A trip to the Super Bowl isn't just a trip for teams, players and fans. Brands who have endorsed athletes playing in the big game also make the trip -- and the impact on those companies can be a game-changer.
But for all of those brands, time is of the essence. After a team wins its conference championship, companies have less than two weeks within which they must strategize, build and launch campaigns to cash in on the increased attention. Everyone knows about Super Bowl commercials, but there are countless other promotions -- social media, appearances, savvy product placement and so on -- to consider, and a failure to capitalize can be a fatal miscalculation.
There's a lot of pressure. But also a lot of energy.
"The companies have to be very excited their endorsement partners are in the Super Bowl," says Michael Colangelo, assistant director at the USC Sports Business Institute. "The two-week break allows them to figure out the best way to activate and leverage their current deals to get as much brand exposure as possible."
For some major brands, this activation is easier to come by -- and it occurs organically. Gatorade, for example, endorses both Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, but it is also an official partner with the NFL, so its jugs, cups and towels are ever-present on the sidelines.
It helps, of course, that Newton likes to wear a Gatorade towel over his head, but the company's exposure and activations would be high even if Powerade athletes were lining up under center. When the game kicks off Sunday, Gatorade will monopolize the TV.
A brand like Oikos, though, which has a deal with Newton, could use the quarterback's appearance to earn game-changing marketing exposure. Adam Grossman, an analyst for Block Six Analytics, says that since Oikos is not well-known among the larger national audience, the Super Bowl could reach many new customers and create new awareness where none existed.
And because someone like Newton is a partner with the brand, fans will be more receptive to the marketing.
"People are excited to hear brand messaging," Grossman says. "They don't necessarily need a TV commercial, but social media, integrating the content and all the other things that [Newton] done, it creates a whole inflection point where a campaign can generate a significant amount of attraction."
How brands leverage their endorsed athletes depends on the individual involved. The biggest differences in Manning's and Newton's marketability comes when looking at their smaller endorsement deals.
There, you can see how each offers unique selling points beyond their status as world-class athletes. Colangelo notes that Manning has deals with companies like Buick and Nationwide, which are more relevant to an older consumer base -- a perfect fit, because Manning also appeals more to older generations.
"Cam targets more of the millennial demographic. He is associated with being young, cool, and successful," Colangelo says, pointing out his deals with Beats by Dre, Oikos greek yogurt, and Jack Links Beef Jerky. Where Manning is a more sedate figure who leans on humility and dry humor, "Newton can use his youth, dancing, and personality to focus on a younger crowd."
Colangelo notes, however, that Newton's selling points may change as he moves through his career.
Newton and Manning are the marketing stalwarts of this year's Super Bowl. Newton has dominated the NFL all season and turned himself into an entertainer as much as an athlete. Manning, meanwhile, stands as one of the all-time greats, and is carrying a significant narrative of having a shot at winning and riding off into the sunset.
Naturally, the lead-up to the Super Bowl has a lot of attention focused on them, and the marketing strategies for brands has followed suit. Both Grossman and Colangelo agree that regardless of what happens in the game, the marketing power of each quarterback figures to be relatively stable afterwards -- their careers are bigger than one Super Bowl, and their popularity won't dissolve overnight.
The real swings in marketing momentum will happen among the lesser-known athletes who rise to stardom in the Super Bowl -- guys like Malcolm Butler for the Patriots last year, who was a relative unknown until he intercepted a pass that won New England a championship. After that signature moment, Butler hired a marketing team to manage a wave of new endorsement offers.
"It needs to be looked at holistically," Colangelo says. "Cam and Peyton won't have their endorsements change much based on the game or outcome because they are established stars. It's more unknown players that may have their endorsements change based on the outcome."
But there is one way in which Manning and Newton's on-field battle directly mirrors a brand battle with high stakes. Manning is a Nike athlete; Newton is signed to Under Armour. The brand narratives somewhat reflect the stories of their athletes, too: One established and long-dominant, the other emerging and projecting a "cool" that the opposition may struggle to match.
The NFL's gear provider is Nike, which means that jerseys, socks and pants will have to feature those logos for all players on the field. In that sense, Nike is able to activate a UA athlete in Newton because he'll be wearing the Nike logo as he quarterbacks his team.
"You see it all the time at the World Cup," Grossman says. :Adidas is official sponsor of the World Cup, but Nike does a significant amount of activation around the World Cup, so people actually think Nike is the sponsor."
But make no mistake: Even if its player has to wear the opponent's logo on the field, UA has a huge stake in who wins the Super Bowl.
"Nike may not focus as much on the competition with Under Armour because it is an established leader in the industry," Colangelo says. "However, Under Armour may want to activate differently with a Cam win, because it is an up-and-comer and still a newer brand.
"Nike has a bit to fall back on because of its deal with the NFL. Under Armour only has specific athletes [Cam and Tom Brady] to use in the football category, so a win for Cam is a huge win for UA."