Social Media and Big Sporting Events January 19, 2010

Written by: Digitally Approved
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The Super Bowl has long been considered the preeminent avenue of exposure for television advertisers due to its ability to attract an enormous and diverse audience (95.4 million in 2009).  Although this year’s game is expected to draw an equal number of eyeballs, several prominent brands and sponsors are shifting their advertising dollars from traditional television tactics to consumer-oriented online engagement strategies.

Pepsi, FedEx and GM have all pulled out from Super Bowl commercials this year, while brands like Doritos hope to repeat the success of their Crash the Super Bowl campaign.  At the 2010 Winter Olympics, Visa, one of the event’s largest sponsors for more than twenty years, is expanding their advertising to a multi-platform strategy with a heavy digital focus.  Sony Ericsson, the official mobile sponsor of the 2010 World Cup, has forgone all traditional advertising in favor of a fan-centric approach that reaches out through online channels.  If 2009 was the year that big companies began embracing social media, then 2010 looks like the year that they will be getting engaged in social matrimony.

CTSB Screen

As the official soft drink of the NFL, Pepsi made a drastic and progressive decision to forgo all Super Bowl television commercials in favor of their $20 million Pepsi Refresh Project digital advertising campaign.  After voting on the site goes live on February 1, the project will give grant money to the winners with the best ideas to “refresh” their community.  This marks the first time a major NFL sponsor will not be airing commercials during the Super Bowl.  Even in a deflated market, 30-second Super Bowl spots are selling for $2.5 million to $2.7 million, making the reach and measurability of digital word-of-mouth strategies that much more appealing.

Pepsi SM Idea

Just days after the Super Bowl winner is crowned, the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will commence.  This year, major sponsors like Visa have developed campaigns that encompass a variety of digital channels.  They will be utilizing microsites to showcase interviews and personal stories of athletes, along with downloadable athlete widgets and posts on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

From a news media perspective, Web 2.0 and social tools have allowed nearly anyone to become a “reporter.”  For that reason, the IOC has created a rule that only accredited media members may act as journalists with rights to publish audio and moving pictures from the games.  There will apparently be a few exceptions to this rule though as the Vancouver Organizing Committee launched a competition for area students to become a reporter during the games.  Using social media tools like videos, web invites, blog posts and photo journals, the winning students will be filing stories, conducting interviews and hosting an interactive website with other participants from around the globe.  The project, called Students Live, can be followed on Twitter @studentslive.

StudentsLive screen

Sony Ericsson, the official mobile sponsor of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, has followed the suit of Pepsi, Visa and others by going completely with an online approach to customer engagement.  As a truly global event, the audience of the World Cup is hard to target by geographic region and television broadcasts don’t draw the same amount of viewers as the Super Bowl and Olympics.  This is where social media and online channels step in, providing Sony Ericsson with the ability to engage customers and generate conversations that penetrate national and social borders.  Sony Ericsson has already launched a Twitter-based competition between fans of each participating country, a ticket giveaway promotion and a World Cup branded search engine termed the Worldcupopedia.

World Cup Screen

Adoption of new marketing strategies will always lag years behind the technology itself, but the recent moves by Pepsi, Visa, Sony Ericsson and others indicate that companies are adapting to the changing landscape in full force.  These shifts in advertising budget are merely the precursors to an entire paradigm shift that will continue to see more large companies incorporating word of mouth strategies and social media as a genuine part of their marketing mix.

2 thoughts on “Social Media and Big Sporting Events

  1. Social media is definitely making a splash here in Vancouver. Many projects are utilizing the medium to promote brands, but also several causes are jumping on the bandwagon. Project Blue Sky ( is one of those social media apps that leverages the games to encourage carbon footprint reduction through positive transportation decisions. The project has a fan element, mixed with the spirit of competition, making it quite the destination.

    I think this year’s super bowl and the olympics will be the necessary catalysts to catapult social media truly into mainstream marketing. I guess time will tell!

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