A Customer Engagement Fantasy

Fantasy football has moved past being a football geek’s passion. Estimates of the number of fantasy football players run as high as 15 million. The interest in fantasy football is not lost on marketers looking to link their brands with fantasy games. A simple but unimaginative way to market through fantasy football is sponsoring a game by buying ad space on a game provider’s website. The exposure received on popular game portals at Yahoo and ESPN can be beneficial to a brand, but what if fantasy football players think about your product while they play? Better yet, what if they use your product while they play? Moving from exposure to engagement is desirable, but it is often a matter of easier said than done.

An example of how one brand is seeking to leverage fantasy football as a marketing platform is Papa John’s Pizza. The pizza restaurant is now the “Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL.” Buying sponsorship rights is the starting point for engaging fans; it gives sponsors the privilege to develop marketing programs that can be used to access the sport property’s audience. Papa John’s plans to reach passionate fantasy football players through at least two tactics. First, a beginning of season promotion invites consumers to register for a fantasy football draft party that includes Papa John’s food delivered by former NFL star and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter. Second, Papa John’s will run a contest in which fantasy football league commissioners will register their leagues to be judged on criteria still to be determined, with the winner receiving a trip to the real 2011 NFL Draft.

Marketing opportunities can be relatively easy to spot in a sense; after all, it is not a stretch to see the connection between eating pizza and watching football. The challenge is developing creative tactics that allows a brand to take advantage of the connection. In this case, if Papa John’s only bought advertising on a fantasy football game site it would be missing an opportunity to make more meaningful connections with fantasy football players.

The planned promotions that Papa John’s will use to target fantasy football players may not be lead to the outcomes envisioned. Communication of the promotions will be key to their success. Papa John’s is moving in the right direction by trying to tap into the interests of fantasy football players. And, the choice of Facebook as the platform for promoting the promotions is ideal because fantasy sports are a form of social networking themselves, so why not use a social network to connect with the target audience?

Be My Friend and I’ll Give You a Pizza

I don’t have the resources to give away things to have people become my friends on Facebook. Papa John’s Pizza, on the other hand, will gladly give you a free pizza if you become its friend on the popular social networking site. Facebook users who become a Friend of Papa John’s will receive a coupon good for a free medium cheese purchase with the purchase of a medium pizza. You have to act fast, though. The offer expires December 1.

What’s the motive? Perhaps it is competition as Pizza Hut has unveiled a Facebook application that enables users to order from Pizza Hut online without ever leaving Facebook. Online sales are a rapidly growing channel for both Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. The Papa John’s offer focuses on the online channel as the coupon is good only for online ordering. Or, maybe Papa John’s is doing what Cnet blogger Justin Yu claims: “bulking up skinny nerds.”

In either case, marketing on social networks is another example of exploring ways to reach customers where they are. This outreach has to be balanced against coming across as being intrusive. Or, in the case of Papa John’s, some people might be insulted to think that Papa John’s is trying to buy its friendship with a medium pizza. I’m not insulted; I for one will enjoy my free cheese pizza!