With the stage set for the Pittsburgh Pirates to face the Chicago Cubs in Major League Baseball’s 2015 National League Wild Card game, tensions were running high. The division rivals, who hold the second and third-best records in baseball, respectively, were meeting in a win-or-go-home, single-game elimination format that the MLB adopted in 2012. The winner moves on to play the St. Louis Cardinals, another division nemesis, and the loser would see their playoff run and 2015 season end after just nine innings of play.
For most of the game, Cubs pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate Jake Arrieta was virtually unhittable, much as he had been for the latter portion of the regular season. By the seventh inning, Chicago had a 4-0 lead on Pittsburgh. Arrieta would come to the plate to bat in the top of the inning, and an awry pitch from Pirates reliever Tony Watson plunked the Cubs ace in the hip. Intentional or not, Arrieta took exception to the bean ball, and the teams’ benches cleared. After some light shoving and a few words exchanged, the gathering dissipated and the game resumed play.
The one casualty of the minor scuffle was Pittsburgh first baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was ejected for attempting to throw a punch at one of Chicago’s players. It was clear that Rodriguez would spend the rest of the night outside the confines of the field of play, but before he left the building, Rodriguez did something unexpected. Upon reaching the dugout, Rodriguez proceeded to take his frustration out on one of the team’s Gatorade coolers with a flurry of combination punches.
(See video and more from the seventh inning antics here.)
The moment was caught on the game’s broadcast cameras and quickly went viral. What followed was a whirlwind of internet activity, including tweets and memes centered on the cooler’s well-being. The Gatorade brand turned into a trending topic on Twitter in a matter of hours. A Twitter account for the cooler was even created that had nearly 7,800 followers within 16 hours and currently sits at just north of 10,000 followers.
Sean Rodriguez’s outburst unintentionally got the world buzzing about Gatorade, earning the brand a free boost in publicity. Gatorade has notoriously earned this kind of exposure for decades, as the sports drink has become the center of a victory ritual across the world of sports. The Gatorade shower is universally recognized as a symbol for champions, as victorious head coaches and players are doused after winning Super Bowls, National Championships, or even Wild Card playoff games. As a result, Gatorade’s parent company, PepsiCo, has reaped the benefits of sports drink’s success and sits at 99th on the Forbes list of The World’s Biggest Public Companies as of May 2015, with a market cap of approximately $143 billion.
Gatorade showers have become predictable in high stakes sporting events, but moments like Rodriguez’s one-sided boxing match cannot be foreseen. As pointed out by PR Daily, brands involved in an internet craze aren’t always quick enough to take advantage of the free publicity. Gatorade’s social media team remained quiet on the topic, perhaps missing the marketing opportunity of engaging with users that were posting about the incident.
In the age of constant media exposure, situations like this aren’t entirely uncommon. Other companies have leveraged random marketing opportunities sports can present when their brand becomes involved in an unpredictable scenario. Earlier in the 2015 MLB season, the Washington Nationals began celebrating monumental wins by dumping Hershey’s chocolate syrup on the head of the team’s hero of the game. As the team’s newest tradition quickly gained exposure, Hershey’s took notice. Although Hershey’s and the Nationals have no official partnership, the chocolate makers capitalized on the opportunity for free exposure, shipping out 108 bottles of syrup to the team to ensure that they would have enough to last them through the season.
In a similar scenario, Skittles was quick to jump on the opportunity to play off of the superstition of loyal Skittles-eater and Seattle Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch. As a child, Lynch’s mom would hand him the “power pellets” before youth football games to help his success on the field. The tradition followed Lynch into his professional football career. Seahawks fans toss Skittles onto the field following Lynch’s touchdowns, and even inspired a ‘Beast Burger’ served at Seahawks home games with a side of the multi-colored candy. The team’s overall success also worked in the candy brand’s favor. It was estimated by Kantar Media that the Seahawks participation in the 2014 Super Bowl was worth up to $5 million of free exposure for Skittles. Consequentially, Lynch became the first athlete to sign an endorsement deal with the company.
The great thing about sports is that they are inherently unpredictable in nature, but the final score doesn’t tell the whole story. Things happen along the way that are televised and then publicized for the world to see by the millions of users of social media. And occasionally, brands find that they are in the middle of an unforeseen whirl of media attention that can be utilized for free exposure. If one of these golden opportunity strikes for your brand, be prepared to pounce.
Sportswear companies have historically used radically different approaches to market products to men and women. For men, endorsements by athletes are the most common marketing tool, featuring powerful and well-known athletes using or wearing the products. However, this method has been less popular for marketing these same products to women. Instead, sportswear companies tend to favor showing their products as used by female models, frequently sporting mantras of anonymous “girl power.” But this discrepancy is slowly fading into the past.
According to Adweek, a strong female presence in athletic advertising is on the rise. Male-centric endorsement deals are becoming less and less dominant as female athletes ascend to similar statuses of fame and fortune as their male counterparts. In the past, we have seen star male athletes, such as LeBron James, slam-dunk over $65 million through endorsement deals alone. However, with a wider fan base starting to follow women’s athletics, as exemplified by the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup’s massive audience, the new face of athletic endorsements are the women themselves.
This year, Forbes reported that Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the only two women to make it to the top 100 of the list of highest-paid athletes, earning $23 million and $13 million in endorsements, respectively. Williams’ most recent endorsements deals include contracts with large brands such as Gatorade and Beats by Dre.
Aside from an increasing interest in women’s sports, the recent shift can also be attributed to advertisers’ need to please the female consumer population. Women hold most of the market’s purchasing power, making up 70-80 percent of consumer purchases.
The New York Times identified the women’s athletic apparel brand Oiselle as the frontrunner in the race to push women to the front of athletic endorsements. The 20-employee Seattle based company has become the first solely women’s sports brand to outfit a major college running program: the cross-country and track teams of Yale.
With established powerhouse sportswear brands such as Nike and lululemon pushing brightly colored leggings and patterned sports bras, Oiselle had little room to flourish in this market. Instead, they are playing smart and capitalizing on the intrinsic connection between feminism and athleticism to their target audience. By establishing a female-centric marketing strategy, brands are peeling off the flower prints and lace to reveal what truly counts: the athletes themselves.
Matt Powell, sports analyst at NPD Group, commented, “Women have always performed at a high level. But the industry has started to figure out that they’re not just celebrities and fashion icons, but athletic heroes as well.”
These newly-recognized athletic heroes will be playing first string this year with endorsement deals with brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds. So, let’s hear it for the girls!
When it comes to customer interaction for businesses, social media is the modern battleground. Social media is no longer something that brands leverage to seem trendy; it’s become an expectation and a necessity. One company that has flourished within the boundaries of social media is Under Armour. The sports clothing and accessory company has cultivated an impressive social media presence with 535,000 Twitter followers and 1.4 million Instagram followers.
However, according to PRWeek, only nine percent of Under Armour’s revenue comes from outside of the U.S. The company wants to break into European markets, and to do so, they are considering launching their own social media platform: an interconnected fitness network. This move by Under Armour could potentially transform owned media, an impressive feat for a company still in its teen years.
The development of its own social media platform comes on the heels of the launch of Under Armour’s first major brand campaign, “Rule Yourself.” This campaign helped Under Armour usurp the number two spot from Adidas, solidifying their top position in the U.S. market.
To combat their small international market share, Under Armour’s new social media platform blends social media and technology to connect users through a fitness network that monitors health. In order to facilitate the far-reaching goals of interconnected fitness networks, Under Armour will require serious technological advancement.
Our daily lives are constantly integrated with new technologies. What started with smartphones has spiraled into a storm of smart TVs, smart glasses and smart watches. Under Armour wants to lead that march forward, announcing that it is working with electronics company HTC to create a new line of wearable technology.
Under Armour envisions a world where social media and smart technology intersect. It wants to turn clothing into a new type of wearable. The company is working towards connected clothing with embedded sensors that directly interact with the brand’s digital assets. Soon, we may very well live in a world in which our pants tell everyone when we skipped leg day in the weight room.
Under Armour will no longer earn its social media presence through content. It will own it—along with a slew of apps that have the potential to seep into every imaginable part of your life. This will mark the first merge between social networks and fitness apps. With Under Armour’s vision, brands may soon be expected to leverage digital assets in increasingly comprehensive ways, much like they’re currently expected to have a social media presence.
There’s something to be learned from Under Armour. Creating the latest social media phenomenon may no longer be the future of technology. Just look at the thought patterns of Under Armour and its aggressive leveraging of earned and owned media.
Ten or 20 years down the road, when you’re having a conversation with your shirt about cholesterol, remember Under Armour. Until then, we’ll be watching the brand’s venture into owned media as a breathing case study on the meld of social media and technology and the opportunities this presents.