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Pepsi and Verizon use giveaways ahead of the NFL season to court new consumers

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As the NFL season approaches, brands are stepping up their marketing efforts in anticipation of kickoff on Sept. 7. Brands including Verizon and PepsiCo are offering giveaways — handing out jerseys, NFL Sunday Ticket sports packages, and tickets to games — to engage with NFL fans and find potential customers among them.

The popularity of live sports has led brands to tie themselves to football in as many ways as possible. In order to attract followers and NFL fans to Verizon’s MyPlan service, which includes NFL’s Sunday Ticket sports package free of charge, Verizon is employing digital advertising on Instagram and Fantasy Football sites, while also making original content on Instagram.

Pepsi, meanwhile, is advertising giveaways of the number zero jersey via a contest. The number has not been used on NFL jerseys since 1972 as the league wanted numbers 1-19 to be reserved for kickers. (The NFL lifted the restriction earlier this year.) It’s yet another way to generate hype and buzz ahead of the season.

Verizon started shooting content in training camps across the league on July 26 to publish on its Instagram account as a reminder customers of its offering, said Kristin McHugh, svp of marketing and creative at Verizon. Each post from the company has had a call-to-action to subscribe to Verizon MyPlan and receive Sunday Ticket, which cost $449. Content is tailored to each team rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, which is similar to how the NFL teams announced their 2023-2024 season schedules.

“We wanted to launch at the time of training camps when everyone’s getting excited about the season and thinking about how they want to watch their favorite team,” she said. “So whether that’s fantasy football managers, people who want the access to all of the games, [or] avid NFL fans, getting access to this content is so important to them.”

As the NFL season gets closer, McHugh said Verizon will use TikTok and Meta’s Threads to showcase its content to gain followers on those platforms. The brand will post organically on Threads and will also run its 15-second ad on TikTok, boosting it with paid spend to get its followers to subscribe to MyPlan.

Verizon and the NFL started conversations about how to pitch Sunday Ticket after the Super Bowl. Verizon declined to share how many sign-ups its MyPlan has received as a result of the giveaway.

Meanwhile, Pepsi is taking the opportunity to market its Pepsi Zero line around the number zero, which NFL players can again wear. The brand is giving away 100 zero jerseys to fans ahead of the start of the season, as well as tickets to games of their choosing.

“Anything that we can do leading up to the season to get fans more excited about the season or excited about our brand and our products [is crucial],” said Melissa Duhaime, PepsiCo’s director of sports marketing, adding that the brand wants fans to “keep us top of mind so that when they’re planning their tailgates or their watch parties with friends,” they will consume PepsiCo products.

PepsiCo, Pepsi’s parent company, is running its promotion from Aug. 9 to Sept. 17 via X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram sponsored posts published on Pepsi’s accounts. Users that follow one of the accounts will be provided with links that take them to fill out an entry form.

Duhaime said the idea for the zero jersey sweepstakes hit when the Philadelphia Eagles published on social media that running back D’Andre Swift would wear zero on his jersey this year. “When we saw that, we were like, ‘This could be real and it’s something really great,’” she said. “When the owners meeting happened and the rule changed and players were able to wear number zero, we wanted to become the official ‘zero’ as this is an opportunity for us to showcase Pepsi Zero Sugar front and center with the NFL brand.”

Verizon and Pepsi aren’t alone in their efforts to appeal to consumers via professional pigskin this year. Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, agencies are advising clients to focus on live sports and reality TV this fall, and the expectation is more brands will look to align themselves across the various leagues and sports while the strike lasts.

It is unclear how much Verizon and Pepsi spent on their respective campaigns, as both brands declined to share exact figures. According to Vivvix, including paid social data from Pathmatics, Pepsi spent more than $260 million so far this year on advertising — it spent $940 million in 2022. Furthermore, Sensor Tower data indicated Verizon shifted ad spend from X to TikTok in January, increasing U.S. ad spend on TikTok while decreasing spend on X during the same period.

According to Stefan Hajek, executive creative director of the creative agency Designit, Verizon and Pepsi have gone out of their way to attract different audiences as a long-term way to engage with them weeks instead of day ahead with these giveaways.

“Brands are realizing they need to provide real value to customers, and Verizon’s play with the NFL Sunday Ticket is right up this alley,” said Hajek. Regarding Pepsi, he added, “There’s something novel about being part of a moment in history, so the jersey giveaway is a good way to mark it … It will be interesting to see whether the zero jerseys will become a bit of a viral moment that catches hold.”

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