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Marketing and Comms
Play Your Part:
Activating on Purpose Key for Successful Engagement for Sports, Brands

The popularity of team sports in the U.S. — and the idolatry surrounding star players — makes them a perfect platform for reaching fans and encouraging behavior change on a massive scale. With 190 million fans expected to tune in on Sunday, the Super Bowl represents a unique opportunity to engage a large and somewhat unruly portion of the population to live and act more consciously.

Such is the hope of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, which has set out to make Super Bowl 50 “the most shared, participatory, and giving Super Bowl ever and to do so in a ‘Net Positive’ way that benefits the entire San Francisco Bay Area socially, environmentally and economically.” On Thursday, members of the Committee, along with a variety of participating stakeholders, discussed their strategy and their hopes for the future use of sports’ (and brands') power for good at a symposium on Purpose and the Power of Sports, from the heart of Super Bowl City in San Francisco.

The speakers all pointed to the exponentially higher impacts created when a deeper purpose is embedded into our actions - individuals, sports teams, brands or any organization — and the power of that to drive widespread positive change. Keynote speaker Jim Stengel — former Global Marketing Officer for Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies — used the example of Pampers, P&G’s biggest and worst-performing brand at the time, which turned things around when the brand team shifted its focus from the product’s functional benefits to its higher purpose — to enable children’s healthy development. P&G then partnered with UNICEF on an initiative to help promote the health, well-being and survival of kids around the world by fighting tetanus; throughout the 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine campaign, each Pampers purchase also purchased a tetanus vaccine for a child in an affected country. Pampers’ brand equity skyrocketed.

The bottom line, Stengel said, is that purpose energizes and inspires people, which benefits everyone: Purpose works across categories, products and business models – brands that activate a higher purpose in all that they do outperform and grow faster than their competition.

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Stengel ended with the question: What if every brand or event or organization aspired to be the most shared, participatory, most giving ever, as Super Bowl 50 has done?

A number of baseball, basketball and football teams alike have launched Initiatives aimed at eliminating waste at sporting events in recent years, but the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee wanted to go far beyond making sure fans threw their trash in the correct bins, and as Host Committee president Keith Bruce said, “setting a new bar for the way sustainability’s embedded throughout a global sports organization from beginning to end.”

The Play Your Part campaign, launched last month in collaboration with cause-marketing agencies in/PACT and Citizen Group, is encouraging fans to perform or pledge to perform actions such as taking public transit or riding their bike to the Big Game, using reusable water bottles, properly recycling waste, hosting sustainable Super Bowl parties, and helping to allocate the 50 Fund’s $200,000 Sustainable Environments Game Changer Grant to a short list of Bay Area environmental non-profits.

Two panels discussed purpose as a strategy for sports, and using the power of sports to engage fans and activate purpose.

“In this next decade, the opportunity for fan engagement is so rich,” said Citizen Group founder Robin Raj. “One example is a project that’s percolating right now, called ‘Mascots Forever.’ There was a meeting between NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB around this program, based on the observation that more than half of the professional sports teams have animals as their mascots, and half of those are threatened or endangered. So this kind of mobilization is in front of us right now - you create awareness, then you create engagement, then you create behavior change.”

“I think this is going to make a lasting impact and it’s going to change the way major sporting events happen in the future,” said Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss — official partner of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. “This is not a one-off – this becomes the new normal — and I think the challenge for the next Super Bowl committee is, how do you take on the great work that this team and everyone who’s been involved in this and take it to the next level? Once the circus leaves town, what happens next year?”

The fact that millennials and Generation Z are so much more in tune with social and environmental issues than previous generations could bode well for the success of the Host Committee’s sustainability strategy.

“Young people really do care about the planet, and I think it’s our responsibility to try to leave the world in a better place than it was when we inherited it,” Bergh said. “Purpose is a differentiator if you really get it right and people will choose your brand, choose your company if they know that you stand for the right thing.”

But the panelists agreed that activating on purpose is really where the rubber meets the road.

“You see brands that inspire the world with ideas. Very nice, but brands that bring behavior change suddenly start to grow far faster,” said Robert Schermers, of brand strategy firm Innate Motion. “People now want to contribute to what a brand does — they want to be part of a brand and contributing to making change. Looping back to the Super Bowl, people aren’t being talked to, they are part of everything — part of the community, part of the movement that we’re trying to create to make change happen.”

Will embedding purpose be enough to win over Super Bowl fans in a lasting way? It will be interesting to hear the results of the Host Committee’s sustainability efforts after the Big Game — and to see how (or if) future Host Committees continue to carry the torch.