In China, variety shows are widely seen as major competitors of sports properties in terms of attracting brands sponsorship.
This year, a variety show called Idol Producer flooded social media platforms in China. Launched by the Chinese video platform iQiyi.com, Idol Producer brings together 100 “trainees” from 87 overseas or domestic entertainment companies for a 4-month training program. During these four months, fans can vote for the trainee they support and the top nine highest-voted trainees will form a group and start their career as entertainment stars.
This voting system would bring an opportunity for fans to follow and support their idols from the very beginning of the trainees’ careers, strengthening the emotional connection between the two sides. However, when it comes to a business perspective, sponsors can find a lot of marketing opportunities in this system. The title sponsors of Idol Producer, Nongfu Spring, proved this method to be fruitful using their successful marketing campaign.
Nongfu Spring combined the voting opportunity with their latest vitamin drink, Victory Vitamin Water. When fans bought a carton (24 bottles) of Victory Vitamin Water, they would receive 48 votes for the Idol Producer. On March 24, on the eve of the show’s finals, fans could get 96 votes for each carton of the drink they bought.
The vote-attached drinks were only sold on Nongfu Spring’s official online store on Tmall.com at 10 am every day which triggered of panic buying by Idol Producer’s fans.
A fan told Entertainment Capital, a Chinese entertainment news website, that one day, she set the alarm clock for 10 am to remind her to buy the vote-attached drinks. She estimated she spent around CNY 300 (USD 47.7) on 3 cartons that day and several minutes later she found the drinks had been sold out. Entertainment Capital also reported that most of the fans did not like the flavor of the drinks but they still kept buying just for the votes.
This crazy purchasing forced Nongfu Spring to appeal the fans to “be rational on purchasing and celebrity worship”. But this marketing campaign still brought a lot to the brand’s sales. According to Entertainment Capital’s report on April 3, Victory Vitamin Water enjoyed almost a 500-times increase in sales.
As one of the criteria to measure the marketing ROI, the boosting of sales is highly important to the sponsors. In China, entertainment stars offer a greater appeal in swaying their fans to buy a product or service, hence the reason variety shows bring together stars as these shows have become competitive marketing destinations for brands. Then, what can sports marketing practitioners learn from entertainment marketing?
As we mentioned before, one of the keys triggers driving increased sponsors’ sales is the strengthened emotional connection between the fans and the trainees participating in the show. In Yutang’s opinion, this connection is brought together by the close interaction between the audience and programs. The voting system featured in Idol Producer is a good example.
Fortunately, some sports properties have also noticed this “secret” to engaging fans to act as part of the programs and not just only as an audience in front of the screen.
One of the best examples takes place in the NBA. Fans can decide which players can be selected for the NBA All-Star Game’s just by voting. What’s more, the league even introduced a voting system for the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. The individual winner was not decided by score cards but by fans voting the “Dunker of the Night”, with the format for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest that year between teams, East versus West conferences.
This example can also indicate a way for sports properties who wish to improve their marketing attractiveness. Although it is not realistic to let fans decide the results of a game, sports properties can design a lot of campaigns or systems to engage fans and let them feel like a part of these properties.
Finally, we believe that sports properties have their own advantages in terms of being marketing destinations for brands. Generally, sports properties have a more positive image which could mean a lower risk for sponsors. In fact, although it has attracted heated concern among fans, Idol Producer is involved in a plagiarizing controversy. In an official statement released by Mnet, the South Korean music channel, they claim that Idol Producer, is very similar in terms of program goals, format, audition method design, and layout to Mnet's 'Produce 101', causing a misunderstanding on media outlets for viewers.
“We want to say that Mnet did not take any part in the production or collaboration of iQiyi's 'Idol Producer'. 'Idol Producer' and 'Produce 101' are not related at all. We are disappointed about the IP violation aimed at Mnet," claimed Mnet.
Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick