Three Inspiring Sports Campaigns for the Marketing Professional

sports marketing

Sports fans, amateur athletes, and pros all have one thing in common — they love the game.

Each person may love it for a different reason, but the affinity is there nonetheless. For brands that make their name in sports apparel or athletic fuel, the challenge is to create a message that speaks to all of these groups simultaneously.

They need to find the universal language of sports and then speak it, and speak it well.

Campaigns that truly benefit businesses are ones that celebrate not only the truth of athletics — the struggle, the sweat, and the failures alongside the glory — but also the desires of their audience.

Regardless of whether a person is a professional athlete or a professional sports fan, there’s a need to be better, see better, and do better.

Effective sports marketing taps into that desire.

In order to create content that will speak to your audience in a meaningful way, the material must be honest, engaging, and authentic. Once those standards have been met, there’s one last element to contend with — inspiration.

That’s the heart of athletic drive, isn’t it?

It’s easy to watch campaigns try and fall short on one or all of these points. However, some sports giants hit the ball out of the park — pun intended —  and create iconic marketing that stands the test of time.

Nike’s “Just Do It”

If you ask someone to name an iconic marketing campaign, more often than not, the first word out of their mouth will be, “Nike. Just do it.”

Nike’s characteristic swoosh was recognizable before “Just do it” came along, but the slogan succeeded in catapulting the brand to new heights; the two are veritably synonymous at this point (though Shia LaBeouf may have hijacked some of the market share on that one).

The phrase turns 30 this year, and it’s certainly stood the test of time.

Nike’s framing of the slogan allows athletes to celebrate the trials and tribulations of being an athlete. High-end athletic performance is not an easy road, and just as many of us must convince ourselves to do our jobs day-in and day-out, so too do athletes.

On the flip side of the coin, however, people sitting at home watching these athletes, dreaming of being some portion of them, are allowed the fantasy that they too can “just do it.”

All they have to do is start.

The campaign is remarkable in its simplicity — three little words delivering an effective, to-the-point message. It’s seen many forms throughout the years, as the tagline has followed up ads such as “Find Your Greatness,” “My Better is Better,” and the Emmy-winning “Move.” It’d be surprising if Nike moved on from the phrase any time soon.

Red Bull

If someone asked you where Red Bull was based, would you know?

Most people assume Red Bull is from their country. Unless you live in Austria, that guess would be wrong.

Red Bull has used their worldwide reach and universal marketing to win the international business game. The phrase, “Red Bull gives you wings” might conjure up images of a goofy cartoon ad, or it might evoke memories of a man skydiving from outer space.

Either way, the brand is certainly memorable.

Back in 1987, Red Bull entered the arena with an unconventional strategy and redefined guerilla marketing over the next 30 years. Between their branded cars that just show up and hand out beverages to planning and executing themed contests and outrageous stunts, Red Bull has never settled in their quest to reach their market.

Their most remarkable stunt was 2012’s “Stratos,” in which a man jumped from outer space with just a Red Bull branded parachute to slow his descent. The event was live streamed on several platforms, and the daring, dangerous nature of the stunt tapped into people's curiosity and sense of adventure.

Red Bull doesn’t try to sell you their product by comparing it to Amp or Monster. They know their product performs.

Instead, they highlight how remarkable you can be when you’re above and beyond the competition.

Sure, Red Bull might be the most expensive energy drink on the market, but with their help, you can craft flying machines, race a Formula 1 car, or jump to the Earth from outer space. And who doesn’t want to be that adventurous, exciting, and innovative?

Under Armour “Protect This House”

2017 was not kind to Under Armour, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t strike gold with their 2003 slogan, “Protect this house.” Scripted on a Sunday afternoon in an employee’s apartment, the phrase was a football cliche designed to separate the brand from its inauthentic competitors.

Under Armour celebrates the spirit of the athlete and the daily grind that’s necessary to be a top-performing player. Future iterations of the ad included celebrity endorsements ranging from a young Michael Phelps to ballet underdog Misty Copeland, each telling a story of the work they put in to get where they are.

The campaign supported, examined, and commiserated with the nitty-gritty necessities that are practice, repetition, and rhythm. Without practice, you don’t improve, and without improvement, you can’t “protect this house,” whatever house that may be.

Under Armour flips on its head the notion that athletes are self-absorbed or in it for the money. The brand has long celebrated underdogs, as the company itself stood to upend sports giants like Nike and Adidas. As Under Armour’s commercial spots show montages of athletes working to better themselves and to better their team, it opens up the idea that professional athletes are in a constant pursuit of something bigger than themselves — a team victory.

Lessons Learned

None of these campaigns, at the end of the day, are really selling sports, shoes, athletic gear, or what have you.

They’re selling motivation and a sense of self to their target audience. They’re pulling at the heartstrings of athletes and asking them to look at the brand and say, “They get me. That’s who I am.”

There’s as much a call to community as there is a spirit of individuality. Athletic performance celebrates all at once the opportunity for collaboration and relationship building while still placing a premium on individual investment. You won’t get better unless you do the work, but there’s always someone there to push you, train with you, and give you the products to train with.

These brands have made a name for themselves outside of their product. Red Bull, Under Armour, and Nike have all proven that they have at least a passable product. Now they’re selling an identity to the person who puts on their products or pops a can open. They’re giving their consumers permission to acknowledge that practice sucks, to seek crazy adventures, and to do it anyway — because it’s who they are.
By Brooke Faulkner | February 16, 2018
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