As a relative youngster and an American college football purist, I remember cringing when my employer, John Hancock, inserted its name in the official title of the bowl game that it sponsored. Overnight, the Sun Bowl became the John Hancock Sun Bowl, and the world of sports marketing was never the same.
Of course now the practice is widespread. In the marketing game that is measured in eyeballs, it makes sense to have your logo plastered just about anywhere viewers will look, in return for your massive sponsorship fees. And if a sports writer from Boise plays by the rules and writes something about the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, that’s exposure for the Tostitos brand that money can (and just did) buy.
A skating and gymnastics show over the weekend, “presented by Progressive,” with Prudential as another prominent sponsor, represents a new twist for insurers. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not a big fan of either sport, not even in an Olympic year. My wife was watching, and I just happened to be in the room. No, really!)
The upside for Progressive looks like this. They got their name all over the ice, the walls, and the TV graphics. Even on the banner behind the teeny-bopper band that lip-synced the soundtrack to the event. They ran what seemed like 100 spots over the course of the show. They doubtless won the gratitude of fans of these relatively obscure sports, just in time for the Olympics, when interest is sure to peak. (I’m guessing Olympic ad buys were part of the deal.) If their intent with this effort was to build brand awareness among female insurance buyers, particularly younger ones, they probably did that fairly well.
The downside? Unless 13-year-old girls are now driving or influencing insurance purchases (“Why can’t we have a higher deductible like Alice’s family?! Please, mom, puhhhhleeeease?”), there were a lot of wasted eyeballs in the buy. And more importantly, from my perspective, there was a certain smarminess to the event. For example, most of the other sponsors—which included Musselman’s, Silk, MetaboLife, and Kentucky Fried Chicken—created heinous live product placement segments, wedged between athletic exhibitions. It turns out these professional and Olympic athletes just love popping supplements while sitting around munching on fried chicken and applesauce, and washing it all down with soy milk. Who knew?
These awkward endorsements, delivered by skaters and gymnasts that most viewers probably had trouble recognizing, may have hurt the brands more than they helped.
It is hard to imagine a way to do product placement with insurance that isn’t too jarring or unbelievable. Go ahead, try it. “When Uncle Chester died, I was sad. But I was the beneficiary of his insurance policy from XYZ Carrier, so now I can redo my kitchen!” “As a professional athlete, I’m worried that if I cause an accident I will get sued for all I’m worth. So my ABC Umbrella Policy gives me peace of mind…”
The good news here is that the insurer sponsors of this event didn’t try to get cute with their sponsorships. They just captured eyeballs, in a fairly innovative way. Did they build awareness of their brands and their current offerings? Absolutely. And they successfully leveraged the fact that the lines between sports, entertainment, and marketing are blurring.