ESPN CreativeWorks to Produce More Original Fare in 2017

By View from the Grandstand Archives
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With consumer marketing responsibilities moving under the aegis of ESPN CreativeWorks, 2016 was a very busy year for the unit that creates solutions connecting brands with talent and athletes across the sports programmer's myriad holdings. All told, ESPN CreativeWorks delivered 17 movie studio campaigns, 100 digital programs and over 70 custom campaigns, featuring 10-, 15- and 30-second spots and branded content pieces, including 23 mini-mercials, 23 co-branded spots and 44 branded content pieces. Clients have cut across such categories.

Among the categories ESPN CreativeWorks engaged with in 2016 were auto (Ford, Nissan, Chevrolet), apparel (Dickie's, Levi's), packaged goods (Speed Stick, Degree), beverages (Heineken, Dr. Pepper, Dos Equis, Coors Light), restaurants and food (Taco Bell, Dominos, Applebee's, Buffalo Wild Wings and Reese's), and financial and insurance services (Fidelity, Regions Bank and Nationwide). 

The group also continued to add more custom set integrations that leverage the new SportsCenter set, providing new ways to incorporate clients within ESPN: 350 for 69 clients, representing a 25% year-over-year increase.

Carrie Brzezinski, who is responsible for leading ESPN CreativeWorks on a daily basis as Vice President of Marketing Solutions, discussed a couple of notable efforts from last year, starting with Chevrolet’s “Saturday Selection” element that is driven by Lee Corso making game/mascot selections on College GameDay.

Brzezinski said ESPN CreativeWorks looked to "amplify" the automaker's position by developing "a campaign celebrating the idea of making decisions around different features of the car.

"We created five different pieces so they wouldn't wear out," she added.

Additionally, the initiative also tied in the vehicle's navigation capabilities by pointing to where GameDay would decamp next, a decision that is made on a week-to-week basis.

In some cases ESPN CreativeWorks has become a client's de facto sports agency, something that occurs frequently with theatricals. "We've done a lot of work with great trailers and work to get deep down with our audience for new releases," Brzezinski said. Case in point: the filming of segments with Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Walt Frazier and Spike Lee in support of Sony Corp.'s Ghostbusters last summer.

Brzezinski said ESPN CreativeWorks developed different strategies ahead of the Ghostbusters shoot in "working with Melo, Kobe and the guys. We're really moving away from pushing a 30-second spot into all environments. You can't put a square peg into a round hole. You need to have creative for TV, Snapchat, social and digital; pre- and post-roll for video and print alike," she explained. 

To that end, Senior Vice President of Marketing Solutions Sean Hanrahan said ESPN CreativeWorks is also contributing to the company's LiveConnect product, which was introduced at ESPN's Upfront in May and considers the emotional state of fans to determine which advertising will resonate best in the moment. LiveConnect utilizes data and marries it with the live sports environment, with ESPN working with clients to create a variety of messages based upon the outcomes in live games and highlights and a fan's anticipated emotional state.

Hanrahan said ESPN CreativeWorks has been engaged with about 10 of these initiatives to date. "It takes a breadth of creative and it's difficult for the client turn it around that quickly," he said. "There is a lot of heavy lifting with a plethora of spots." Gatorade and Allstate have "seen significant lifts," he added. "It's just more effective."

Brzezinski said ESPN CreativeWorks is spending a lot of time these days around story-telling, called "streaks."

"I don't use the word series because that immediately suggests TV and this could live anywhere," she said. "We're really looking to play up the E -- the entertainment value -- in ESPN. We're working with our current talent, scripting for them and looking to build with partners. It can be branded contests. It can be thematic. It could be product-based. It could even be for LiveConnect."

Distribution is as important as fun concepts, she said. "We don't want something to just die in one hub. We're thinking about a plan that encompasses the entire 'streak' in Watch ESPN, parts on, and perhaps Facebook Live on ESPN and through Periscope, so users can interact."

Brzezinski noted that with continuing advances in technology and data, "the way we think about distribution really allows us to go beyond just the nuggets of creative ideas and to be a real resource in consultative ways to our clients."

Hanrahan acknowledged that media companies, particularly those who trade largely in video, are claiming they have branded-content capabilities. But not surprisingly, "we think we do this better than anyone in terms of the depth and breadth of the work," he said, with clients regularly returning based on strong measurement metrics and "clients telling us how effectively we are in meeting their KPIs."

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