5 Tips for Leveraging Sporting Events to Drive Social Engagement

Opinion: When it comes to sports campaigns, compelling videos often spell success

For years, brands have tied major marketing campaigns to high-profile sporting events, capitalizing on the millions of viewers who tune in to watch them.

Brands recognize that creative, out-of-the-box spots play a significant role in the overall viewer experience. In fact, one study showed that more millennials now watch the Super Bowl for the commercials than the game itself.

And while TV advertising isn’t going anywhere, the rise of social media has added a new and increasingly important element to the marketing mix.

Analyzing leading brands’ social campaigns across 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and the three most recent Super Bowls offers prime examples of how social can work hand-in-hand with other channels.

Let’s explore the five important findings about social media engagement around major sporting events that our analysis revealed:

Sponsorship no longer guarantees an advantage

Hefty sponsorship price tags have long kept budget-conscious brands on the sidelines. But the ubiquity of social media is opening new doors for them, while forcing event organizations to rethink their strategies.

Consider the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, for which brands paid close to $200 million to sponsor. While in years past, sponsorship provided brands with exclusive rights to Olympics-specific logos, images and copy, as well as access to athletes, organizers relaxed those rules in 2016 to allow non-sponsors to tap Olympic athletes to promote their brands.

Looking for examples? Adidas and Under Armour took advantage of this shift, executing highly successful, Olympics-themed social marketing campaigns.

While Team USA-sponsor Nike received the highest total social engagement score (a combination of likes, comments and shares across all Olympics-related messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube), non-sponsors Adidas and Under Armour came in second and third, respectively.

Similarly, during the 2014 World Cup, sponsor Adidas and non-sponsor Nike vied neck-and-neck for first place. Ultimately, a handful of Nike videos—including the popular “Last Game” clip—grabbed the attention of tens of millions of viewers, helping Nike score higher social engagement numbers than Adidas over the course of the tournament.

Compelling videos drive social engagement

When it comes to sports campaigns, compelling videos often spell success. During the two-week 2016 Summer Olympics, popular videos including Nike’s “Unlimited” series, Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” commercial and United Airlines’ “One Journey” were viewed, liked and shared by millions.

Nike’s “Last Game” 2014 World Cup video (mentioned above) is the quintessential example of a viral video done right. Highly creative and crafted to build buzz around the tournament, the video was released right before the World Cup kicked off and was heavily promoted on television and across the brand’s social channels, scoring higher levels of engagement than other World Cup-themed posts.

The celebrity effect is real

In sports marketing, celebrities play a major role in impacting consumer engagement and purchasing behavior. This was illustrated during the 2016 Summer Olympics, during which Under Armour posted 25 photos and videos of Michael Phelps on social channels: 10 of those posts received an average of more than 28,000 likes each, while posts unrelated to the swimming superstar didn’t perform as well, averaging only 19,000 likes each.

Gillette Venus also recognized the power of celebrity influence. The brand teamed up with U.S. gymnastics sensation Gabby Douglas for an Instagram campaign comprised of seven photos posted over a 10-week period around the Olympics, which resulted in a whopping 5.6 million views and likes.

Persistent activity pays off

While some campaigns successfully focus on just one or two key messages, many others achieve success by creating a steady drumbeat of content that is promoted consistently over a long period of time.

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