Guest Column – Raving Fans, Or Brand Champions? Both!

I was browsing through my Google Alerts this weekend and came across the following column by Jay Deutsch is CEO of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates. I was especially moved by Jay’s powerful statement that, “Merchandise allows brands to create a relevant experience around the consumer and generate advocacy in a way no other marketing medium permits.” I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks to Jay and the folks at brandchannel for permitting me to repost his column in my Connections blog. Enjoy the read.

The Super Bowl Ads Most Don’t See: How Merchandise Turns Raving Fans into Brand Champions
by Jay Deutsch
February 10, 2012

The talk this week was which Super Bowl ads were the funniest and which flopped. Multimillion-dollar TV spots are certainly the most familiar and talked about form of Super Bowl advertising, but the sponsorship story doesn’t end there.

Those of us fortunate enough to attend or be in the host city of a Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four, Daytona 500, Stanley Cup Final or Olympic Games are exposed to another more tangible advertising medium. When done right, this branding vehicle transcends socioeconomic status and extends brand affinity across demographic targets and allows the “ad” to live well beyond the event.

That medium is branded merchandise.

From seat cushions to bobbleheads to branded apparel to limited-edition VIP gift bags, branded merchandise is a fixture at all sporting events. Merchandise allows brands to create a relevant experience around the consumer and generate advocacy in a way no other marketing medium permits. Unlike a $3.5 million 60-second TV commercial that airs and fades away to the annals of YouTube, engaging merchandise will live on in offices, cars, bedrooms, family rooms and man caves long after the season ends. And after all, you can’t wear a TV spot.

With traditional advertising, you can change the TV channel, you can turn the radio down and you can flip the page in the magazine. But with merchandise, the message doesn’t turn off.

The outcome of a strategic, targeted merchandise campaign is that consumers will actually embrace that relationship with the brand. It becomes an extension of who they are. Because the brand comes to life. It’s real.

This is the power of merchandise. It captivates and creates loyalty.

The world’s most iconic brands understand this and take effective merchandising opportunities very seriously with all of their professional and college sports sponsorships. Pepsi, FedEx, Verizon and many of our other Fortune 500 clients are fully engaged in 1-to-1 relationship marketing through branded merchandise activations. They’re successful because they treat these opportunities like their other marketing campaigns and work hard to ensure the merchandise delivers the right message.

The use of branded merchandise is growing. The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) reports the specialty advertising industry saw sales of more than $18.5 billion in 2011, up 6.2 percent from 2010. That’s on the heels of a 9 percent increase.

Consumer surveys conducted each offseason by SportsBusiness Journal and Turnkey Sports & Entertainment show that avid sports fans are loyal to the brands that support their favorite leagues and teams. Advertisers capitalize on this passion by giving fans products that allow them to show off their team pride.

The greatest sense of pride for a sports fan? Being able to say, “I was there!” Or, “Check out what I got!” Merchandise not only provides the proof, it establishes an emotional bond between the brand and consumer. In fact, the New England Patriots created a commemorative item by having us print “I WAS THERE” along with the Jan. 21 date and “vs. Baltimore Ravens” on the rally towels we provided for their AFC Championship Game, because they realize the power and pride generated by connecting fans to that pivotal moment.

Longtime Super Bowl sponsor Bridgestone also recognizes the impact of branded merchandise. On Super Bowl Sunday, the tire maker once again outfitted all 70,000 stadium seats with a custom Super Bowl Halftime Show seat cushion. The payoff is clear: Fans value a gift they can use again and again, which drives additional brand impressions. Bridgestone benefits from highlighting its brand association with the NFL via Super Bowl merchandise, while reinforcing its commitment to producing quality tires by providing a treasured promotional product to consumers. Every year, I watch fans covet their Bridgestone seat cushions. This positive association is at the core of enhancing overall brand affinity.

The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the world, and the NFL and its sponsors understand merchandise ensures the game and fan experience are immortalized. What’s the first thing players from the New York Giants did Sunday night? Put on a Super Bowl XLVI champion T-shirt and cap, of course. Whether it’s retail sales or via promotional efforts, the power of merchandise was on full display in Indy.

As a marketing tool, the medium of branded merchandise allows fans to proudly express their affiliation, loyalty and passion for their favorite brands. The right piece of merchandise turns spectators into brand ambassadors. It has a chance to become part of their everyday environment and live on in the hearts and homes of fans.

Think of all the brands we interact with each day. It is a branded world and merchandise brings brands to life. Just remember, watch your TV—live your merch.

Jay Deutsch is CEO of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates, Inc., and co-founded the company with his best friend, Eric Bensussen, in 1984. Since their first order with the Seattle Seahawks, Jay and Eric’s mission has been to help Fortune 500 companies from every industry and major sports leagues successfully engage consumers and fans through the medium of branded merchandise.

Reposted with the permission of brandchannel.com.

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