SBJ/Dec. 6-12, 2010/Opinion

Integration is a brand’s best strategy

From a media standpoint, 2010 has been the year of football in America. NFL ratings continue to hit all-time highs as fan interest also continues to climb. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, “Sunday Night Football” was Sunday night’s most-watched program and the No. 1 regularly scheduled prime-time show in all key adult and male demos.

Ratings on the college side, while not quite as spectacular, also continue to be in the upper echelons in terms of weekly ratings. ESPN’s coverage of the Boise State-Virginia Tech game on Sept. 6 delivered 9.9 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched college football game in ESPN history.

It’s not news to declare that football and/or live sports in general are great investments from a media perspective. As compared to traditional broadcast television shows, live sports are appointment television and TiVo-proof. 

Part of what makes football and college football, in particular, so attractive is the ability to produce branded content with namely in-game, brand vignettes. Those are currently not allowed in the NFL, which is why their pregame, halftime and postgame shows are jammed with advertisers. Add in all the various teams, networks, etc., and a brand’s ability to regionalize its focus to hit its target demographic is a huge plus. 

But with so much interest and investment in live sports, or in this case, college football, clutter begins to creep in. Just a quick survey of the insurance (Allstate, State Farm, Progressive, Travelers, Geico, etc.), quick-service restaurant (Applebee’s, Sonic, Chick-fil-A, etc.) or automotive (Nissan, Toyota, Ford, etc.) categories that are football media advertisers can be dizzying. So, if a brand wants to be a part of the excitement that is college football in America, how does it separate itself from all the other brands that also want to be in the space?

One word: Integration.

When we talk about integration, we mean specifically taking a media buy and executing across other messaging platforms. Some of the most effective strategies for media integration cross over into:

1. Digital: Social media, online content, online video, online contests.

2. Event: On-site events, experiential marketing tours, corporate hospitality.

Digging deeper in the categories above, some standout programs include how Allstate integrates its campaign off the field through its “Good Hands” goalpost nets program. The long-standing program, now in its sixth season, puts the Allstate logo on nets behind the goalposts in college stadiums. More recently, Applebee’s has been pushing its restaurants as a home for the ultimate game-day watching experience with DirecTV packages and including ESPN personality Chris Berman in its advertising. From the automotive side, Nissan does a great job connecting with college football fans through the 2010 College Football Experience Tour, which includes an integrated tour microsite and sweepstakes opportunities. 

These college football-related programs are just a sampling of ways brands and agencies are integrating media buys beyond the broadcasts. With a potential lockout looming for the NFL in 2011, college football should be included as part of an integrated sports marketing strategy. To break through the media clutter, executing an activation program is the best strategy for a brand to score the most points in the media game.

Larry Mann (lmann@revolutionworld.com) is executive vice president for business development at rEvolution.

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