SBJ/May 30 - June 6, 2011/In Depth

The Gatekeepers: Greg Via

Global director of sports marketing, Gillette

Gillette has been leveraging Major League Baseball and other sports for more than 100 years, since the New York Yankees were called the Highlanders and the company was called the Gillette Sales Co. MLB likes to call the blade and personal care products marketer its oldest corporate sponsor. In truth, its 72-year-old relationship is more media based: Gillette used to buy out World Series radio broadcast ad inventory in the 1930s and ’40s — the equivalent of buying every Super Bowl commercial pod today.

While there was a time when branding was paramount, that requirement has gone the way of the straight razor. Today, the field of play paramount to Gillette is the sales floor of its biggest trade customers: large mass merchandisers and chain drugs.

GORT PRODUCTIONS
Greg Via
“It’s not ‘How can the most people see my sign?’ said Gillette’s Greg Via. “It’s ‘How can I get our new razor in front of them?’ Being in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium is nice, but I have to be in CVS and Wal-Mart, or wherever consumers are making purchase decisions. We’ve got to drive retail.’’

So while Gillette’s MLB, NASCAR and NFL affiliations are supported through electronic media and venue signage, their real efficacy is in convincing retailers to stock their products and build incremental displays in their stores. Anyone pitching branding as a primary element need not apply.

“We index fairly high among any teen-adult consumer group and our market share is substantial, so it’s not like we have this desperate need for more
name recognition or brand exposure,’’ Via said. “We have to be able to make those rights come alive at retail. It’s activation, activation, activation; leverage, leverage, leverage; that is what makes our brand come to life.’’

Gillette has been owned by Procter & Gamble since 2005. Those pitching sponsorships for events taking place in the next few months should be advised that Gillette’s promotional calendar is planned 12-18 months in advance. Via also gets many media-heavy sponsorship proposals, when media buys are handled out-of-house.

Strangest pitch received: “Not so many. We get more unsolicited proposals for athletes than anything else. But those are chosen as a tactic that follows a strategy, not vice versa.’’

What properties could do better: “Better integration. We would all like to have better one-stop shopping and have more programs with meaningful retail ties.’’

The onset of social media means they can: “Like everyone, we’re still figuring it out. We released a viral video recently with Evan Longoria that seems to have gotten a lot of attention. One of the oldest laws in marketing is ‘Be where your consumers are,’ so you have to respect how much time people are spending with their Facebook and Twitter accounts. We’ll be there, but we’re still learning.’’
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