Regardless of the discipline, few kids dream of glory as the 53rd man on an NFL roster, a career minor leaguer, or two-way professional basketball player splitting time between the NBA and G-League. Any aspirational, sports crazed adolescent daydreams about dominating the highest level of sports.
Of course, around the same time we learn about the birds and the bees, we realize that not only is stardom as a professional athlete not going to happen but also being that 53rd man on the Chicago Bears roster is unlikelier than winning the lottery.
But even as we all grow old enough to try our hand at Powerball, that envy we have for stalwart professional athletes remains engrained. We watch NFL stars dominate the gridiron on Sundays and wonder what it’s like to be them.
That is what sports video games sell. In a digital world, a game like Madden represents an opportunity to feel what it’s like to dominate. Even for those whose dreams trended outside that of competitive sports, the game sells an on-top-of-the-world feeling that can make anyone feel like a superstar.
As I’ve watched Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson transcend football in ways we haven’t seen since southpaw, dual-threat signal caller Michael Vick, Madden has adeptly taken advantage of his stardom to continue its run as the most talked-about video game on the planet.
And many brands, not just those within the gaming, can take a page of the “Madden” game’s marketing playbook.
With Jackson, in particular, the game’s marketers understand that marketing campaigns are not static but evolving. It’s necessary to build a campaign in real time. By updating player ratings, Madden enables fans to vicariously live the rise like Jackson himself in reality.
That adept marketing technique has helped Madden’s popularity grow. Real-time updates have seen the game earn regular social mentions during the NFL season. But all of that is emblematic of larger marketing trends we’ve seen — particularly as it pertains to social sponsorship. According to Sprinklr, Madden ranks 8th in “Content Insights” in the video game industry.
More holistically, as a player’s popularity grows, so too does the cost of endorsement deals with him or her. So, it’s often prudent for marketers to engage in deals with athletes before they become stars. And in 2020, the smartest brands aren’t engaging in one-time campaigns; instead building season-long programs.
Take Jackson. In his second year in the NFL, he began training camp as the starting quarterback. Still neophyte, whose skill-set was somewhat questioned at the NFL level, many were cautiously optimistic about his prospects with the Ravens.
He was far from a star at that point.
A brand that engaged in a marketing deal with Jackson would have gotten him at a bargain, given his quick ascension to stardom. Jackson is the fastest-growing player on social this season, having added about a million followers during the regular season. Any brand that began the season with him is now reaching more consumers — at a bargain rate.
Where Madden succeeds more than any other brand is by using its real-time ratings strategy as a marketing tool. Understanding that players comment about these ratings on social media allows them to leverage earned media in the same manner as paid social sponsorship.
Additionally Madden’s able to use the value of a player’s rise to stardom — as it did with Jackson — to help promote the game. Just as another brand could use that same concept to promote a product.
Still, the game has even more opportunity to capitalize on the fever surrounding Jackson. But game marketers would be smart to consider his personality.
Given the unfair advantage he may represent (depending on his rating), it would be wise to play that up in marketing materials given that so many people like to play with that “cheat code” player. I remember my disappointment when Michael Jordan’s retirement left him off NBA Jam on Nintendo 64.
People are going to be excited to play with Jackson when the next edition of the game comes out. And excitement is the best precursor for a successful marketing campaign.
In building that campaign moving forward, Madden should consider Jackson’s being humble, passive and one who defers to his supporting cast. Understand his personality is going to be critical to the brand’s Jackson-centric marketing efforts moving forward.
Under Amour’s marketing efforts, for example, represent a deep understanding of the personalities of their endorsers. Whether it be NBA star Steph Curry, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Brady or athlete-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the brand is able to play off the diverse personality types of its biggest stars.
The social capital of each of these athletes has helped the UnderAmour brand introduce new categories of performance wear. UnderArmour relied on Tom Brady, an athlete hellbent on utlizing cutting edge training methods, launch the brand’s recocery wear now deemed “UA Recover.”
The Rock launched his own personal brand under the UnderArmour banner. The professional actor turne A-list actor launched “Project Rock,” which furnishes clothing and tech geared toward the weekend Warrior.
Though in a different space, expect the Madden game to try and utilize its key NFL stars, including Jackson, to potentially launch or tout features of its newest edition.
Regardless, what Madden’s strategy around Jackson to date cement its status in the pantheon of great marketers in this country. They’ve adeptly utilized its marketing to appeal to the emotions gamers feel when they’re holding a controller.
And most important, they bring out the aspirational dreamer in all of us.
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