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Are the NBA Finals Becoming the New Super Bowl?

Whether it’s preseason, playoffs, the draft, or even the start of OTAs, the NFL has established itself as a 24/7/365 powerhouse that marketers and fans can’t escape. Of course, during the year one NFL event still reigns supreme as the biggest moment of the year for marketing: the Super Bowl.

In recent years, however, brands have found ways to utilize the hype of Super Bowl advertising without paying for a spot during the Big Game itself. Whether it’s buying airtime during the post-game show (Esurance 2014) or “previewing” Super Bowl spots (Audi 2017) in the weeks leading up to the game, advertisers are trying to ensure that their money goes further and their message doesn’t get lost in the crowd. With Super Bowl lifetime ad spend approaching five-billion dollars and the average cost of a thirty-second spot reaching five-million dollars in 2017 ($166,667 per second of commercial) [Ad Age Datacenter] is it time for brands to find other sporting tent poles and periods of interest to engage with fans and launch new work?

The NBA Finals could be just that. The Finals ad spend and viewership – no doubt in part due to the trilogy of enthralling Warriors vs. Cavaliers series – have again set new highs. Ad spend increased almost 10 percent between 2015 and 2016 compared to the ~ five percent increase in Super Bowl ad spend over the same timeframe [Kantar Media]. In addition, viewership of 2017 NBA Finals Game 3 was among the highest in the modern era [Forbes]. Given these developing trends (which we expect 2017 ad spend and total viewership to confirm) and the fact that search interest for the NBA Finals almost doubled between 2015 and 2017 (Google Trends), it’s no surprise that brands are latching on to the NBA Finals as an opportunity to tease and launch new work. In 2017 alone, brands such as Tidal, eBay, and even the new Spider-Man movie, all launched new work during a growing primetime event for advertising – The NBA Finals.

Here is a look at how these brands did it:

TIDAL + Sprint

In a style similar to Jay-Z’s Magna Carta album reveal in 2014, TIDAL (Jay Z’s artist-driven streaming service) teased a new project with cryptic web banners and outdoor billboards featuring the numbers “4:44.” The media and Twittersphere were a buzz with speculation around the project.

TIDAL decided to unveil the 4:44 project concept with an ad during Game 3 of the NBA Finals, giving fans a glimpse into an upcoming exclusive partnership with Sprint starring Mahershala Ali, Danny Glover, and Lupita Nyong’o. The short black and white trailer showed Ali sparring with his boxing coach (played by Glover). It was decidedly ominous and didn’t reveal much about the project, causing more online conversation.

On June 8, we finally got a clue into the partnership when Sprint revealed that beginning June 9, new and existing customers would receive six months of TIDAL HiFi for no charge. Through the promotion, customers will have access to exclusive content, livestreams, music videos and more.

We still have little information about the star-studded project, but if we know Jay-Z, it will be pretty epic.

eBay

Airing during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, eBay took on Amazon in their latest ad campaign. The spot itself asked online shoppers to get away from their traditional “beeeeeeeeeeige” shopping experience to a more colorful and passionate eBay experience. As the commercial goes on, it is clear that eBay wants to show consumers they can turn to eBay for self-expression. This is clearly the beginning of a larger brand story for the online retailer and we will be eagerly waiting to see what comes next.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Sony Pictures and ESPN CreativeWorks developed four new TV spots that ran during the NBA Finals. The spots showed Peter Parker/Spider-Man attempting to make an exclusive NBA Finals party hosted by Tony Stark/ Iron Man. The ads featured near real-time game highlights, giving them a uniquely live feel. The spots were reminiscent of Snicker’s attempt at a live TV spot during Super Bowl LI, which generated around 1.5 billion impressions.

Chelsea Real, Leah Staenberg, Meredythe DiVittorio of the Ogilvy Sports Network also reported and contributed to this piece. 

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