SBJ/March 19-25, 2012/Olympics

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  • Athletes, marketers find new category: Olympic moms

    When Olympic beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh shared plans to start a family after the Beijing Games, her agent, Ryan Morgan, felt conflicted. Morgan, who had worked with Walsh for 10 years, was excited to see Walsh take such a step, but he worried it might be the end of her career.

    It didn’t take long for Morgan to discover that Walsh’s decision to have two sons — Joseph, 2, and Sundance, 1 — had a silver lining. The two boys opened up a whole new world of endorsement opportunities. Last week, Morgan closed the first of what he hopes will be several deals based on Walsh’s motherhood: a Pampers endorsement for Walsh to promote USA-branded diapers and wipes.

    Walsh’s decision to start a family, it turns out, didn’t end her career but instead broadened her business prospects ahead of the London Games. And she’s not the only female athlete making that discovery. Soccer player Christie Rampone and swimmers Dara Torres, Amanda Beard and Janet Evans have all turned their role as mothers into endorsements with companies ranging from Buy Buy Baby to Jersey Mike’s, and from Evofem to McDonald’s.

    “For years, all of these companies that have
    Kerri Walsh’s Pampers deal (right) and Christie Rampone’s FRS endorsement are examples of the marketing of Olympic moms.
    Photo by: PAMPERS (2); FRS
    executed Olympic and ambush marketing have wanted to talk to the core demographic: the mom,” said Evan Morgenstein, who represents Torres, Beard and Evans. “Now, they don’t have to use girls to talk to moms. They have moms to talk to moms, and that’s created a significant opportunity.”

    The rise of the Olympic mom ahead of the London Games is occurring because of the confluence of two factors. Older athletes increasingly are competing in the Olympics, and mothers today are as coveted a demographic for marketers as ever before.

    During the last 40 years, the average age of female Olympians representing Team USA has increased by 4.5 years, from 22 at the 1968 Olympics to 26.5 at the 2008 Games. The increased age coincides with increased support from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which almost doubled direct athlete funding in the last decade, and increased endorsement opportunities for Olympians. Both factors made it more financially viable for athletes to continue to compete long after the age at which Olympians historically had retired.

    The rise in age of athletes has corresponded with a rise in importance of moms as consumers. Moms have always been viewed as valuable purchase decision-makers in the home, but their importance has evolved in recent years.

    “It used to be moms wouldn’t buy cars. They wouldn’t buy computers. They wouldn’t buy phones. Now that’s changed and it’s extending into sports, as well,” said Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting, a Boston-area marketing firm that advises clients such as Pepsi and Procter & Gamble. “With online research and recommendations, moms say, ‘We don’t need dad to go out and buy these things. I can get you soccer gear or swimming gear. I can buy the new computer.’”

    Olympic sponsors began making a concerted effort to tap into the expanded purchasing power of moms in 2008. Johnson & Johnson, a member of The Olympic Partner program, developed a “Thanks, Mom” campaign that featured 2008 Olympians Cullen Jones and Shalane Flanagan thanking their moms for helping them reach the Beijing Games.

    P&G borrowed the concept and made it the centerpiece of its marketing in Vancouver and will do so again in London. That has opened the door for endorsements like Walsh’s with P&G and its Pampers brand and Evans with P&G and its Metamucil brand.

    “When you have an Olympian who has a mom and is a mom, that’s the trifecta,” said Glenn Williams, a spokesman with P&G.

    But P&G isn’t the only company that’s been hooked by the appeal of an Olympian who is also a mom. Chief marketing officers at Jersey Mike’s, a sandwich chain, and FRS, a beverage and dietary supplement company, said that Rampone’s role as a mother of two was critical to their decision to sign the U.S. soccer team captain.

    Jersey Mike’s, which signed a three-year deal with Rampone, plans to use her to promote the chain’s offering of fast but healthy food to soccer moms and parents on the go. FRS, which also has deals with Lance Armstrong and Tim Tebow, featured Rampone and her kids in a print and TV campaign during the 2011 World Cup that resulted in double-digit sales increases and a 12 percent increase in brand awareness. The company is developing creative around the tag line, “Being a Mom is an Endurance Sport,” and plans to feature Rampone in that campaign later this year.

    “She broadened the appeal of our product by speaking to moms about it,” said Matt Kohler, FRS’ chief marketer.
    Working with Olympians who are moms also opens up new public relations opportunities for brands far beyond mainstream media outlets. Over the last decade, the Web has been overrun with mommy bloggers.

    Public relations firms have developed programs to reach those writers, and Olympic moms fit seamlessly into those programs. Evofem, a feminine hygiene company, took Beard, who it signed last year, to a mommy blogging conference in San Diego for a meet and greet. Beard, who runs her own blog, swimlikeamom.com, had instant credibility with the writers there. Susta, a sweetener that sponsors Torres, took a similar approach, inviting mommy bloggers to a New York press event about its product that it estimated helped the brand reach an audience of 40 million readers.

    “There’s a huge layer of extra PR a brand can hit with these moms,” said Greg Goldring, director of sports talent at Platinum Rye Entertainment, which advises brands like P&G on signing athletes.

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