What Brands Will We See While We're Tweeting the Super Bowl?

Activating NFL Influencers for Sponsorship on Social Media

As is tradition, January is the month when the advertising world provides teasers to upcoming Super Bowl ads. Snickers is airing a live commercial, Avocados from Mexico is keeping Jon Lovitz employed, and Melissa McCarthy is running away from a Kia Niro. (I think.) While early reports and teasers are providing free additional exposure for these brands beyond their 30 seconds of fame, they’re still coughing up over $5 million to air the commercial during The Big Game. Of course, a Super Bowl commercial is not in every brand’s marketing budget.

So what do brands do when they want to be associated with the Super Bowl, but don’t want to pay the hefty price? For one, they can head to social media. And instead of sponsoring the NFL, they sponsor athletes... for a limited time.

While athletes and their agents are always angling for lucrative long-term contracts, whether it for sport to play or a product to endorse, a “micro-endorsement” is the compromise solution for brands who have a limited budget and athletes who are happy to make a lesser amount of money for a fraction of the work. When the average career of an NFL athlete is lessening every year, can you blame them?

So what kind of social media endorsements will we see during Super Bowl weekend? What goals and objectives are brands trying to accomplish? By taking a look at NFL athletes’ sponsorship activity throughout the NFL playoffs we’ll get a good idea of what we can expect, accompanied with advice on how to improve an activation’s performance.

Disclaimer: Only posts made between Jan 7-28 with #ad, #spon, or #sponsor in copy were analyzed.



Athletes Activated: 21

Total # of Posts: 29

If only every athlete was as prolific on Facebook as Tom Brady. Brands love activating athletes on Facebook, but not every athlete has a Facebook page – almost every athlete has a Twitter account and plenty have an Instagram account – and even if they do, their organic reach (follower size) is typically less than what they have on Twitter or Instagram. So it’s no surprise that Facebook had the fewest number of athlete-sponsored posts during the playoffs.

Charles Woodson – NFL Shop

The NFL (via their NFL Shop) sponsored Charles Woodson to encourage Green Bay Packers fans to make online purchases. An authentic picture of Woodson wearing a Packer shirt was a nice touch, but the black & white coloring invoked 440 “angry” reactions – the only Facebook post in this study to receive even more than 25 angry reactions! -- presumably from Oakland Raiders fans who felt betrayed. Also, Woodson’s post failed to include a link for fans to purchase clothing, which was a big missed opportunity to track the sponsored content’s effectiveness.

Various Athletes – DiGiorno

After being recruited by DiGiorno to make a music video with LMFAO’s Redfoo, amongst other musicians, Von Miller posted the video on his Facebook account, which then was amplified by other athlete’s posts. Clay Matthews, Jamaal Charles, Miles Austin, and Broncos teammates Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, sent out their own endorsements for the DiGiorno video within 36 hours of Miller’s initial post. Miller comes out as the big winner, assuming he was paid more for his involvement, but the other athletes also benefitted by getting paid to supplementing the campaign with micro-endorsements. This was also a smart way for DiGiorno to increase reach and extend the conversation beyond just the main influencer’s followers while maintaining a reasonable budget. Win-Win-Win.

Super Bowl Predictions: Could NFL Shop already have players from the Patriots and Falcons lined up for posts to send immediately after the Super Bowl ends, encouraging their fan base them to buy merchandise? That would be extremely smart, just as long as they’re careful and don’t send out content from players on the losing team!

For players on the other 28 teams, maybe we’ll see a handful of players share or comment on a specific Super Bowl commercial right after it airs during the game, helping to push the conversation towards a specific brand and cut through the clutter when all brands are fighting for heightened awareness.



Athletes Activated: 69

Total # of Posts: 121

Facebook might be a brand’s most desired platform for athlete endorsements – something to discuss on a future post – but Twitter’s roster of nearly every NFL athlete, along with its ability to be effective for call-to-action strategies on both mobile and desktop, remains the most used service out of the “Big Three.” (Sorry, Snapchat. Still a work in progress for athlete endorsements.)

Tide - Various Athletes

If we don’t see a few posts for Tide from Super Bowl participants over the next few days, then that means both Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn banned social media endorsements for all of their players because Tide has been extremely active during the playoffs.

Activating endorsements with athletes ranging from Antonio Brown (780k+ followers) to Devonta Freeman (40k+ followers), Tide has left no stone unturned. Tide’s strategy involves every athlete replying to a message prompt from Tide’s Twitter account, commenting about their team’s colors while including the hashtag #OurColors.

With no links, videos, or call-to-actions included in any post, Tide appears to only be focusing on brand awareness. Given that Tide’s posts generate the best engagement rates – likely due to a healthy dose of ad boosting –not including some sort of URL feels like a missed opportunity.

Snickers – Various Athletes

Whereas Tide’s athletes’ posts made Tide the playoff’s most engaging brand (Average Engagement Rate: 2.2%), Snickers struggled to gain traction with fans when they activated their collection of NFL endorsers. (Average Engagement Rate: .13%) This doesn’t seem to be an accurate representation on the effectiveness of each athlete’s influence, however. It was likely the result of the Snickers’ provided content.

Every athlete’s post consisted of a photo with a white background and an image of a football, a helmet, or a Snickers bar. While Tide leveraged an athlete’s image for added influence, Snickers essentially used each athlete as a distribution system. With Mars (Snickers’s parent company) as an Official NFL sponsor, it’s possible these posts may not have been a high priority for Mars’ activation strategy, and less attention was given to this social media campaign.

Super Bowl Prediction: Devonta Freeman is definitely going to promote Tide some day during Feb 2-5th. If Vegas offered odds, I assume a post from Devonta would get 5:2 odds. And I’d take it.

Hard to say what Snickers will do, but since they have a live commercial to focus on, they might not activate any players during Super Bowl weekend. (This might also be the same strategy for other brands, especially NFL sponsors who have other activation channels to focus on.)



Athletes Activated: 24

Total # of Posts: 34

One of Instagram’s biggest setbacks for effective influencer marketing is its mobile-only functionality. (Technically, you can view Instagram posts on your desktop, but a 2014 Wall Street Journal report found that Instagram’s desktop usage rate is much than Facebook or Twitter.)

Bose – Various Athletes

The most authentic campaign activated during the playoffs came from Official NFL sponsor Bose. Athletes were asked to record their own video of them cheering for their team, and asking their fans to do the same. Any fan who posted their own cheer on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, using #LetsHearIt while also tagging @Bose and their team would be entered to win a pair of high quality headphones.

As great as each athlete’s original video was, instructions for the contest were never given in the post’s copy, which would have fit within Instagram’s 2200 character limit. Athletes included a URL in their copy, which would have directed fans to a website with contest instructions, but Instagram doesn’t allow for link clicks unless the URL is included in the poster’s bio. Only Randall Cobb mentioned the URL in his post and included it in his bio.

The absence of a clickable URL makes it hard for Bose to track which athlete is leading the most fans to their website. As a result, athlete-specific objectives would be very difficult for Bose to track. Also, a more-than-desirable number of followers likely were interested in entering the contest, but got frustrated by the number of steps required to enter. (Lazy Millenials, ugh! Amiright?)

Though the content is great, influencer posts work best when there are only 1-2 action steps required by the follower. It’s probably best to keep goals on Instagram as simple as possible.

Puppy Bowl – Aaron Murray

A perfect example of keeping it simple is when Pedigree used Aaron Murray to promote the Puppy Bowl. Authenticity? Check. Brand Awareness? Check. Only thing missing is announcing when and on what channel the Puppy Bowl is airing.

Super Bowl Prediction: Not mentioned above, but Tide and Snickers had athletes replicate their Twitter posts on Instagram so they’ll likely post on both platforms if they post at all. While most consumers are following and talking about the Super Bowl via a 2nd screen, Instagram is not the social media service they’ll be using. I’d expect Instagram posts to be limited, with most efforts focused on Twitter and Facebook.