As the NFL season kicks off, advertisers draw from a new playbook

    The Buffalo Bills victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 8 marked the official start of the NFL season which, like in previous years, is accompanied by marketers ramping up football-related advertising as they look to drive awareness with fans of America’s favorite sport. However, this season is shaping up to be anything but typical for marketers as the NFL grapples with demographic shifts and experiments with streaming.

    So far, these changes don’t seem to be scaring off advertisers, with Fox nearly selling out of commercial spots for Super Bowl LVII before the season even started. But advertisers old and new have updated their approach to NFL advertising, putting a bigger emphasis on fan connection rather than placing all the focus on the star power of popular players. Campaigns from Pepsi, Snickers and Bud Light have all included contests and social media initiatives. Such pushes, like Snickers’ “Rookie Mistake” program, not only collect valuable customer data including emails and ages, but also tend to generate social media hype.

    Brands have long placed athletes front and center in football advertisements, such as Tom Brady’s Subway advertisements and Miller Lite’s legendary “All Star” commercials. While many of the NFL campaigns so far this season also contain players, the athletes tend to be almost secondary to the fan aspect. Fans are front and center, not athletes. One notable exception is a campaign by pizza chain Little Caesars. The event marks its first as a league sponsor, taking over from Pizza Hut. The chain’s spot heavily features Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and is reminiscent of a more traditional NFL advertisement.

    The focus on fan connection and social media may be indicative of viewer fragmentation, including the debut of “Thursday Night Football” on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 15. As advertisers compete for viewer attention, having a presence on both TV screens and social media may help to increase brand awareness. A healthy social media presence invites fan interaction, and is a centerpiece of many campaigns leading up to the season. Snickers’ “Rookie Mistakes” seems made for social media, as fans are encouraged to share embarrassing mistakes for the chance to win prizes.

    Below, Marketing Dive has gathered some of the most significant brand campaigns and developments around the NFL that point to how the space is evolving.


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