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November 12, 2019

On Black Cats and Beer: Golden Marketing Moments from Sports

Written by Don Scales
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The NFL pours a lot of money and effort into sculpting its own brand narrative through digital. And yet one of the most powerful moments of the 2019 season came from a completely unexpected source beyond the control of the league: a black cat scampering across a football field during a Monday Night Football Game.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, I’ll bet you’ve heard about the black cat. On November 4, during a nationally televised game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, a feral black cat ran on to the field from out of nowhere, pranced its way to the end zone, and eluded the grasp of stadium security before disappearing.

You can predict what happened next.

Social media fell in love with the cat, with the twitterverse leading the way. Viewers created content such as memes and posted them on Twitter almost instantly. From there, the black cat became a viral sensation, trending on socials for days.

Then mainstream news media extended the story, with some outlets turning a brief moment into a broader discussion about feral cats.

black-cat-message-nfl

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a moment that lasted only seconds. And yet, as of this writing, the story was still very much alive because the cat had not been found, creating a captivating mystery that may have no answer.

The Dallas Cowboys Create a Marketing Moment

For the most part, the NFL has left the black cat incident alone, instead leaving it up to fans and news media to spread the word. And who can blame the NFL? The league is reaping a gold mine of media impressions each time someone replays a video of the black cat on their socials or a publication such as The New York Times covers it. And the NFL doesn’t need to lift a finger.

One notable exception: the Dallas Cowboys. On November 10, the team announced the black cat as its starting quarterback. The team lost the game but won over social media and generated news media coverage as well. Nicely played, Cowboys.

Always Save the Beers

The black cat isn’t the only viral sensation from the sports world in recent weeks. During the World Series, in another one of those right-place-right-time moments, a fan standing in the grandstands pulled off a miraculous play worthy of Mookie Betts or Bryce Harper. While holding cans of Bud Light in both hands, he allowed a home run ball to ricochet off his chest and then retrieved the ball without spilling a drop of beer.

Now that takes skill.

Once again, the internet caught fire. The fan, Jeff Adams, became a folk hero. Here was a man who showed his priorities on national TV! This time, the reaction was a bit different: a brand jumped all over the moment. Bud Light quickly seized the opportunity. The company featured Jeff Adams’s seconds of glory on Twitter. Then Bud Light paid for Adams to attend Game 6 of the World Series in Houston wearing an “Always Save the Beers” T shirt that Bud Light created. All told, Bud Light got more than $8 million in ad value.

Well done, Bud Light.

Lessons Learned

By now many businesses have learned how to capitalize on real-time marketing moments. What I appreciate about the black cat and “Always Save the Beers” is how brands are extending the moment beyond real time.

Bud Light especially deserves kudos for its quick thinking. Not every brand can move as quickly as Bud Light did to create real-time content during an event that the world is watching. But what’s especially impressive is how Bud Light then created more content well beyond the moment, lasting into the end of the World Series. And treating a fan to a game? Brilliant call.

The Dallas Cowboys may not have been as opportunistic as Bud Light, but the team showed a sense of humor by owning the black cat moment. Announcing the black cat as the starting quarterback actually took some guts given the superstitions about black cats that pervade fan culture – especially since the team lost after making the announcement.

Finally, both the Cowboys and Bud Light leveraged digital to tell stories about their brands. Bud Light told its brand story through the lens of a passionate fan. The Dallas Cowboys elevated the black cat to a courageous superhero.

Great brands turn moments into stories.

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