NFL Playbook: Tracking how brands are marketing around an uncertain season
The National Football League is in the midst of the most unique season in its history. Most teams are not allowing fans into games—at least, initially—and those that are opening their gates are capping attendance at a fraction of normal stadium capacity.
For brands, the situation brings challenges, but also opportunities. While in-stadium marketing will be virtually impossible, the lack of fans creates new venues for branding, like backing technology meant to recreate the in-person experience.
Below, a continually updated look at how marketers are adapting.
Oct. 28, 2020
1:23 PM EDT
Subway offers a Belichick ‘Magic 8 Bill’
NFL sponsor Subway and New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who has promoted the chain this season, now have a toy for their biggest fans. Mattel helped on a special version of its Magic 8 Ball — the Magic 8 Bill. The Belichick version features responses such as “I’ll decide on game day” and “Yeah, I don’t think so” Fans with $21 to spend can buy one 500 of the toys at magic8bill.subway.com/.
Oct. 27, 2020
3:13 PM EDT
Derrick Henry runs to glory as newest Old Spice guy
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is notoriously hard to bring down, making his endless run in a Maddenesque treatment from Wieden+Kennedy for Old Spice fairly believable. The newest Old Spice guy goes from SoFi Stadium, through the tunnel, across a Los Angeles sidewalk, through a playground, airport baggage claim and to a gym treadmill dragging an unidentified Rams defender along with him. The “Smell Ready for Anything” ad, which launches today on YouTube and makes its way to Thursday Night Football on Nov. 11, makes the case that Henry’s prodigious yards after contact are akin to the staying power of Triple Protection Old Spice Sweat Defense.
1:45 PM EDT
Tide revives the jersey swap for the COVID era
The traditional post-game jersey swap among NFL players has become a COVID casualty, but Procter & Gamble’s Tide is looking to bring it back safely with “clean jersey swaps” using its newest product, Tide Hygienic Clean. More than 300 NFL players have signed up to do the swap, and the brand worked with ESPN to produce a six-minute segment about the program that aired on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”
In a 30-second ad from Woven that ran Oct. 25 on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” from the multi-agency shop for Tide, Peyton Manning stars as Tide’s “Swap Bot” automating the clean jersey transfer. Future installments of the campaign will feature Quinnen Williams of the New York Jets on Nov. 1 and Mark Ingram of the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 8. Tide is also giving away game-worn jerseys to select fans who enter the #JerseySwap sweepstakes on Twitter for the remainder of the season.
Oct. 25, 2020
5:00 PM EDT
'South Park' returns to Denver
“South Park” characters appeared in the stands during the showdown between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs this weekend in the form of cardboard cutouts. With the NFL banning or limiting the number of people able to attend games in person, many teams have replaced fans with some creative alternatives. The “South Park” cutouts first appeared at the Sept. 27 game at Denver’s Empower Field.
Oct. 22, 2020
4:41 PM EDT
Data firm calculates the political leanings of every NFL team’s fan base
In an age when everything is politicized, why not color NFL teams blue and red? That is what marketing data firm StatSocial has done with an analysis of the political leanings of the fan bases of every team. The results, recently tweeted out by Sports Business Journal’s Ben Fischer, show the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks as the teams that most appeal to Democrats with the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys counting the most Republicans as fans. Not surprisingly, a bunch of teams in swing states occupy the middle.
Oct. 19, 2020
1:48 PM EDT
Avocados From Mexico is skipping the 2021 Super Bowl
Avocados From Mexico plans to sit out the Super Bowl in 2021 after a six-year run in the Big Game with commercials featuring humor and celebrities.
The company's decision to skip the ad industry’s biggest day marks the first confirmation from a prior Super Bowl advertiser that it doesn't plan to buy ad time in the Super Bowl scheduled for Feb. 7, 2021. CEO Alvaro Luque, announced to the decision in an interview with The Packer, a produce trade publication, earlier this month.
“We’re using this year as a year to reinvent ourselves and do some things differently before we come back in 2022 to the Super Bowl again,” Luque said in a video interview with that publication.
The company later clarified Luque's comments in a statement to Ad Age, which said it has not yet confirmed whether it will participate in the Super Bowl in 2022.
Avocados From Mexico ran commercials in the Super Bowl from 2015 through 2020.
Oct. 14, 2020
11:04 AM EDT
Wonderful Pistachios features retired NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez
Pistachios new “The Next Big Thing” campaign, introduced today, will get air time this fall including during football games as the brand aims to remind people while they snack and watch sports that its pistachios are source of plant-based protein.
The ads suggest that getting protein from plants isn’t as strange as things people have done in sports in the past, such as playing football without mouthguards in the 1940s, a scene that’s reenacted in the first spot (below). Another spot will highlight when football goalposts were in front of the endzone, a setup that ended in the 1970s.
The campaign isn’t solely focused on football. It also features weightlifter Kendrick Farris who, like Gonzalez, follows a plant-focused diet.
The campaign, which comes from the company’s internal agency The Wonderful Agency, is set to air on TV throughout football season, along with digital, social, print, in-store and other assets. Wonderful Pistachios does not have a relationship with the NFL, but has run spots during a few Super Bowls, most recently in 2017.
Oct. 8, 2020
11:47 AM EDT
Domino’s is 'most certainly' glad to see sports return, even as NFL ratings dip
Pizza Hut, as the official pizza of the NFL, is mentioning football in some marketing this season, hoping to drive orders from fans watching at home. Domino’s Pizza, the market leader, is also happy that sporting events including NFL games are on air. “Most certainly we are glad to see televised sports back,” Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison responded today during a quarterly conference call after an analyst asked about the impact of the NFL airing games. Allison, who avoided any mention of the NFL itself, said games being on TV creates occasions for people to gather and, of course, to order shareable food like pizza and wings. He didn’t discuss that even though the NFL is back, its ratings so far this season are down about 10% from a year ago, according to Sports Business Journal. (Trouble could be looming for the league with the Tennessee Titans dealing with a COVID outbreak.)
Allison declined to quantify the boost his chain is seeing during sporting events but said having sports on air is “favorable” versus a lack of sports.
-- Jessica Wohl
Oct. 5, 2020
12:30 PM EDT
CBS gets rare Monday night game
Viewers tuning into CBS expecting the debut of the network’s “One Day at Time” reboot, will see Patrick Mahomes instead. The NFL rescheduled the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs game from Sunday to tonight after Pats QB Cam Newton tested positive for COVID. CBS had rights to the game, necessitating the program shift. It's doubtful advertisers will complain, knowing that the NFL far outdraws scripted TV shows. Deadline has more here. The game starts at 7 p.m. ET.
ESPN will still air its regularly scheduled “Monday Night Football” broadcast, starting at 8:50 p.m. This is the first time CBS has aired a game on Monday night since 2014, when a Sunday game involving the Buffalo Bills was delayed because of a blizzard, according to Boston.com.
Sept. 11, 2020
1:49 PM EDT
In July, Doritos asked fans to create and submit videos for a chance to have their passion for the brand appear in a commercial. The compilation spot featuring the 15 winners of the “Crash From Home” contest is the first Doritos spot to be made since the pandemic began, and is set to debut during the NFL Sunday kickoff game on CBS on Sept. 13. Each of the winners gets $10,000, along with the bragging rights. The effort is a pandemic-driven update of Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign, which ran for a decade and ended with Super Bowl 50 in 2016.
Sept. 10, 2020
2:10 PM EDT
Ad prices soar for season opener
NBC says it fetched nearly $900,000 on average for 30-second ads for tonight’s season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. The network says ad time is sold out and revenue is up double digits compared with last year. If NBC can keep the 30-second ad price at that level for the remainder of its “Sunday Night Football” schedule, it would surpass last season’s already impressive haul. According to Ad Age’s 2019 TV ad price chart, advertisers paid $685,227 on average for a 30-second commercial in Sunday night’s weekly matchup, which was the most expensive buy on TV.
Advertisers include Hyundai, which returns for its third season as sponsor of the pre-game show. The automaker plans to run a three-part content series called “Tailback Tailgate” that features “two former running back greats together in a conversation around the game, with a little hometown flavor sprinkled in,” according to a press release. Hyundai did not identify the players, who will appear in the back of a Palisade.
“Sunday Night Football is one of our signature sponsorships in generating brand awareness among the 20 million viewers each week,” Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer at Hyundai Motor America, stated.
Other brands debuting ads in tonight’s game include Frito-Lay, Walmart and Gillette (read on for what those brands are up to.)
11:15 AM EDT
Walmart will put fans in NFL stands in Walmart+ promotion
In researching the “Different Kind of Membership” campaign behind its launch of Amazon Prime rival Walmart+, the retailer asked customers what they miss most from pre-COVID days. Not surprisingly, attending live sports was one thing.
So as a promotion behind the campaign, Walmart is going to “plus up” some of its customers’ most missed moments to make them bigger and better than before, says William White, chief marketing officer of Walmart U.S., in a blog post. The first of those “Plus Me Up” experiences will be showcased on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” as Walmart surprises an essential healthcare worker and family with the chance to be the only fans in the stadium during an NFL game this season.
Walmart is kicking off marketing for its Walmart+ rollout with an ad from new shop Deutsch, Los Angeles, in tonight's season opener.
10:19 AM EDT
Gillette launches spot with Saquon Barkley and follows its rookies
Gillette has enlisted New York Giants standout running back Saquon Barkley for a new spot in its “Every Day Is Game Day” campaign to kick off its NFL regular season marketing push. The ad from WPP’s Grey focuses on what people can achieve by treating every day like game day and will run as a “double box” buy during in-game coverage on tonight's season opener and continue running throughout the season, a spokeswoman says.
Gillette began its 2020 campaign really with the virtual draft in April, where it introduced four rookies it signed beforehand – Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Cole Kmet and Ashtyn Davis. The brand will continue to follow their stories during their first year as NFL players. Tagovailoa, the Alabama alum and first-round pick who’s for now a backup Miami Dolphins quarterback, also stars in a new digital spot inspired by a story his grandfather used to tell him about preparation and motivation. His father, Galu, provides the voiceover for the film, which continues Gillette’s tradition of highlighting the father-son connection.
Sept. 9, 2020
3:13 PM EDT
Snickers has new bling to reward the hungriest NFL players
NFL sponsor Snickers is back with a new version of a jewelry chain it will share with “hungry” players. Much like last year’s promotion, the one-of-a-kind chain will be passed each week to a player who did exceptionally well. Retired NFL safety Ed Reed is set to award the chain to the hungriest player after the first week of the season. The longtime Ravens player unveiled the chain on Instagram last week.
Snickers once again worked with Ben Baller on its chain, which includes more than 31 carats of 2,374 brilliant-cut diamonds, blue sapphires and red rubies that spell out the word “hungry” below an “S” like the one from the Snickers logo. (Last year’s chain featured the “S” in the Snickers logo.)
At the end of the season, fans will help pick the ‘Hungriest Player of the Year,’ and proceeds from the sale of the chain will be donated to benefit nurses and other frontline workers fighting COVID-19, Snickers announced.
1:00 PM EDT
Postmates is the NFL’s first official on-demand food delivery partner
Sports leagues are always looking to carve out new sponsorship categories and they’ve found one with the burgeoning food delivery biz. Postmates today announced a multi-year deal as the NFL’s first official on-demand food delivery partner and a sponsor of events including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and NFL Draft. It follows a similar deal the National Basketball Association struck with DoorDash. Postmates is capitalizing on the idea that plenty of football fans will be ordering in to dine at home while they watch NFL games this season, especially with stadiums closed to fans or at limited capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Postmates has plans for unique promotions, integrations and content that will be introduced during the season “to celebrate both food and football,” the company stated.
The deal will be promoted by star quarterbacks from the two teams playing in the league’s Sept. 10 season debut. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’ foundation 15 and the Mahomies is set to deliver meals to frontline healthcare workers at the Ben Taub Hospital in Houston while Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson will deliver meals to frontline workers at Truman Medical Center Hospital Hill in Kansas City, Postmates announced.
It’s the latest in a series of brand deals for Mahomes, this year’s Super Bowl MVP. He also stars in a new Oakley campaign. (Read more about Oakley, the NFL’s official helmet visor provider, below.) For Postmates, the NFL agreement is its latest in the sports world, following deals with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
12:44 PM EDT
ESPN sidelines Hank Williams Jr.
When football stadiums are empty, the song “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night,” just does not resonate. ESPN is acknowledging this by scrapping the usual Hank Williams Jr. opener for “Monday Night Football” in favor of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up.” Sports Business Daily, which broke the news, reminds us that the song was scrapped once before, but for much different circumstances—it went on hiatus in 2011 after the country singer made disparaging remarks about President Obama. ESPN brought it back in 2017.
12:30 PM EDT
Babe Wine markets gameday smells
“While we can’t physically witness hot sweaty football daddies play in-person, we can still smell them.” That is the pitch for a new “Jockstrap” candle that smells like male deodorant as part of a lineup from Babe Wine and customized accessory marketer Ryan Porter. Other scents include “$18 Nachos,” which smells like nacho cheese; and “Hashtag field goals, which carries a freshly cut grass odor. They are sold individually for $29, or in a bundle of three for $69, on drinkbabe.net
Sept. 8, 2020
4:41 PM EDT
Mahomes pitches for Oakley
Patrick Mahomes gets a starring role in Oakley’s NFL campaign, called “We Shape the Future,” which also includes Lamar Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Derwin James Jr., Aaron Jones and Trevon Diggs. The brand inked a deal last year to become the league’s official helmet visor provider. Its role took on new relevance this year as it developed face shield technology meant to combat coronavirus spread. Some teams are experimenting with it, but it has not been universally accepted. Buffalo Bills players, for instance, took issue with them, due to concerns about heat and visibility, according to the Buffalo News.
Oakley’s new ad (below) shows players wearing helmet visors and sunglasses.
12:30 PM EDT
Progressive sticks with Baker Mayfield and tries something new
Progressive is capitalizing on the start of the NFL season with two new campaigns. One continues its “At Home with Baker Mayfield,” which finds the confused quarterback again living at the stadium as his home. The series taps into the home improvement trends of many consumers, who are spending more time at home because of coronavirus lockdowns. The insurer also introduced a new series “Sticking Together with Mark & Marcus,” which stars two men holding yard markers who live together and even share shampoo. “Progressive. Protecting every single yard of your home,” a voiceover says at the end of one of the new spots.
10:30 AM EDT
Bud Light and Twitter team up on ‘Showtime Cam’
Anheuser-Busch InBev—which brought virtual fans to the National Basketball Association games—is going for a similar effect with the NFL with some help from Twitter, although not quite as elaborate as what was erected in Orlando. The “Bud Light Showtime Cam” will feature two-way screens at field level, virtually recreating players interacting with fans after touchdowns, for instance. The players will be able to see themselves on the screens with eight fans selected to also appear. Fans are selected via a sweepstakes that is run on Twitter. Tweets will also be shown on the screens. For now, the screens, which will carry Bud Light branding, will appear at an unspecified number of select games.
9:30 AM EDT
Subway nabs Bill Belichick to kick off ‘Footlong Season’
Subway, in its first season as the official sandwich sponsor of the NFL, is showcasing one of the sport’s most famous coaches: Bill Belichick. A new spot shows the longtime New England Patriots head coach in a short-sleeved hoodie as he’s approached by a guy in a suit carrying what Subway suggests is a lame fried chicken meal. Belichick seemingly convinces him—all through a stare and uttering the word “really”—that Subway is a better choice. Deion Sanders, as well as J.J., T.J. and Derek Watt, are also set to appear in the campaign throughout the upcoming season.
Subway is once again using its “Eat Fresh” tagline and has dubbed football season as “Footlong Season” in its bid to promote a new “buy two, get one free” offer on its larger sandwiches. Dentsumcgarrybowen worked on the spot, while Carat is helping Subway with media plans that include on-air and cross-channel integrations with the NFL’s broadcast partners.