Brand Slam: Turning Major Events Into Major Wins

March Madness is known for busted brackets, so while no one could guarantee a 2024 rematch between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reece, the hope was always there. It paid off big for ABC and ESPN with more than 12 million viewers tuning in for the Women’s Elite 8 game. That was just the appetizer. The women’s final averaged 18.7 million viewers.

That was great news for brands that paid the price of admission to advertise during the tournament, betting their association with a major sporting event would pay off in terms of customers. Research firm Civic Science found nearly 30% of sports fans surveyed right before this year’s tournament said advertising they see during sports broadcasts “somewhat likely” or “very likely” influence their purchasing decisions.

On the world stage, the stakes are even higher. The 2022 FIFA World Cup final brought in more than 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. Social media engagements for the tournament overall reached nearly six billion across all platforms. It’s no wonder brands hope to grab just a tiny piece of that pie by attaching themselves to a major sporting or cultural event.

The good news is brands don’t have to buy pricey TV ads to take advantage of consumer interest in major events. What they do need is a clear vision of the outcome they want, a strategy that makes sense, and time to plan and execute it properly.

What’s your vision?

The key question brands need to ask themselves is “what is the objective of the promotion and how will we define success?” Do you want to grow social media followers? You might design a sweepstakes campaign that incentivizes people to engage with your channels in order to enter. Perhaps you want to get more people to try a new product. That might involve a limited time offer such as a rebate or coupon tied to a big event. Each of these objectives involves different strategies, and different ways to measure success.

Once you have your objective set, it’s time to look at your promotional budget. It’s important to note “big events” don’t always need a big budget to match. Big splashy TV ads can score a win for brands with a big budget, but they can also flop, making the investment worthless. Likewise, a well thought out social media campaign can find success at a much lower cost.

Some of you might recall the power outage at the Superdome during the third quarter of the 2013 Super Bowl. The social media team at Oreo decided to swing into action tweeting the image of a single Oreo cookie with the caption “Power Out? No Problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” It was the equivalent of an interception at the opponent’s ten-yard line and running it all the way back for a touchdown. The tweet went viral, earning precious media attention as it became a cultural moment. While it looked serendipitous, the brand didn’t rely entirely on luck. It had its social media team in place and prepared to jump on the right opportunity during the game. The effort had far-reaching impact and cost a fraction of the millions of dollars other brands paid for their :30 TV spots.

My company, Arrowhead, worked with a well-known beer brand during the pandemic-era that decided to skip the big game advertising. Instead, they chose to give everyone a free beer to take the edge off of the anxiety surrounding COVID. Adult consumers registered through a customer loyalty platform and got a digital payment they could use to buy a beer. The brand not only earned kudos from loyal customers, they also achieved their objective of capturing new registrations for their loyalty program. They had a focused objective, and achieved it by executing on a well-thought out strategy.

You do need to sweat the details

Vision and budget are two key elements of a successful campaign. The other is paying attention to the details. That means giving yourself enough time to plan properly, and then working with your own team, or your agency team to make sure the elements are in place to execute flawlessly, including if or how your promotion might complement or support an advertising campaign.

That includes legal considerations, including licensing and intellectual property rights if you hope to use trademarks. This adds a layer of complexity that will require additional time to get approvals and pay any fees.

Sweepstakes, rebates and coupons all have rules and tax considerations unique to each type of promotion, and can change by state. If you don’t have a legal team well-versed in these types of regulations, consider working with a partner that does have expertise in this area.

The amount of planning time required grows with the size of the promotion as well as the technology needed to implement your promotion. Do you need to build a website? An app? What is the size of your prize pool? How will you procure and deliver those prizes? Will you need customer service support?

It’s also important to consider your team’s capacity. Can they manage all these details themselves or is it better to work with a knowledgeable third party and let your team attend to regular business?

Forget FOMO and focus on your brand

Don’t let the fear of missing out prompt you to hop on a fast-moving train to what appears to be sure fire success without thoroughly vetting the pros and cons of the campaign, the event, and associating your brand with that event. There are times when it makes more sense to sit on the sidelines. Before running any promotion, brands should be clear-eyed about potential downsides. That could include anything from being so overwhelmed by the response you can’t deliver in a timely way, to overlooking potential negatives associated with the event itself and finding yourself attached to something that sends the wrong message. This is another time where seeking an outside opinion from an experienced partner can help you make the decision that is best for your brand, including the decision to skip that event entirely if it’s not going to help reach your goals.

Big events can be a terrific way for a brand to get noticed and build loyalty. It’s fun to be a part of something the whole country is paying attention to. If you want to do it successfully, approach it the same way many coaches do: put together an expert team, have a clear understanding of your objectives and give yourself time to put together a winning strategy that will earn the results your brand deserves.