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‘Climb With Us’ Moniker Leads Marketing Efforts for Penn State

The men’s basketball team at Penn State has seen the marketing moniker grow beyond just a hashtag.

Adam White

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Oftentimes, marketing slogans are simple ways to create a narrative around a given year and create excitement in the lead-up to a new season.

For Penn State men’s basketball, not only has the fanbase embraced their “Climb With Us” slogan, the team has bought into it as well.

It’s this type of buy-in that has allowed the marketing department to take the moniker and build it into some new initiatives, “100 Days of Climbing” and more recently, the aptly named “Random Acts of Climbness.” From paying for people’s parking, to buying them breakfast, the random acts of “climbness” have impacted people across State College.

Like many great ideas, this one came when Marketing Manager PJ Mullen wasn’t even at work. Sitting on a beach in Florida, the idea hit him like a ray of Florida sunshine.

“Last year I was sitting on the beach and the thought of 100 days of climbing came to mind to kind of help fans gear up for the season. I had just gotten into my role as marketing manager for men’s basketball and I had sold the whole ‘Climb With Us’ idea to a lot of people who bought into it.”

For all of last year, “Climb With Us” became the rallying cry for not only the department, but the students and the team itself.

Then, this year when the marketing department was looking to take “Climb With Us” to the next level, Mullen was hit with another idea.

“I was actually walking down the street coming from a car wash where someone had handed a random person a $100 bill because their brother died that day and they said that they did this every year on that day as a way to honor him. I happened to walk into Wegmans right after that and our basketball coach was sitting there and I said that we should do random acts of kindness. Then I said we might as well make it into ‘random acts of climbness’ and he loved it.”

READ MORE: University of Florida Looks to Drive Engagement With On-Court Projection

With the coach bought in, the department bought in, and the team bought in, Mullen set out to set up “random acts of climbness” in and around State College.

So far, coach Chambers and the team have helped pay for people’s parking, bought them breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, brought a whole elementary school ice cream and even treated some lucky fans to lunch at Chick-fil-A.

As expected, the gestures have been a hit both in person and on social media.

“People have loved it,” said Mullen. “We even had the news stations ask if we were going to keep going with it and at the time we said yes, so we will at least be doing it until the season starts.”

Outside of being a hit on social media and driving solid PR for a program fresh off an NIT Championship, the entire “Climb With Us” campaign has impacted the department where it matters most, the bottom line.

“Ever since PJ and the team put this together last year our student season tickets are up over 100 percent of what they were last year and our new season ticket sales have been great,” said Chris Grosse, assistant AD for Marketing for Penn State. “It really shows that having buy-in from across the board with a campaign like this can create tangible results, which isn’t something everyone can say.”

Simple, effective, and impactful. When it comes to marketing initiatives, sometimes those are the best types of campaigns.  

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Marketing

Marketing on Wheels: SLAM Magazine Makes a Splash at NBA All-Star Weekend

By covering a Sprinter with iconic magazine covers and driving around Charlotte, SLAM made sure that the brand could not be missed at NBA All-Star Weekend.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: SLAM Magazine

Like many basketball brands, the SLAM Magazine team pulled up to NBA All-Star Weekend intent on leaving an imprint on the city of Charlotte. For SLAM, that meant taking advantage of nearly 25 years of iconic magazine covers, using them to wrap an entire Sprinter van, and cruising through the streets of Charlotte over the course of the weekend.

“We were trying to figure out how we could make our mark on All-Star Weekend, and we came up with the SLAM Sprinter, which was a pretty simple idea,” said Adam Figman, editor-in-chief of SLAM. “The idea was kind of twofold, because it benefited us in a few ways. It served as a moving billboard for SLAM as a brand, so people saw it and took it in. They would see it on the street, and they could engage with it… It also served for content, so we met up with a bunch of NBA players and rappers and did interviews at the Sprinter.”

With covers adorning every inch of the Sprinter, SLAM was able to pay homage to its rich history while shining a light on its modern-day product.

“We really just decided to go with covers all over because that was the most eye-catching, and it leaned into the history of SLAM,” Figman said. “It also showcased a lot of the guys taking part in the weekend.”

READ MORE: Nike and Jordan Partner With Snapchat for Custom AR Lens

“If you looked, we had Larry Johnson, who was on the cover of the first-ever SLAM magazine in 1994, which was special, considering he was on the Charlotte Hornets,” he added. “We also had players all the way from Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and then a lot of the Sprinter’s space was devoted to the newer guys, like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, plus Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.”

One cover, in particular, was a special area of emphasis for SLAM, according to Figman.

“The newest cover, not coincidentally, featured Kemba Walker, who’s the best player on the Hornets now,” he said. “It was cool. We brought the idea to his people a couple weeks before, and we made sure to have that cover really big and noticeable, and they loved it.”

The team posted up at various All-Star events, selling gear and offering photo opportunities.

“We were selling exclusive merchandise out of the back of it when we got the chance to park or post up somewhere, in heavily crowded areas,” Figman explained. “We made an All-Star-exclusive SLAM box logo hoodie, and had our usual selection of SLAM cover tees, plus a brand-new one that featured Larry Johnson. It will be in store this week, but it debuted on the Sprinter, so our first batch went to local people in Charlotte who happened to walk by.”

Finding just the right spots to take the Sprinter was important for maximizing SLAM’s visibility.

“We were at the NBA’s official events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Figman said. “We were at the Nike and Jordan Brand space at a few points, as well. If we knew where we’d be, we’d announce it on our Instagram story and Twitter and give people a heads up. Secondly, there was also a fluid element to the whole thing. We knew about the heavily populated areas, like the Epicentre in uptown Charlotte, so we spent time on the outskirts of the Epicentre as close as we could get.”

“There was a lot of traffic, for sure, but that’s a good thing,” he added. “If this unique, eye-catching Sprinter is sitting in the middle of standstill traffic and it’s unable to move, all of the passersby are looking at it, so it is literally marketing itself.”

As a media brand that is known for being beloved and trusted by players, SLAM was able to lean into those relationships during All-Star Weekend. The team used the Sprinter to meet up with NBA players like Sterling Brown, Jeremy Lamb, Kyle Kuzma and Joe Harris, and create content for social media.

“The best part is that it’s literally mobile, so we could ask players, ‘Where do you want to meet up? How can we make this happen? Tell us where to go,’ and then we could pull up to events to meet them,” Figman said.

One of the most well-known players that made an appearance at the Sprinter was Walker.

“He was a pleasure to work with in making [the cover], and he hit us up after it went live, saying how it was amazing and that his family and friends loved it,” Figman said. “He wanted to show love back… To see the Sprinter working on that stage, where our magazine cover star thinks it’s cool and goes out of his way to be a part of it, was great.”

The Sprinter wasn’t SLAM’s only activation during All-Star Weekend, either.

“We had an event with Puma, a Baby Dunk contest, for 15-and-under kids on lower hoops,” Figman said. “It was a ton of fun and got a lot of circulation on social. We had the Sprinter parked outside, and everyone was taking photos.”

READ MORE: Bojangles’ Channels Its Inner LeBron James for All-Star Weekend

Utilizing social media was a key aspect of the SLAM’s All-Star activations, according to Figman. The team capitalized on a unique combination of traditional and modern branding, between the Sprinter’s vintage vibes and social media’s widespread reach.

“I think it’s, in concept, an old-school idea — wrapping a vehicle is very ’90s hip-hop, rap, like how in the ’90s, if you were leaving a concert venue, you’d see eight of these wrapped vans outside,” Figman said. “So, it has an unquestionable old-school feel to it, but the difference is now with social as a prevailing way people see things and consume content. If you do something cool in person, something like a Sprinter wrapped in eye-catching SLAM covers, people take photos and videos, and post on them on social, on their Instagram story or their feed on Twitter or on Snapchat — everywhere, basically. You get your digital, social piece out of it if you do a good enough job, so there’s an old-school feel with a new-school effect.”

Between the striking appearance of the SLAM Sprinter and its circulation on social media, SLAM’s All-Star activations brought invaluable visibility to the brand throughout the entire the weekend.

“It was a fun activation, and we got our brand out there,” Figman said. “Obviously, we were able to bring in revenue using merchandise sales, but there was also the content play, the brand play and the marketing play… I had never seen anything like this.”

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How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

Professional Bull Riders spreads its events across the country — and world — as it asks potential fans to realize their inner cowboy.

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Photo Credit: PBR

For Professional Bull Riders, the organization would label the last 25 years as an extended period of steady growth.

In the same breath, it would label the last four years, in particular, as nothing short of explosive. 

Despite its roots in the Western lifestyle, PBR CEO Sean Gleason said the sport is making major inroads in America’s suburban and urban markets. PBR recently finished up its a big weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City and will make its first Los Angeles appearance at the Staples Center Feb. 22-23.

“I wouldn’t say it’s growing the Western lifestyle as much as taking an exciting sport with Western roots and introducing it to a new fan base,” he said. “Bull riding is an extra exciting sport, eight seconds of adrenaline-packed action 40 to 50 times a night, wrapped in with world-class production, and it’s an extremely entertaining product.

“People who give us a trial are surprised by what they experience. We struggle with the reality that a lot of people in suburban and urban areas in America have lost touch with dirt sports and what a cowboy is.”

Gleason said a struggle is breaking down those barriers, but it’s beginning to happen.

PBR experienced an attendance increase of 12 percent from 2015 to 2018, following the acquisition of the company by entertainment and fashion agency, Endeavor, formerly WME|IMG. Now a wholly-owned subsidiary, Gleason said PBR’s solid growth trajectory of the past two decades received a major boost from the firm’s expertise.

READ MORE: Game Changer MVP’s ‘Filter Fan Cam’ Ramps Up PBR’s In-Arena Atmosphere

“The PBR fits perfectly into Endeavor,” Endeavor Properties President Sam Zussman said. “It is a very special league in a very special sport with incredibly passionate fans who want to experience all aspects of the sport and the Western lifestyle. Endeavor’s breadth of capabilities — from events, to content creation and publishing, media, licensing, talent representation and more — makes it a perfect environment to continue to strengthen the PBR.”

According to an ESPN Sports Poll, PBR has 82.5 million U.S. fans, with an established presence on CBS Sports — with an average of one million viewers per telecast. 2018 set more than 20 local attendance records, including 46,000 people at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in Feb. 2018 for the Iron Cowboy.

Bull riding is generally an individual sport, but PBR recently finished its third PBR Global Cup — a five-nation team competition and the richest PBR purse outside the PBR finals.

The Global Cup is based on the success of PBR’s growth outside of the U.S., as it continues to tap into the rich traditions of bull riding in Brazil, Australia, Mexico and Canada with tours in each territory. Gleason said rodeos have faded from the mainstream with cowboy lore, but the PBR product has the necessary elements to attract audiences.

“Their rich history and tradition is allowing us to do the same thing there,” he said. “It’s allowing us to introduce the cowboy hat and Western athlete to a new fanbase with shared values.”

Brazil’s PBR tour will include six cities this year and up to 10 next year.

Beyond the bull-riding events in arenas and stadiums across the U.S., PBR is now a multimedia company as well. PBR launched its own OTT network, RidePass, last February to “bring Western sports” to the digital media landscape. RidePass has aired more than 500 hours of programming since launch, including live bull riding, news, and highlights. PBR has also utilized Endeavor’s IMG Original Content to help produce several original shows, like the Brazilian bull rider Netflix docuseries “Fearless.” On Facebook Watch, the five-episode “Belles of the Bull” follows rider girlfriends and wives, and “I Got Wrecked” is a free streaming series on go90, showing some of the sport’s most insane injuries.

READ MORE: Whistle Signals an Official Call to Action Within the Sports Landscape

“There’s a huge base of underserved fans out there,” Gleason said. “The digital platform is the right time, the right place and the perfect platform to bring it to the consumers. RidePass is having great success. We’re extremely excited and will continue to invest in the content and brands.”

Gleason is excited about the first quarter of 2019, which put PBR in several of the country’s largest markets including New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Now, they’ll be investing heavily in the “Be Cowboy” campaign.

“It’s to invite more cowboys into the tent,” Gleason said. “We believe cowboy is how you live, not what you look like. It’s not about a boot and a hat. It’s the values you live by.”

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How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

NASCAR has developed longstanding relationships with Mobil 1 and Mars, both of which are marketing products through a relationship with the sport.

Kraig Doremus

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Photo credit: NASCAR

To be successful, any organization or league needs to have open communication with its partners.

NASCAR has been able to develop longstanding relationships with Mobil 1 and Mars, and both brands are marketing products differently through a relationship with the sport.

ExxonMobil: A Look at Marketing Its Mobil 1 Annual Protection Oil

The Mobil 1 brand has been involved with NASCAR for over 15 years and the relationship has been successful due to a common goal – both ExxonMobil and NASCAR want to share the sport, not just with fans but with consumers as well.

In December, ExxonMobil’s Mobil 1 brand was honored by NASCAR with the Marketing Achievement Award thanks to its successful relationship with the sanctioning body.

“The relationship has been so successful because of our common goal to share the great sport of NASCAR with fans and consumers,” said Kai Decker, motorsports and sponsorship manager, lubricants marketing of ExxonMobil. “We are able to utilize both our digital and social platforms to connect with racing fans. It really has been a mutually beneficial partnership.”

Mobil 1 has been focused on heavily promoting its Annual Protection Motor Oil, and NASCAR has been able to serve as a catalyst for the promotion of the product.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

“NASCAR has been huge in promoting Mobil 1’s Annual Protection motor oil via its ability to test technology at the track, as well as include messaging about the motor oil in many NASCAR sponsored events,” said Decker.

One of the unique aspects about Mobil 1 is that it is not just involved with the sanctioning body, but also has a relationship with a top-level Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team, Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.

“Our relationships with NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing complement each other brilliantly,” said Decker. “Both partnerships helped launch Mobil 1 Annual Protection motor oil and continue to help Mobil 1 share the value of our motor oil with passionate fans across their digital and social channels.”

ExxonMobil leveraged its relationship with Stewart-Haas by using Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 SHR Ford, in a pair of television commercials.

“(Kevin) Harvick was fantastic in the two TV spots,” said Decker. “He is great at representing Mobil 1 and the competitive edge that it gives Stewart-Haas Racing on the track.”

Last season, the Mobil 1 brand became one of the partners in NASCAR’s Ultimate Performers Program with the Mobil 1 Performance Award. It was a clear fit for the brand since Mobil 1 is committed to both racing and automotive excellence. The campaign was a hit on digital and social media too.

“Social and digital marketing continues to be important and invaluable in reaching consumers, so we appreciate NASCAR’s continued focus on their prominent social channels and website,” Decker said. “NASCAR is an attractive platform enabling us to demonstrate performance on the track and turn it into a great Mobil 1 experience for fans and consumers.”

Mars: A Partnership Focused on Innovation

In addition to ExxonMobil, Mars has had a longstanding involvement in NASCAR – one that goes back to the early 1990s when Snickers, a Mars brand, was featured on the Stavola Brothers Racing machine driven by Rick Wilson. Since one of its products was featured on Wilson’s car more than 20 years ago, Mars’ involvement in the sport has soared to new heights.

Not only did Mars begin to sponsor drivers like Ernie Irvan, Elliott Sadler and currently the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Kyle Busch, the executives focused on a business-to-business approach for building relationships.

“Our partnership with NASCAR was a natural progression of the increasing visibility (and success) at the track, and our desire to create more ways to connect with fans, and foster relationships with the other blue-chip brands that share partnerships with NASCAR,” said William Clements, global vice president of sponsorship and family properties for Mars Inc. “Our partnership with the sanctioning body has made M&M’S synonymous with the colorful fun that fans love about NASCAR. From the drivers, to the cars, to the fans, NASCAR is an amazing platform for M&M’S.”

The executive team at Mars is proud of the different successes they’ve had with various Mars brands via its partnership with NASCAR, including getting the message out about the need for dog adoption for Pedigree, the support of Skittles Sweet Heat and even introducing the popular UK brand Malteasers into the U.S. market.

Clements knows that Mars would not have the success it has achieved in NASCAR without a proper marketing approach.

“Our NASCAR marketing involves a 360 approach that allows us to leverage every relationship, partner and efficiency possible to generate awareness for our brands,” said Clements.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

Mars used a unique marketing approach for the return of M&M’S Crispy in 2015, bringing back the popular racing film “Days of Thunder,” but with a twist. The Mars team reimagined several scenes of the movie using driver Kyle Busch, wife Samantha, crew chief Adam Stevens and even team owner coach Joe Gibbs, as actors.

“It was incredibly successful in exposing a new generation of fans to the iconic movie and M&M’S Crispy, and it leveraged all of the resources we have at our disposal as an official partner. The series was filmed and edited by NASCAR Productions and had great exposure on NASCAR.com and NASCAR digital properties.”

The team at Mars knows that NASCAR has significant value from a marketing standpoint not only because of the various platforms available for exposure, but also because of innovation.

“Much like Mars, NASCAR is grounded in innovation,” said Clements. “While that can easily be seen on track and the sport’s desire to make the competition as strong as possible, it is also evident in the sanctioning body’s desire to innovate for its partners. We have a fantastic working relationship with our colleagues at NASCAR who understand what we need from a business standpoint, and are open to discussing and innovating new ways to reach fans and our key customers.”

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