Over 30-plus years operating at the intersection of sports and commerce, we’ve covered a plethora of sponsorships — some hookups as perfect and genuine as the Rose Bowl’s official rose (Passion Growers) or the Green Bay Packers’ official cheese (Sargento), and others as unconventional as the official snowplow of the Buffalo Bills (Meyer Products) or the official fish taco of the San Diego Padres (Rubio’s).
While none of those sponsorships were for that much money, the activations behind them were smart and focused, and after a three decade-long diet of soda, beer, quick-service restaurants and automobile sponsorships, naturally they got our attention.
Since the eternal question in the sponsorship business is where the “new money” is coming from, for those seeking relief after systematically pounding away at the developing market around legalized bookmaking, we offer what we believe to be the first orthodontia sponsorship across pro sports. Looking to drive traffic to two nearby brand showcase stores, and build brand recognition within a competitive set of more than 25 “clear aligner” brands, Invisalign signed a multiyear sponsorship with the San Francisco 49ers earlier this year.
Jennifer Olson-Wilk, senior vice president and managing director of the doctor-directed consumer channel for Invisalign parent company Align Technology, said the decidedly non-traditional sponsorship began with a cold call from Matt Siert, the 49ers’ first-year partnership sales manager. He was quickly bounced to PR but managed to overcome the list of objections that were likely recited from memory, since Invisalign had never before spent on a sports sponsorship.
In ensuing conversations, Olson-Wilk and others at Invisalign found they had more in common with the five-time Super Bowl champions than just being headquartered less than four miles from Levi’s Stadium. There was overlap across a variety of demos, they’re Silicon Valley technology innovators and each has loyal followings.
So for Invisalign, the thinking changed from a “we don’t do this” stiff arm to “we could use this to increase awareness and drive web inquiries and foot traffic to our brand showcase stores in San Jose and San Francisco.”
Invisalign had already been spending on media, so while the 20-plus-year-old brand was not entirely unfamiliar to the public, “what we’re finding with consumers is they know, but don’t take that leap to go to their doctor and ask about it,” Olson-Wilk said. “Our [Invisalign Experience] locations get most of their traffic on nights and weekends — when doctors normally don’t have office hours.”
The designation is a winner: Invisalign is the 49ers’ “official smile,” echoing its marketing strategy, which is more about the end result and less about the appliance.
“You kind of wonder how long it is before they align with a hockey team,” Brent Schoeb, 49ers chief revenue officer, said with a chuckle, “but we got there first.”
Activation on the “Faithful Mile” outside Levi’s Stadium began in mid-October, where similar to the storefront locations in San Jose and San Francisco, consumers can get their faces scanned and then see a simulation of how their smiles would look after some Invisalign work, which runs $800 to $3,500, according to the brand’s website. There’s also signage within the stadium.
In an associated deal, Invisalign is presenting sponsor of the volunteer program behind the CFP Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium next month. Invisalign will also activate at concerts and other Levi’s Stadium events. Olson-Wilk said the company will be looking for social media buzz and spikes in traffic during games, along with store visits and appointment counts, to assess the sponsorship’s ROI.
■ COMINGS & GOINGS: Kearsten Huddleston joins SME Branding as business director, a position in which she will lead all business development initiatives. Huddleston has worked with Learfield, The Integer Group and CSM.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.