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Volume 20 No. 42
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New Turnkey study puts focus on ad themes

A new way to measure the effectiveness of commercials that air during sports programming could inspire advertisers to incorporate less of a sports theme in their spots.

Turnkey Intelligence has begun selling its newly created Fan Breakthrough Study, an algorithm that has analyzed roughly 200 commercials from 27 sports advertisers airing on national sports telecasts during the past 16 months.

The study draws from a database of more than 20,000 fans across the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball. Fans must meet a number of criteria to prove their level of sport-specific viewership habits and consumption behavior before being able to participate.

Participants grade commercials that air during sports telecasts in areas that have long been indicators of effectiveness for the advertising industry: likability, engagement, distinctiveness, integration and branding. The data allows brands to compare the results of their commercials that may have a specific sports theme, or “contextuals,” against those that do not.

The product already has changed the advertising approach of State Farm, one of sports’ biggest spenders.

Ed Gold, advertising director at State Farm, said the insurance company had never worked with Turnkey until the new product was made available last fall. The ability to specifically gauge reactions of casual and avid fans, separately or as a single demographic, is changing the way the company advertises, Gold said.

An example of that change was noticeable during NBA telecasts this season, where State Farm is an official NBA partner and its estimated $29 million spend this season made it the league’s biggest advertiser.

State Farm veered away from “Hoopers” thanks to study data.

In recent years, State Farm’s NBA-themed “Hoopers” spots resonated well with basketball fans. In a spot that aired during the 2015-16 season, for example, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett (Grandpa) is trying to cut some coupons but laments that he can’t find any good clippers. In the same room, the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul (Mom and Dad, respectively) take offense, while the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard (Baby) chants “No good clippers!”

Gold said the study indicated ads like those “go too deep in the sport,” making viewers think the spot is actually a league promo. So this season, one of State Farm’s spots opened briefly with Paul on a basketball court telling Lillard and Jordan to “crash the glass” and “own the paint,” while the actual branding occurs when Paul comes home to discover the two have destroyed his house, using the same phrases. The ad’s focus turned to his insurance needs.

A similar subtle switch occurred during the most recent NFL season.

The “Discount Double Check” campaign featuring Aaron Rodgers that aired during the 2015 and ’16 seasons had been popular in focus groups that were made up of NFL fans. But the content of the spots were entirely based on game day at a stadium.

Last season, one of State Farm’s ads opened at a football practice, then cut to Rodgers’ burning house falling onto one of his cars. Additionally, the new spot ran during college basketball broadcasts, whereas previous campaigns only aired during football telecasts.

“That’s what the Turnkey data is showing us: how to strike a balance,” Gold said. “Now the State Farm branding is stronger because it’s more relevant to everything we want to convey.”

Tony Ponturo, who spent 26 years in marketing at Anheuser-Busch and joined Turnkey last fall, agreed.

“If you are a broad-based brand and you have a creative that’s very narrow, then you turn off 80 percent of your volume,” Ponturo said. “When you spend all that money to be an official sponsor, it’s almost your ante in a poker game: It gives you the right to play. But how you use your creatives is the true test.”

Ponturo cited the uniqueness of Hyundai’s “Operation Better,” Super Bowl LI’s most-liked spot in the study. The ad was shot during the Super Bowl itself and aired between the game and the trophy presentation, something that would not have been possible had the automaker not been a league partner.

“Our main objective with that spot was to tell consumers what Hyundai stands for and what makes up our DNA,” said Dean Evans, CMO of Hyundai Motor America. “With Turnkey’s data we can see that our ad overindexed significantly in likability and being distinctive. Equally important was our overall branding score, considering we didn’t include a car at all in the spot. We now know that NFL fans largely remember that Hyundai was the company that gave the troops a better experience at the Super Bowl.”

Top Sports-Themed 'Breakthough' Ads

Turnkey provided SportsBusiness Journal with exclusive Fan Breakthrough data and analyses from its 2016 and 2017 NCAA men's basketball championships, College Football Playoff and Super Bowl.

Event Top brand (score) Honorable mention Top non-specific sports ad
Super Bowl LI Hyundai, “Operation Better” (778) State Farm, “Pep Talk” Kia, “Tecmo Bo” Buick, “Pee Wee Football” Kia, “Hero’s Journey”
Insight Hyundai used an NFL theme and its sponsorship assets to create and chronicle a real-time Super Bowl LI experience for active servicemen and women.
CFP Reese’s, “Winners Go For Two” (767) Nissan, “Heisman House” Dr Pepper, “Coach Steve” Chick-fil-A, “Chicken Mascot” Nissan, “Rogue One”
Insight Nissan, “Rogue One”, animated peanut butter cup spot reminiscent of the classic Bud Bowl format stood out among college football fans, driven by “distinctive” and “branding” scores that were significantly above industry norms.
March Madness AT&T, “Head” (749) “Blackout” Coca-Cola “Number 7” Buffalo Wild Wings “March Mayhem” Allstate “Pee Wee Football” Buick
Insight Buick, “Pee Wee Football”, featuring Kenny Smith, AT&T’s spot was well-liked, well-branded and edged out strong creative from fellow official NCAA partners Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Capital One and Coke.