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Seeing former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka wearing a Green Bay Packers sweater and cheering, “Go, Pack!” is probably the last thing any football fan would have expected to see, but it happened thanks to an ad campaign for McDonald’s Game Time Gold peel-and-play sweepstakes. The series of ad spots also features former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice wearing a Cowboys shirt and former 49ers-turned-Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders sporting a 49ers-themed suit and tie. Rice’s appearance on his lawn in enemy uniform causes a 49ers fan passing by to cover his son’s eyes.

Ditka later clarifies in a follow-up spot that he would normally have “flattened” anyone suggesting he would ever be a Packers fan, but in order to win free fries he is willing to “take the pain.” The ad campaign generated additional buzz when newspapers suggested that Ditka’s donning of the Green and Gold may have cursed the Packers into losing the next two games following the airing of the ad. The viral success of the ad illustrates how tapping into the popularity of football can help publicize your promotions.

Reaching Your Team’s Fan Base

McDonald’s ad campaign succeeded in generating viral buzz because it tapped into several major team fan bases and rivalries at once. Football-themed promotions give you the leverage of engaging an established, engaged audience, associating your brand with the emotions fans attach to their teams and games. Dr. Pepper capitalized on this association at the beginning of this year’s college football season by bringing back Larry Culpepper, a concessionaire who wanders around stadiums talking about the college football playoffs, which he claims he invented. One ad spot in the series, “One of a Kind Tradition,” concludes with Culpepper testing a deflated football and telling a sideline judge that it needs more air. The ad has generated more than 1,671,000 views on Facebook, demonstrating the viral power of football fandom.

Creating Promotional Campaigns

There are several strategies you can use to bring football into your promotional campaigns. One is getting current or former players and coaches to appear in your ads or publicity events. For instance, retired Steelers quarterback and current FOX Sports football analyst Terry Bradshaw has appeared in ads for Merck warning consumers that if they don’t take action to prevent shingles, they will have to suffer the pain of watching 12 hours of highlights of his career.

Contests and giveaways such as McDonald’s Game Time Gold sweepstakes are another effective tactic. You can give away free tickets, memorabilia, chances to meet football celebrities, or other items of interest to football fans or general consumers.

Another strategy is giving away free information of interest to fans. Many local businesses hand out team schedules at the beginning of the season, customized with their company logo so that fans are reminded of their brand all season. The DISH Network adapted this strategy online at the beginning of this college football season by posting a schedule of major highlight games from each week.

Publicizing Your Campaign

To publicize your promotional campaigns, you can use a wide range of PR tactics. The most direct way to engage fans is by arranging for your promotions to be handed out at stadium points of entry or publicized during games. For instance, during each game at Lambeau Field, a different celebrity leads the crowd in a countdown to singing “Roll out the Barrel” on behalf of Miller Lite. Your brand can arrange for stadiums to distribute free gifts with your company logo, such as mugs, stadium seats, or stress reliever footballs.

To reach fans who aren’t at the game, the easiest method is to air local radio or TV ads during games. You can also use your social media pages to provide humorous commentary on games or mention your football-related offers. Using football themes for your business cards, direct mail postcards, and flyers are other ways you can reach out to football fans.