With Sports and Live Entertainment in Limbo, Brands Must Make Fans of Their Own

October 22, 2020

By Amy Vale

Artbesouro/Shutterstock.com

This fall’s unusual entertainment schedule means brands need to find new ways to create “fans” beyond likes or followers. Sports, music, and Hollywood have never been in such limbo: marketers can fill that void, not just by entertaining consumers with social content, but also by offering them additional value during this pandemic.

Traditional advertising has taken its fair share of hits this year, but the uncertainty around sports seasons has thrown this trend into a particularly tumultuous tailspin: marketers worry that sports are no longer a safe bet, if not altogether unviable. After pausing their seasons due to COVID-19 this spring and summer, the NBA and Major League Baseball are likely going to wrap up their 2020 seasons sometime between now and early November. Whether the NFL and college football — the top ratings drivers in all of television — are able to play their full seasons remains to be seen. Even with some sports returned, TV ratings have been inconsistent — strong here and below average there — and media sales have been down as the country has largely been focused on COVID-19, calls for change around racial injustice, and election-year politics. These trends mean TV advertisers are often getting less bang-for-the-buck, signaling a need to rethink strategies during these unusual societal and economic times.

Beyond sports, live concerts are either completely called off or few and far between, depending on the locale. And we just went through a summer without a blockbuster movie for the first time in around 40 years.

All in all, fandom is at a different place in fall 2020 and for the foreseeable future, and marketers can inspire new fans of their brands by making a difference in consumers’ lives. It’s an important moment to act upon, and a customer-centric strategy will create more fans than the typical 15-second, in-game spot.

 

Earning Fandom

Building and keeping fans has gotten harder for every entity — including sports and entertainment stars — and brands are not exempt. Yet, marketers can build loyal fan bases right now by helping customers save money by putting money back in their pockets with cash back or loyalty programs that make them regularly feel valued. What I mean by regularly is that brands need to engage fans weekly if not daily with frictionless ways to save money. Sports show the potential of this idea.

Football fans, as an example, like being able to see their team on a weekly basis. While having regular interactions with a brand isn't exactly the same thing, customers must feel a psychological comfort in interacting with a brand that has their interest at heart.

 

Redirecting Ad Budget

Instead of thinking of customers’ actual needs, brands too often waste budget that could be put toward fan-building opportunities. In 2019, marketers spent nearly $4.5 billion on advertising during televised NFL games alone. What if they instead placed those massive dollars into building engagement with consumers and helping them save money? Consider that 82 percent of Americans will shop more frequently at stores if they get a cash back offer.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, putting money back into customers’ pockets can be a part of their reopening strategy for the remainder of this year and in 2021. What’s more, mobile apps allow marketers to zero in on customers locally, doubling the relevance of a money-saving offer. Retailers should include such opportunities in their reopening playbooks.

 

Cultivating Allegiance

Studying sports fans can teach retailers and all brands about customer loyalty. Some sports fans are most loyal to the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, college football, and yet others to European Premier League soccer. Similarly, over time, music fans develop an affinity for certain artists. What all of these fans have in common is having developed an instinctual positive feeling toward their favorites.

We’ve seen a rare breed of brands achieve this feeling over the decades. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Hershey’s are examples of brands that have accomplished this affectional feat. At the same time, it took these brands decades to build such a relationship with the public. In 2020, brands can build such affinity much quicker by utilizing digital platforms to give customers cash back, a discount, or a rebate. Actual money has never been so meaningful.

 

Giving Back One-to-One

Thankfully, brands have been generally gracious with their charity this year. adidas recently donated $3.2 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which is run by the World Health Organization. Nike has also been generous, giving various organizations millions of dollars in recent months. While these moves were bountiful displays of goodwill, think of the impact of brands giving back directly to customers rather than via a fund. As relationships between brands and consumers increasingly become direct, it would not surprise me if brands more often find ways to put cash right into customers’ pockets.

Such goodwill will actually help customers and inspire them to become loyal fans. They’ll remember that gesture from these difficult times much longer than an ad they watch for a few seconds as they come back from the refrigerator during a ballgame.

Amy Vale CMO of cash back platform Dosh.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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