Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG and ESP Properties, opened the 34th IEG Conference in Chicago on Sunday afternoon by explaining this year’s conference name: Pivot.
He said that, in a year when many theories about digital activation have become a reality, now was the time for the sponsorship industry to take the position of a static basketball player, pivot, survey the environment and pick a direction of play.
Social awakening and responsibility
Monday’s first keynote speaker, Afdhel Aziz, founder of consultancy Conspiracy of Love and former marketer at P&G, Nokia, Heineken and Absolut Vodka, was clear on what he believed was the direction marketers should take: social activism.
Aziz said the US election had created a “great social awakening” among young consumers and had created an opening for brands and rights-holders.
He cited a survey compiled by consultancy BAV to show the rising importance of brand social activism to young consumers. That survey showed adults ranked “social activism” as the second-most important quality in a brand after “cutting edge” and he said this provided a real opportunity.
The same survey said millennial and Generation Z consumers were fully aware of the wealth of US corporations – six times as much cash flow as the US government – and 85 per cent expected them to use that money for social good. It also found 95 per cent of millennials and Generation Z would be willing to switch away from a preferred brand for “a good cause” and nearly 64 per cent would not take a job with a brand that had weak corporate social responsibility programmes.
Aziz’s presentation was best encapsulated by his mantra that brands need to realise “good is the new cool”.
Another esports presentation
Steering the now-mandatory sponsorship conference esports presentation was Nathan Lindberg, director of global esports sponsorships at Twitch, the discipline’s leading streaming platform.
He opened with what he called the fast-growing opportunity for sponsors in the space: health and fitness. Esports players are becoming more health-conscious, working on their physical and psychological fitness and employing fitness staff. He said this presents brands with an opening, especially in terms of out-of-competition streaming on team or player social media channels of training sessions.
Next, he spoke of how brands that move early in esports with IP holders can take full ownership of newly-created programming and quickly reach a wide, engaged audience.
He cited engine oil company Mobil 1’s work with Twitch as the primary sponsor of the first season of the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), a game in which cars play football. The blank space meant Mobil 1 branding could be integrated into as much of the broadcast as it wanted.
The brand eventually chose: logo in the lower-third of the screen during every match, mid-roll ads during highlights, branding on player stage, branding on the channel’s Twitch page, a series of sponsored tweets from the RLCS feed and branding on interview backdrops.
Mobil 1 also worked with Twitch to extend and build-out a sponsored halftime show, imitating US major league broadcasters. Lindberg said the US major leagues was the go-to for inspiration across Twitch’s activations.
The first season of RLCS registered 3.7m total views on Twitch, across 1.75m unique viewers and a peak concurrent audience of 85,000. The statistic Lindberg said was a sign of the strength of its audience and a key consideration for brands: 590,537 inputs on its chat function across season one.
The day closed with a series of round-table sessions, ch led by a senior marketer from a brand or right-holder. The standout was headed Jeff Jurgella, senior director of corporate partnerships at Minnesota Twins, who ran through a mind-boggling list of activations the team had worked on in 2016 and would keep for 2017.
Here is a selection:
- Deck-stravaganza sponsored by T-Mobile: local social media influencers were invited to a club lounge at the team’s Target Field stadium and competed to generate the highest number of RTs during the game for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy phone.
- #TWINSPIC sponsored by CenturyLink: fans in-stadium and at home are encouraged to tweet a picture of themselves watching the game using the #TWINSPIC hashtag for a chance to appear on the big screen at Target Field.
- Pick 3 sponsored by Delta Airlines: hosted in the MLB’s Ballpark mobile app, fans select the three players that they believe will perform the best during a single game and participants with the most points win Twins merchandise or Delta tickets
- Twingo sponsored by Minnesota Corn Growers and Papa John’s Pizza: hosted in the Ballpark app, fans received unique bingo cards with each square relating to an on-field play. Winning players took home Twins merchandise and the first 25 players to register bingo win a free Papa John’s Pizza. In 2016, an average of 1,000 people played Twingo each gameday.
One delegate told me that the Twins, despite not having won a World Series since 1991, were leading the way on activation strategies among MLB teams and the team’s strong roster, which also includes beer manufacturer AB InBev, supermarket Target and personal care brand Neutrogena, and plans to expand its presence in VR – the team has eight VR-ready branded videos on the Ballpark app – and on Facebook Live.