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With all the hype around the Olympics and some big name sponsors promoting the games, it’s almost impossible to turn on the television or look in a magazine and not see an ad that in some way incorporates sports. However brands don’t need to wait for a big sporting event to capitalize on the popularity of sports.

So the question remains, why are sports so popular in advertising?

Aside from the high viewership of sporting events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, there are a lot of positive characteristics associated with sports: team work, dedication, competition, entertainment and being the best.  For many brands, those are the very characteristics they are trying to embody and represent to their target market.

With so many viewers engaged in sports, with sports and sport celebrity, it goes without saying that it’s a good way to build brand awareness, branding following… and obtain brand loyalty. There are some die-hard sports fans out there who will support their team till the very end. If a brand associates themselves with a customer’s favourite team, it creates a connection, a sense of solidarity and some of the loyalty the customer has towards the team will be transferred to the brand.

Using sports is clearly easier for some brands more than others. Brands like Nike, Liquid Nutrition and Gatorade have an advantage as they supply products that are used or required within the world of sports or health.

All three brands use athletes as brand spokespersons in their ads. Gatorade used Sidney Crosby in their G-Series commercials.

By having an athlete who is at the top of his game endorse the product sets a standard for those who play sports. The crucial element of the ad is that the viewer actually sees Sidney drinking Gatorade. If you want to be the best and play hockey like Sidney Crosby you fuel, you train and you push with Gatorade.

The challenge for some brands is to find a way to leverage the popularity of sports when they aren’t directly related to sports and health.

If a brand’s product or service doesn’t directly relate to sports, they can still use sports to their advantage by emphasizing shared themes and characteristics.

When you think of your Visa card, your mind doesn’t necessarily thinks of sports, but yet they sponsor the NFL. Visa is successful in their ad because they play on two elements of sports: dedication and entertainment. Visa knew how much fans love football and the extent they go to when celebrating the sport and their team. Visa uses that knowledge to position themselves as a brand that helps fans get closer to football.

Even brands who operate business to business have found ways to incorporate sports.

Dentsply created a Gold Performance campaign, in which they dubbed specific products as gold performance products, signifying those products as the best of the best. Even though Dentsply doesn’t speak to sports, athletes or any organization in particular, sports were used as a vehicle to spread their message of superior quality.

Sports, with their mass appeal and popularity, can be a great tool to spread brand messaging.  What are some of your favourite ads that utilize sports?