Oct 11, 2017

It takes a fan

In the agency world, brand loyalty is expected. If the agency works on Pepsi, it is understood that with the exception of understanding the competitive product (i.e. Coke), consumption and purchase is forbidden, period. Walk into a BIC meeting with a Pilot pen in your hand, and it might not be a good idea to take notes today. When you work on a brand long enough, to know it, is usually to love it. You had a hand in creating what that brand stands for, so in many cases you don’t just work on the brand, you become a fan for life.

It’s an expectation that the entire agency team gets immersed in any brand they’re working on, uses it and has their own experiences with it. First-hand experience makes for better insights and just better work.

But how does this principle change when your client is the NBA? Or NFL? A team, league or title sponsor? Now, not only does getting invested in the brand you’re working on become about using a different product, it’s about a lifestyle.

To understand what it’s like to be a diehard Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, or to be in an insanely competitive fantasy baseball league, a deeper, first-hand experience is a must. Unlike other categories, looking at research can only get you so far. When it comes to creating a campaign that is relevant and speaks to true fans, getting immersed in the fan culture is the only way to understand what makes them tick. The insights are more relevant and the resulting work creates more impact, not to mention, a true sports fan can spot a fake a mile away. Agencies need to know the real vernacular (especially the common slang) with the sport they’re working on… not knowing it or misusing it is a dead giveaway. To resonate, you have to comfortably talk the talk. We’ve all seen content that is just “trying too hard”… it sort of looks like it has some potential, but it leaves us saying “what football fan reeeeaaally does or says that?” Fans are protective of their sport, so the work has to feel authentic to them.

The best part about working on sports is that your “work” might consist of hitting up the local Redskins Rally on game day, spending hours at the track to witness the competition and comradery of NASCAR Nation, or even volunteering to run the agency NFL Fantasy Football league.

When brands are leveraging the power of a league or team sponsorships to reach fans, borrow equity or drive relevance, this deeper understanding can also help agencies protect the brand. The last thing a brand wants, is to seem out of touch with what real fans are in to – then all the good that was going to come from the sponsorship is lost and the integration feels forced.

Nike’s retirement campaign created for Kobe Bryant tapped into both the love and the hate that comes with being a true fan – giving some of Kobe’s biggest haters the stage for one last chance to trash talk and at the same time to show respect. After all, competition is what’s at the center of being a fan. When your team wins you feel like you’ve won. And we’ve all done a few crazy things in the name of sports. Hyundai even created an entire campaign around the extreme lengths fans have gone to #BecauseFootball. Take a minute to google NFL Fantasy Football “last place punishments” and there’s no shortage of real-life examples to inspire the next crazy story.  

Understanding what motivates, inspires and entertains true fans is even more critical when you’re looking to drive participation or engagement from an activation. What are they really going to do? Is this something that fans really care about or want to talk about? It’s one thing to entertain someone, it’s something else to get them to take action and move them to participate. When you find what that is, everyone wins.

Lastly, aside from better results, immersing yourself in the fan experience makes for better client relationships. Marketers that work in the industry live and breathe their sport and expect their agency partners to do the same.

Embrace the fandom – from account to creative – and the wins (and clients) will follow.  

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By Shawn McKenna
VP/Group Director, Accounts