Loren Angelo, vice president of marketing for carmaker Audi of America, opened the second day of the IEG conference in Chicago with a presentation explaining how the brand had moved from a challenger in the country to a leading luxury marque.
One key move, he said, was Audi’s early adoption of social media to connect with customers and launch new model lines. Angelo said the decision was more financial than anything else. Audi realised its competitors in the space, mainly Mercedes-Benz and BMW, were outspending the brand 3:1 on traditional advertising and decided to go all in on social media.
Its output on those channels aims to show off the higher end of the brand’s range and activate its partnerships. Most notably, Audi teamed up with Airbnb to offer up to seven people a chance to rent an isolated home in the middle of Death Valley National Park for 48 hours. The house came with Audi’s R8 sports car and a professional Audi drivers. The experience was publicised on Audi’s streams and the winners’ personal accounts.
Audi's 2017 Super Bowl advertisement, featuring a father watching his daughter win a cart race, advocated equal pay for women and also played well on social media. It was ranked first of all the Super Bowl ads for for social engagement.
Audi is not an NFL sponsor, but its decision in 2015 to become a sponsor of Major League Soccer was due to two factors, Angelo said:
• Its decision to market as the US’s “most progressive” luxury car brand
• Its customers have a lower average age than that of its rivals
Vital to the activation of this deal was the brand’s decision to partner with several teams, with five such agreements (Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders) in place for the 2017 season. This gave local dealers a chance to activate on-site and reach Audi’s target consumers, which skews even younger among match attendees. Angelo said the team was looking to add to its roster for 2017.
Its most recent deal, a stadium naming rights agreement with D.C. United which starts in 2018, the year Audi Field will open, was a staff and community play Angelo said, designed to engage both in the Washington area. Audi’s US headquarters are in the city.
Round tables: JetBlue strategy and Miami Heat problem solving
The afternoon’s round tables provided good insights from both sides of the sponsorship aisle.
Tara Carson, manager, regional marketing and consumer promotions for US airline JetBlue, talked her group through the brand’s approach to regional marketing, with the carrier still attempting to shake off its reputation as an East Coast operator. JetBlue now flies to several US airports and Caribbean destinations, including Cuba.
Carson said the brand has several key considerations when selecting a property:
- The property is in a key destination and offers year-round exposure and is on a route that has proven growth potential, rather than a new route
- JetBlue is either the first or second airline partner of the property – “we don’t just want to swap in for a rival”
- Opportunities for full integration with the property – “we often pair our HR with [the rights-holders] HR to create staff initiatives”
- The rights-holders’ reach overlaps with JetBlue’s current customer base, rather than a new area for the brand
- Activation opportunities that showcase the brand’s less-obvious offerings such as presenting sponsorship of in-stadium WiFi or partnering with the airline’s snack partner to sponsor a stadium food booth.
Lauren Rothman, client strategy director for the NBA’s Miami Heat, focused her session on keeping partners happy while ensuring its sponsorships also served the team’s business needs.
The Heat had an issue with the east plaza outside of its stadium, a space that NBA and NHL teams at other locations traditionally use to host fans both pre- and post-game and offers sponsors a good space to activate on the ground.
The 23,000-square foot space was uncovered and provided poor shelter from the heat in the summer months and the rain during monsoon season. Rothman said the plaza had essentially served as an “ashtray” for fans at halftime.
In January 2016, the team partnered with utility company NRG and the brand installed a solar panel roof over the plaza at its own cost with the goal of reaching more consumers in Latin America and showcasing its technology.
The move allowed the team to start creating an experience space and it soon secured a five-year title sponsor in telecoms brand Comcast through its Xfinity broadband subsidiary, which also provides free WiFi on the plaza. The team also secured an agreement with spirits manufacturer Bacardi to serve as title sponsor of the plaza’s bar and now offers year-round entertainment in the space, including events outside of the NBA season.
The team’s next problem-solving sponsorship idea? A possible agreement with ride-sharing services Uber or Lyft to solve the parking issue at the American Airlines Arena. The stadium is surrounded by water on three sides and only offers fans a small multi-storey car park under the venue.