It’s no secret that almost every significant advertising campaign in recent years has sought to find a way to make their campaigns resonate in a way never before seen in the history of marketing. With internet memes growing increasingly popular, and the average viewer establishing the technical sophistication necessary to make parodies and tributes to advertising, there is a whole new market for advertisers. There have been memorable campaigns throughout television advertising, and many of them have spawned their own replications throughout the internet world.
Until recently the NHL has not been entirely successful at capitalizing on this market. On a conference call with Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of Marketing for the NHL this morning, he re-iterated some of the points that many casual observers have noticed. The average NHL fan tends to be more highly educated, and more tech savvy than the average fan from one of the other major sports leagues. This means there is a unique ability to capture the internet scene and create major coverage in a way that helps compensate for the sometimes infuriating lack of hockey coverage on mainstream television (I’m looking at you ESPN).
The most recent campaign that the NHL has established is the “History Will Be Made” campaign. The campaign, if you haven’t seen it, focused on looking at pivotal moments in playoff history and asking the fans, “What if this had never occurred?” Obviously it’s a difficult question to answer, but it speaks to the absurdly compelling nature of playoff hockey. For example, below is the advertisement that Brian Jennings explained was at the heart of the campaign. Bobby Orr’s iconic “flight” through mid-air is as impressive a sporting moment as has been seen. The advertisement provides a visually interesting look as the moment is played in reverse, and the question is asked, “What if Bobby didn’t fly?” There is no voiceover, no special effects, nothing flashy, just a insightful question to spark the imagination of the viewer. If you haven’t seen that ad, check it out now:
The advertisement is very interesting, and sets itself up perfectly to be integrated into countless youtube videos and spread far and wide on the internet. As Jennings points out, many teams have already created their own, team specific ads, and play them in their arenas. A search on youtube turns up over 1,000 different videos. Some of them are special moments, some are tributes to specific players. And of course some of them are more… negative in their tilt. But regardless, the ferocity of the fans comes through in the videos.
One of the more painful of the videos (for me) is the “tribute” to Marty McSorley’s devastating penalty in the 1993 series:
It almost brings tears to my eyes, but the simplicity of the ad, even when being critical of a player or a team is at the heart of the power of this campaign. It’s a simple format, and the ease of replication (no need for a false voice over, or fancy technology) makes it a piece of cake for anyone to whip one out.
So where is NHL Marketing heading in the future? According to Jennings, recent campaigns have focused on solidifying and strengthening the die-hard support. It’s a reasonable strategy, to cement the gains they have established before trying to overreach. Future advertising campaigns are likely to focus on bring the more casual viewers into the fold. There’s no question in my mind that a presence on ESPN and other such outlets would be helpful in this regard, but the marketing team seems to have some good ideas.
I certainly applaud them for the effort they have made to reach out to bloggers across the internet. Recognizing that next generation and “alternative” media is the wave of the future can only help the NHL. Heck, as people gravitate more toward internet media and away from traditional sources, there is real potential to gain market share in the crowded field of professional sports. As somebody who has been a die-hard fan of the game, I can say that nothing will convert a fan to hockey faster than taking them to see a game. But the NHL Marketing department is certainly doing their level best to get those first-time fans to their first game.