Activation is the key to maximizing a brand’s return on investment in sports marketing, says Dick Didow, president and CEO of Houston-based entertainment and promotions company Catch the Moment. “No longer are brands content with having passive signage and give-aways,” he says. “They want to interact with fans, find out who is participating, learn their preferences and gain opt-in permission to follow up.”
Professional and collegiate sports offer opportunities for brands to reach a loyal and passionate consumer group that has
ties to the team, college or university. “Because in-stadium advertising has become more cluttered, obtaining the right to activate a sponsorship is vital to overall success,” Didow says. “Many companies are now considering spending from $1 to $3 on activation for every dollar they spend on the sponsorship. In effect, a sponsorship fee becomes the price of entry—then the activation takes over to make the investment effective.”
To generate the most impact, Didow says sports marketing activation programs should provide a fun, on-site activity; create an opportunity for an on-site or online survey; offer an incentive to transition from on-site to a Web site and stimulate viral marketing efforts. Catch the Moment achieves these goals in part through personalized fan photos or videos that create emotional ties to brands, teams and athletes. “Fans will always keep fun photos or videos of themselves,” says Didow, whose company has long been a leader in on-site event photography, including green screens for instant customization, touch-screen kiosks, easy photo uploads to cellphones and social networking sites, and the recent introduction of 3D fan photos.
Through this type of personalized activation program, brands overcome the biggest sponsorship challenge: learning about fans and their preferences. “We have seen companies put their logos on baseballs for giveaway promotions,” Didow says. “This strategy does its job of telling people about the brand, but it doesn’t tell the brand anything about the fans who take the promotional items home.”
That’s why Didow has seen sports marketers move beyond just banner ads on a golf fairway, rotating signs on a basketball court, fan appreciation giveaways and other forms of passive advertising. “Today, brands are seeking a higher level of marketing with activations that are geared to learning about fans,” he says.
One of the traditional ways to gather information—the personal survey—just doesn’t work well at a sporting event. “People are there to have fun with their
friends and families. They don’t want to be chased by someone with a clipboard,” says Didow. “So, you try to engage them with a fun activity at the event, keep them interested and move the survey online.”
For an automaker like Toyota, Nissan or GMC, this on-site to online strategy can generate valuable feedback, like what kind of car the fan is driving and whether that consumer plans to lease or buy in the next six months. “It’s not just automakers who benefit from this information,” Didow adds. “This technique works well for restaurants, consumer products, personal services and other categories as well.”
A prime example is Sports Illustrated’s college football experience presented by Nissan, which sponsors the Heisman Trophy awards. “Nissan has a mobile interactive display that travels to 10 high-profile college games during the year,” says Jeff Morford, account director, Vivid Marketing (An Epic Company), which partnered with Catch the Moment to engage football fans through photography. After posing with the actual Heisman Trophy in a green-screen setting in the Nissan exhibit, fans get instant photos of themselves on a simulated cover of Sports Illustrated with Nissan branding. Then the fan goes to an on-site kiosk, enters a microsite and provides limited personal information with the ability to opt-in for future communications. “It’s been a real hand-raiser for Nissan,” says Morford, adding that retrieval rates for fan photos passed 70 percent last year. “Catch the Moment’s technology allowed us to give consumers exactly what they want— the ability to share photos with friends and family immediately.”