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NFL’s strategic branding touchdown

Posted by Symon Dickinson - Creative Director at PHMG on

Gone are the days of the NFL being an American-only past time, with the global popularity of the sport rising to an all-time high. As so often with American football, the reason for this surge of overseas support lies in the strategy – not with rushes, stunts or blitzes – but instead with an, effective marketing strategy.

This year the NFL took a leaf out of the Hollywood playbook when it came to their launch campaign. The minute-long spot featured dramatic close-ups over the football towns of America, namechecks to the stars of the show, and a stirring strapline in “Let the show begin”. And on top of all this was Grammy-award winning artist Miguel’s original track, ‘Shock and Awe.’ With its bold, bassy intro and heavy repeated riff, this specially written piece works to reflect the fact that “each snap of the ball brings more drama and suspense than any piece of programming that currently airs today.” Add in supporting movie-style posters, teaser trailers and behind the scenes footage on social media, and you get a final ad that wouldn’t look out of place on a HBO showreel – ensuring the NFL crowns itself as the biggest show in town.

As their launch ad goes to show, the NFL is a true superbrand in itself – so it’s no surprise that leading names are lining up to affiliate themselves with the sporting behemoth. That’s why, just as the athletes are working hard in preparation to hit the gridiron running, so too are the marketing executives from NFL partner brands. Pepsi kicked-off its partnership with a homage of some unique touchdown celebrations as part of a season long campaign which aims to win over fans with a series of promotions, custom-content and off-pitch action from NFL stars. Snickers on the other hand brought its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign to the NFL with 26 football-themed bars — such as “Sacked,” “Fumbled” and “Penalized — with the tag, “You’re off your game when you’re hungry.” These tie-in campaigns are used by brands to create a parity with their product and the game – bringing together the fans’ love of football, the product, and good old-fashioned fun. According to Ace Metrix, 50% of American football adverts deploy humour, as opposed to just 20% of typical television adverts. Not only is this technique an effective way to create a positive and lasting impression, but it’s also a tone that taps into the psyche of the core following.

Brand partnerships are a tried and tested method of marketing, but while the NFL may be a hundred-year old institution, its finger remains firmly on the pulse of the latest marketing trends. They recently signed a two-year deal with Facebook to start showing highlights from its games in the social network’s new ‘Watch’ video hub, and also now create content for a number of digital channels including Twitter and Snapchat. Since the introduction of the NFL International Series in 2007, global interest has steadily peaked – with the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins bringing the game to Wembley stadium, and the international fans increasing in sophistication from casual observers to die-hard followers. The digital advances now only strengthen this global appeal, making it easy for viewers in every country to tune in.

As with all things American Football, all roads lead to the Superbowl – and come February 4th, companies will be eagerly waiting to see if their $5 million, 30 second advert was worth the punt. But with that kind of money riding on it, it’s safe to say it’ll come down to more than a Hail Mary.




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