SBJ/Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2014/In Depth

For Super Bowl sponsors, it's go big or don't go

During Super Bowl week, the marketing world’s attention focuses on the TV ads crafted for the NFL’s championship. After all, the Super Bowl is TV advertising’s biggest and most expensive stage, hitting around $4 million per 30-second spot this year. Consequently, brands spend millions more producing ads that they hope will shine.

However, this year marketers trying to deliver messages in and around the host city of New York face an equally daunting and expensive problem: how to be heard above the din of marketing messages that’s routine in the nation’s biggest city.

Pepsi is building a 10,000-square-foot dome in Bryant Park where entertainment will range from celebrity chefs to concerts.
Photo by: PepsiCo
“It’s New York,” said John Slusher, executive vice president of global sports marketing at Nike, the NFL jersey rights holder. “So you do a lot there or you don’t do anything. It’s hard to say you could add more hype to any Super Bowl, but everything that happens in New York is bigger, so we are doing more and it was on our radar to do more from the day it was announced.”

Former NFL sponsorship chief Peter Murray advised league sponsors for 13 years on how to break through the annual morass of Super Bowl clutter. Still, he never had to contend with a game in the Big Apple.

“During Super Bowl week, marketers are really competing with New York itself,” said Murray, now president of Insignia Sports & Entertainment. “You try to stand out by using ownable ideas, staging them in iconic places and engaging people with the right mix of entertainment and sports attractions.”

Unable to secure the Javits Center for its annual NFL Experience fan fest, the NFL instead was forced to move much of its sponsor activation to Super Bowl Boulevard, 13 blocks of Broadway between 34th and 47th streets. The area will be open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and will feature interactive games, player appearances and concerts, and a 60-foot-tall toboggan ride sponsored by GMC. Eleven league sponsors will be involved in Super Bowl Boulevard, including Papa John’s sampling free pizza and McDonald’s handing out gratis coffee to frigid fans.

“We’ve told our partners to embrace the cold weather as an essential part of this Super Bowl,” said Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and partnership management. She noted that official hotel Marriott Courtyard will be distributing free hot cider and cocoa at its hotels, while SAP is sponsoring hand warmers at MetLife Stadium, where fellow league sponsor Campbell will be sampling Chunky soup.

“At Super Bowl, we really depend on our NFL rights and benefits to separate us from the pack,” said Phil Pacsi,
Time Warner Cable is building the “TWC Studios” in New York City’s Meatpacking District. The attraction will feature concerts and attractions from the company’s content providers.
Photo by: CAA
vice president of consumer marketing at NFL sponsor Bridgestone. “New York is enough of a challenge that we began looking at marketing opportunities 18 months ago.”

Bridgestone has activation on Super Bowl Boulevard and like many other sponsors is playing off a seasonlong award platform at the Saturday night “NFL Honors” awards celebration and TV show at Radio City Music Hall.

FedEx, an NFL sponsor since 2000, will be pushing its One Rate service on Super Bowl Boulevard by giving away bags that, when filled, are the same size as the shipments that qualify for its new flat-rate shipping offer.

The question is whether Super Bowl Boulevard will be too noisy to make any impact.

“It’s not necessarily any more difficult, just more challenging because of the costs there,’’ said David Grant, a principal at FedEx agency Team Epic. “You also have to factor in that New Yorkers are just tougher to convince than most consumers and that’s certainly because of all the clutter there.”

For the largest league sponsors, the M.O. this year seems to be “Go big or don’t go.”

In addition to its sponsorship of the halftime musical performance, Pepsi is placing a big spend against on-the-ground activation for the first Super Bowl in its home market. A 10,000-square-foot dome over a portion of Bryant Park will include celebrity chefs, performances by contemporary musicians and Broadway performers, art and concerts.

Anheuser-Busch is transforming a new, 1,000-foot-long Norwegian Cruise Line ship into the latest “Bud Light Hotel” brand immersion extravaganza. When pressed, A-B executives will admit that this exercise in over-the-top branding cost more than a Super Bowl spot — and A-B also has five of those.

“Starting at last year’s Super Bowl, we were asking ourselves, ‘How do we top this in New York?’ where it’s as tough as anywhere to get noticed,” said Rob McCarthy, vice president of Bud Light.

Like Super Bowl ad rates, the table stakes for on-the-ground activation at the Super Bowl keep increasing. But New York City has taken it to another level.

“Bud has raised the bar for everybody [with the Bud Light Hotel],” said David Abrutyn, global head of consulting for IMG, whose Super Bowl clients include NRG Energy, Under Armour, USAA and Marriott Courtyard. Marriott Courtyard is playing off its “Greatness on the Road” promotion at “NFL Honors” and wrapping a fleet of double-decker buses with Courtyard and NFL branding during the Super Bowl period.

“For brands, what makes it different this year is to be part of something really unique in a cold-weather Super Bowl, so even the most tangentially attached companies are looking for Super Bowl connections and legitimate NFL sponsors are really flexing their muscles,” Abrutyn said.

Time Warner Cable is headquartered in New York City, so it’s devoting considerable money to making a splash during Super Bowl week, when many of the nation’s top media and marketing executives gather. A 45,000-square-foot “TWC Studios” installation over three stories in the Meatpacking District will showcase many of the cable provider’s content partners. Around 25,000 customers will see interactive displays for partners such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” History Channel, Food Network and Fox Sports 1.

“Of course, it’s Super Bowl week, but one effective way to bond with consumers then is to connect with all of their passion points,” said Greg Luckman, global head of CAA Sports Consulting. “For consumers, this will be as if they are stepping into their cable boxes to enjoy their favorite content.’’

Wasserman Media Group Consulting’s NFL sponsor clients include Pepsi, Microsoft and Verizon.

“Brands worrying about trying to ‘own’ New York are a waste of time,” said WMG Consulting Co-President Elizabeth Lindsey. “Just focus on what you can control — owning your own brand in the minds of your own consumers. If you do that well enough, the rest will take care of itself.”

Even cause-related Super Bowl functions have to fight for notoriety in New York, where charity galas are as commonplace as traffic jams.

For the Giving Back Fund’s annual “Big Game, Big Give” Super Bowl fundraiser, that means finding an even bigger-name host than usual, in Alec Baldwin, and boosting the price of what’s always considered one of the most sought-after party tickets an additional $500. “It’s New York, so we felt OK about going from $1,000 to $1,500 for something that’s 90 percent tax deductible,’’ said Giving Back Fund founder and President Marc Pollick.

Seeking the New York spotlight, the party’s sponsor, Lamborghini, is using cranes to hoist two $500,000 vehicles atop the 12-story Tribeca rooftop event space where the party will be held. At last year’s “Big Game, Big Give” in New Orleans, three Lamborghinis were sold, one for a cool $1 million.

Pollick expects to top last year’s total of $650,000 raised, with between 600-700 guests expected. “You got more celebrities and high-wealth individuals per square inch in New York, but that also brings with it higher expectations,” he said.

While all marketers have recently been dedicating more dollars to social and digital media, the degree of difficulty when it comes to being heard during this Super Bowl has some accelerating those marketing investments.

NFL sponsor Castrol is giving away 10 pairs of Super Bowl tickets through a “social scavenger hunt,” in which consumers have to post “selfies” in iconic New York and New Jersey locations, including some Castrol retailers.
Carolyn Eckert, director of integrated marketing, said the goal was to take the iffy weather out of any Super Bowl promotion. “The social piece should help us break through what will be a lot of noise,” Eckert said. “The New York market is our home and one of our strongest markets, so our first totally social media campaign should be a great test.”

As the nation’s financial and business center, a Super Bowl in New York is driving more business-to-business marketing than ever. Some have prepared business-focused agendas, before the hospitality agenda begins. “This will be the most supercharged Super Bowl for business networking,” said Insignia’s Murray.

The Legacy Agency is charging $10,000 a table for a powerful b-to-b breakfast speaker lineup on Thursday that includes under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank, Fox Sports President and COO Eric Shanks and Twitter Sports Chief Geoff Reiss.

“We decided that the best approach for this Super Bowl, with the heavy industry audience, was a blend of hospitality and unique access,” said Legacy Agency CEO Mike Principe, whose company is also booking between 80 and 100 athlete appearances for the likes of Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young.

Whatever their plans, those attempting to be heard above New York’s cacophony of marketing messages are acutely aware of the degree of difficulty involved.

Horizon Media is helping longtime Super Bowl radio rights holder Westwood One put some of its larger corporate patrons, like Geico, onto a branded bus that will house radio broadcasts and make 25 stops, across all five boroughs, during Super Bowl week. In many markets, that would be relatively easy. In New York City, not necessarily so.

“Oh, we’re prepared,” laughed Westwood One CMO Christina Albee. “I have a slush fund just for Super Bowl [week] parking tickets.”

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