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Campaign Asks Sports Fanatics to Document Activities for Online Contest

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NEW YORK ( -- In the latest effort to capitalize on consumers' desire to be part of the on-screen action, ESPN and MasterCard plan a fall campaign that encourages TV viewers to vie for the title of "ultimate sports fan."

The marketing program will ask sports fanatics to submit videos or digital photographs and stories of their own sports shenanigans to be displayed on the Web, where consumers can vote for their favorite. The online display in September and October will be done in the bracketed style used to track tournament college basketball teams.

The winner of the contest will score an “ultimate sports room” makeover. Second place will score a $5,000 in MasterCard credit.

One-up each other
Helping to goose the audience's imagination and zeal will be four 15-second spots, appearing on ESPN and Each of the humorous commercials feature sports-fanatic neighbors who try to one-up each other as the ultimate sportsman, installing scoreboards over the garage and a field tarp over the back lawn.

The commercials will urge viewers to prove their own tenacity as sports fans -- and video and photograph those efforts as an online contest submission.

“We’re all looking for a way to stand out and this was a way we could cut through the clutter,” said Sally Womble Brooks, vice president and associate media director at GSD&M, an ad agency in Austin, Texas, that handles media buying for MasterCard.

The deal exemplifies a burgeoning trend of asking consumers to get directly involved in the creation of advertising that is its own form of zany entertainment. From text message voting on American Idol to sneaker-marketer Converse soliciting consumer-created commercials, the advent of easy-to-use technology is rapidly expanding the number of such viewer-involvement programs.

More creative than spot buy
“We had early conversations about what kind of programs MasterCard could do with ESPN in 2005 and we pushed back on them and said ‘Bring us something that’s more creative than just a spot buy,’” Ms. Womble Brooks said. ESPN responded with a suggestion for the sports fanatic approach with new creative designed for TV and broadband as well as the ultimate sports fan sweepstakes that could also be promoted in wireless and print.

“The goal was to create co-promotional communications that would play off both brands,” said Ed Erhardt, president of consumer marketing and sales for Disney’s ESPN/ABC Sports. “The creative drives the experience and the dot-com piece builds it.”

The creative was done by The Concept Farm of New York and is not a part of MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign.

Beyond the media buy
It’s also an example of one of Mr. Erhardt’s perennial sermons: involve the creative in the media buy. In this case, the marketer, media agency and network put together the media plan and then crafted the creative to fit.

“We started working on this deal early last fall and production started in the spring,” Ms. Womble Brooks said. “If we were to do a straight media buy we could easily do it in a month ... but I anticipate we’ll do this with more clients -- it makes the buy more personal, more relevant."

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