Gone are the days where brands are merely hoping their stadium signage appears on widely-shared social media content. Sponsorship professionals are evolving their strategy to focus more on intentional branding in sponsored social media campaigns.
For these campaigns, brands and properties work hand-in-hand to develop highly-engaging content that feels native to the property’s channel, while prominently featuring the brand in a non-invasive way.
If executed correctly, these campaigns will generate a higher ROI for both sides than simply relying on incidental branding in live-action posts from the game that also feature the brand.
Intentional vs. Incidental Activations: What’s the difference?
Before you start planning your activation, you need to understand the key differences between incidental and intentional activations.
Incidental activations include posts that have an accompanying brand logo or mention that isn’t a major part of the content. There is no intention to feature the brand; it appears as a byproduct. Posts that are action shots from the game and include views of stadium signage or jersey patches are an example of incidental posts.
Intentional activations incorporate the brand from the start of the campaign with the focus on developing meaningful, native content for the intended audience to engage with and consume.
Take a look at these examples. The State Farm logo appears prominently in both images, but in a different context.
In the first, you see the logo in the background as Jayson Tatum dunks on the Atlanta Hawks. This is an example of an incidental activation, because the post’s intent was not focused or designed around generating value for State Farm.
Make no mistake—this image is a definite “win” for State Farm. It’s going to inevitably be engaging content, includes the State Farm logo and is a high-quality image from an iconic game highlight.
But to simply revolve your entire social sponsorship strategy around these types of incidental posts is risky and leaves substantial value on the table.
Take a look at an intentional activation State Farm launched in the form of an interview series with NBA rookies.
The series included two brand mentions: a visual logo featured on the still image at the start of the video (and throughout) and the paid partnership tag underneath the NBA handle. In addition, the content was unique and exclusive; it forced the viewer to stop and watch, instead of just liking the post and scrolling by.
So which one should State Farm value more? If the dunk in the first photo gets more engagements, is that one more valuable? If the video of NBA rookie interviews generates more impressions, does that have greater value to the brand?
Well, not all posts (or impressions or engagements) are equal. In this case, the rookie interview series was more valuable for State Farm. It was a part of a larger branded campaign that featured original, exclusive content in a series of posts served to the engaged audience. The campaign also directly tagged the brand and prominently featured State Farm.
Brands and properties need to get focused on creating engaging content with intentional branding. But how? The answer lies in examining what works from previous campaigns and leveraging those insights.
Getting intentional with branded activations
Let’s take a look at a few examples of both engaging and… not so engaging branded social media content from professional sports teams over the past year and the key insights we were able to surface using MVPindex.
Keep the focus on the fanbase
Here’s two different activations Dunkin’ launched with the Philadelphia Union and the Boston Bruins last year. In the first one, Dunkin’ created content that basically was just a promotion for their new offering of grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches. The post was published on Philadelphia Union’s channels as a direct promotion for Dunkin’.
If this post had come from Dunkin’s Twitter account, it would have accomplished what it sent out to do—inform the audience of their new promotion and it might have generated more replies. Instead, it fell flat on Philadelphia Unions’ channel, generating only 1 engagement.
The key lesson here? Fanbases are going to engage with sponsored content that is centered around the team.
Compare this activation to one of their other activations with the Boston Bruins. The #TBT post showcases two Bruins players celebrating after a goal with the Dunkin’ logo in the corner. The difference here is that this post is foremost about the team, and Dunkin’s branding is a lot more subtle. The post received 19K+ engagements.
Which will Dunkin’ get more value from in the long run? The activation that fans are more likely to engage and share.
Position content around the “moment” first and your brand second
When creating content for an activation, don’t cloud the post with your brand. Keep the focus on the moment you’re amplifying, find a natural way to include your brand and the engagements will follow.
For example, Zatarain’s launched an activation with the New Orleans Pelicans showing the “Spicy Moment of the Game.” It was a fun activation that is true to the Zatarain’s brand and fit well with the Pelicans’ and New Orleans culture. The partnership made sense, but the execution was a missed opportunity.
The post featured a game highlight, but it was buried in essentially a direct ad for Zatarain’s. In addition, the thumbnail for the video—a critical image that will entice or disengage users from viewing the content—was a screenshot of the Zatarain’s hot sauce and not the game highlight. Do you think Pelican fans are going to slow down for what looks like a Zatarain’s ad?
This post had nearly 6,700 views and about 1,300 engagements.
Compare that activation to how Carl’s Jr. leveraged game highlights with the Phoenix Suns. They made sure the dunk was the thumbnail on their “Dunk of the Game” video and included a Carl’s Jr. logo on it. Better yet, the Carl’s Jr. brand is present throughout the entire video.
The result? It generated 28K views — 3x more views than the Pelicans’ post — and 8,700 engagements — more than 5x more engagements than the Pelicans’ post.
Bringing it all together
The brands that are generating the most value in their social sponsorship campaigns are the ones that are launching intentional activations. They are strategically creating content that taps into the property’s engaged audience.
In doing so, they are driving substantial value for their brand, while creating memorable, engaging content that resonates with their fans.