics, NeXplore has seen 20 percent retention in terms of consumers recognizing the brand, a number three times what officials initially projected when signing with AMN, Grizzle said.