Inside Outback Steakhouse’s TikTok, Instagram strategy with its NIL athletes

The lead image shows a football player taking a selfie.

With an emphasis on social media content through TikTok and Instagram, Outback Steakhouse is returning with its TeamMATES NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) program for a second year to target Gen Z and older millennial college football fans.

The ambassador program, TeamMATES, was created last fall after restrictions prohibiting college athletes from being compensated for their names, images, likenesses, and other associated details were eased. This year, Outback signed 13 college football athletes to the program, two of which have sizable followings on TikTok. Athletic brands like Overtime, WWE and Adidas have launched similar programs.

The campaign aims to engage the brand’s current fan base and connect with the next generation with short-form video content. Of the 13 signees, Jon Seaton, a defensive lineman with 1.8M followers on TikTok and A.J. Henning, University of Michigan wide receiver and punt returner with over 340,000 TikTok followers, will be heavily featured on the brand’s TikTok and Instagram videos.

“We want to share content that is relatable and entertaining, which is optimal for this platform,” said Danielle Vona, CMO for Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse. “We leverage video content created through influencer partnerships and fans of Outback to drive interactions and views.”

The previous TeamMATES campaign signed eight athletes from spring baseball and softball athletes. According to Vona and data retrieved from Hootsuite, the campaign had over 231,000 social impressions and 34,300 social engagements. It also resulted in earned media worth $94 million, according to Vona.

It is unclear how much of Outback’s advertising budget is allocated to this campaign as Vona declined to share budget specifics. According to Pathmatics data, the brand spent a little over $8.4 million so far on advertising efforts in 2022, which is up from $6 million in 2021. Vona said that 100% of the ad spend went toward digital and the social media platforms Instagram and TikTok.

Using influencers’ social channel penetration, NIL has created an opportunity to reach a younger and older demographic with awareness and affinity. It is not a new idea, but it is a different way to take advantage of college athletes’ appeal to both young and old audiences. 

“NIL has the opportunity to reach an instant audience with both brand level awareness as well as local activation in market to drive customers to the restaurant,” said David Novak, senior partner and co-head of marketing and sales at Prophet, a growth strategy consulting firm. “It seems like a very good tie-in as college football is in full swing and these athletes have already built personas and audiences that match the core brand promise for Outback.”

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