Blog / November 7, 2016

What do the Cubs, Viagra and Snapchat Have to Do with Marketing?

By Jeff Fagel

Sports and marketing go hand-hand.

Each have a long, storied history, often intertwined through the biggest sporting events of the year, including the World Series. When it comes to America’s pastime, we could learn a lot about the future of marketing through the lens of—what is now—a historic Wednesday night that bled into Thursday morning. Forty million people watched game 7 of the Cubs vs. Indians World Series on Fox—the highest ratings of any baseball game in the past 25 years and roughly 33 percent more viewers than this year’s Sunday night audience for the NBA finals, which was the most-watched since 1998.

As a Chicago resident and lifelong Cubs fan, seeing the Cubs take home the World Series title for the first time since 1908 is the highlight of my Chicago sports fandom experience. It’s better than the ‘85 Chicago Bears, six Bulls championships and three modern-era Blackhawks Stanley Cups—combined—because this win is the culmination of hundreds of games I watched on TV, cheered for at Wrigley Field and played as a kid trying to emulate the Chicago greats like Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg.

I’m a Cubs fan, but I’m also a marketer. The dream and drama of a Cubs World Series victory is a microcosm that highlights the ills and future of marketing. With a 30-second commercial reportedly costing $500,000 for game 7, the advertising stakes were high.

What can marketers learn from this year’s World Series? Here are three marketing observations drawn directly from the Cubs’ win.

Traditional TV advertising will go the way of newspaper classifieds, Vine and the Ivy at Wrigley Field

What’s worse than sitting through a stream of TV advertising during 4-hour live TV events? If I had to choose between eating 20 hot dogs in 20 minutes (Chicago style, of course) and sitting through 4 hours of commercials, I might choose the hot dogs because at the very least, it’s less time and a solid source of protein. (As a sidenote, this year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest where Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 70 hotdogs in 10 minutes was streamed on ESPN.com live.)

Across seven World Series games, fans had to sit through endless ads that ranged from Fox’s promotion of Skip Bayless’ abysmal Undisputed show to a litany of pharmaceutical ads promoting drugs for everything from sexual dysfunction to COPD. There is no way these ads were relevant to even a good portion of the 40 million viewers, which shines a light on the inefficiencies and waste of linear TV advertising.  

 

world-series-twitter-commercials
World Series viewers took to Twitter to express their disappointment in the types of advertising being shown during the game.

If we can make self-driving cars and put a man on the moon, why can’t we make TV advertising more relevant for specific audiences? The World Series, yet again, highlighted why Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV have seen immense growth. Traditional TV is still holding on to an outdated advertising model. It made me yearn for a fast-forward button, but we were stuck in an advertising jail, being fed a steady stream of cold mashed potatoes and frozen peas—or 70 hot dogs.

Snapchat shines as the new live social video leader

A few short years ago the leader of live events, uprisings and news went to Twitter, but with user slow-down and more attention on Trump tirades and “events” like Weinergate, Snapchat has thrived with its Live Stories feed for events currently happening and specific locations. The platform has emerged as a social media leader in its ability to string together various points of view (all user-generated content) and tell a compelling story through photos and video in a better and more authentic way than news outlets ever could. As a Cubs fan not in Chicago at the time of the World Series win, I could watch the many snaps from everyone in Chicago celebrating in the aftermath through the ‘Stories’ feed.

 

Although the main Snapchat audience skews young, more than 50 percent of its users are over the age of 25. Major media players like ESPN and the Wall Street Journal are taking note and delivering content that supplements the raw, spur-of-the-moment-driven photos and videos that the platform is known for.

Where Facebook focus continues to cultivate a “look at me” feel, Snapchat stories shift the focus from “me” to ‘we” where the collective story—in this case, a team of stories about the World Series and the Cubs win—trumps the focus on the individual. If you haven’t downloaded Snapchat and checked out the stories feature, you’re missing out.

Any brand can reinvent themselves

The Cubs have been the embodiment of the lovable losers, while endearing and historical, it has become a losing identity they couldn’t seem to shake for a hundred years. Along the way, that identity began to take a life of its own, taking on the Billy Goat Curse, Harry Caray’s persona and the Steve Bartman incident (yes, it has its own Wikipedia page). All of these things shape the persona of the Cubs.

Even Wrigley Field has its own persona. Coined the “Friendly Confines” whether that is through typical Midwestern pleasantries or that opposing teams never had much to fear at the stadium, it was a part of the Cubs’ losing mentality in that it didn’t convey a killer instinct. It was a friendly place for spectators and opponents, contributing to the “lovable loser” persona.  

cubs-world-series
 

Then, in 2011, Theo Epstein joined the Cubs as the president of baseball operations after breaking the Boston Red Sox’ losing curse. He had a plan, rebuilt the personnel from the front office to the feeder teams and shifted the attitude of the entire organization from the ground up. Joe Maddon was hired as the team manager, bringing the Cubs through an impressive run to the National League championship series in 2015 but ultimately losing.

On day one of the 2016 season, he challenged the team to “embrace the target” and shake free of the lovable mentality and take on the leadership persona. He told a mixed team of veterans and youngsters to drop the “lovable losers” moniker and become a team of champions. Charting the course allowed them to believe in themselves and rebuild their brand along the way.  

What does all this say about the future of marketing?

More relevant TV advertising can’t come soon enough. I’m fine with ads, but the content and messaging should be relevant to individual viewers, which is possible with addressable TV advertising. Broad reach with only one creative execution is an outdated model; personalization and a more concerted effort on creative will be even more important for engaging digital markets.

Brands can and should push the envelope with emerging channels. New video-first social platforms like Snapchat are changing the boundaries of access and information in a way we haven’t seen since the prominence of Twitter, and it will be interesting to see where it lands.

Most importantly, if the biggest losers in baseball can win the World Series, any brand can reinvent themselves.

Jeff Fagel

More about the author

Jeff Fagel Chief Marketing Officer
 

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