Companies can learn from the branding power of college sports

August 1, 2012 in The Work

Welcome to the blog of OBI Creative, an ad agency hard-wired for innovation. We know the rules of marketing inside and out because we’re always looking to rewrite them.


With thousands of colleges and universities anchoring cities and towns throughout the United States, why are the names of only a handful of academic institutions recognizable to everyday people? The answer is simple: branding. And especially the transcendent branding of major collegiate sports programs.

For example, let’s look at two schools: Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Both schools are household names, while one is synonymous with being an academic powerhouse that breeds successful entrepreneurs and future presidents, the other is synonymous with Wolverine football.

Being among the top five research universities in the U.S., Michigan’s academic programs have plenty of clout in their own right, with several Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winners (as well U.S. president Gerald Ford) as proud alums. Still, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Michigan is the the maize- and blue-wearing athletes of its storied football program.

Meanwhile, Harvard, a school with a football program nearly as old as the sport itself, has been off the map competitively with top tier programs for generations. And I bet you didn’t know they’re called the Crimson, did you?

While both schools are both incredibly valuable brands with storied traditions, one is celebrated for its athletics and the other its academics.

So what makes a collegiate sport brand so valuable?

Academics aside, there’s no doubt that top-tier collegiate sports brands are incredibly valuable. Michigan capitalizes on selling out its 100,000-plus seat Michigan Stadium, merchandise sales (where fans essentially pay Michigan to advertise for them), not to mention its other successful sports programs such as men’s basketball. It all adds up to about $90 million a year in revenue for the school.

Marketing guru Heidi Cohen shared some insight in an article she wrote in 2011, “What Marketers Can Learn About Branding from School Teams.”

According to Cohen, college brands are so successful because:

  • They have icons. Fans can rally behind mascots as well as popular athletes (think of superstar Michigan alum Tom Brady). Cohen notes the similarities of advertising-inspired icons like the Jolly Green Giant. We can add in Steve Jobs as an equivalent of Brady.
  • Team names that inspire. The fierceness of a Wolverine or, using another example, the power and strength of being a Florida Gator, lets fans become a part of something that is bigger than themselves. In the marketing world, Cohen notes, “At their best, iconic brands become synonymous with the product such as Kleenex or Xerox.”
  • College teams use distinct colors and athletes wear uniforms. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are famous for their “sea of red” at their home football games, where 85,000 fans all wear red in support of their team. And the players on the field are dressed to match. Companies can use the same trick to be just as memorable — think of how Coke uses the color red, so Pepsi uses the color blue, as Cohen notes, and FedEx and UPS have company uniforms that distinctly match each company’s individual colors.
  • Fight songs/cheers. Hearing Michigan’s “Hail to the Victors” fight song can send chills down opponents’ spines while at the same time rallying the Wolverines and their fans. It’s the equivalent of Oscar Mayer’s “The Wiener Song,” except Michigan’s fight song will never change — nor would their millions of fans stand for it. Maybe companies, who routinely change their branding every couple years, should take note.

What else can companies learn from the branding power of college sports? Let us know in the comments.

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The People: Kristin Jernstrom

July 16, 2012 in The People

Even though she’s already graduated, OBI Creative Account Manager Kristin Jernstrom will be going back to class this Summer. You see, Jernstrom is volunteering to help mentor fourth graders and assist teachers at a local elementary school in the Omaha metro area.

Jernstrom came to OBI eight months ago from Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a rock-chalkin’ journalism degree with a focus in strategic communications. After college, she moved to Kansas City to work for financial company Centerpoint Advisory Services as the Director of Communications and Marketing. While at Centerpoint, she communicated and strategized with clients on a daily basis, which more than prepared her for her position as Account Manager at OBI.

Jernstrom’s introduction to the digital world of marketing came through Intouch Solutions, where she worked on an account for Abbott Labs, marketing the drug Humira to physicians and patients.

She decided to make the move to Omaha last year to be near family and found a second home at OBI.

As an Account Manager at OBI, Jernstrom is the main contact for various clients where she makes sure that projects are meeting client expectations on a promised timeline. But that’s just part of her work at OBI. “You’re always brainstorming and thinking of new ideas. It’s a team effort. Everyone contributes,” she says. “What I like about OBI is the virtual philosophy. We take pride in working with other agencies.”

Being a marketing agency in Omaha, OBI is grounded in the center of the U.S. Even so, OBI has a global reach, working with clients from around the world. As such, Jernstrom has the opportunity to work on several local accounts as well as the account of a high-tech accessory manufacturer that has 45 offices worldwide and distribution in 145 countries. To boot, she’s also working with an IT consulting firm with 18 offices in eight countries.

The varied industries that OBI’s clients come from speak to the versatility of OBI’s marketing capabilities. Whether it’s for an international computer accessories manufacturer or for an electrical contractor in the Midwest, Jernstrom and the rest of the team at OBI successfully manage numerous marketing strategies every day.

Reflecting on her first eight months at OBI, Jernstrom says, “The people at OBI are awesome to work with. I couldn’t ask to be part of a better team and our work reflects that. Throughout my positions I’ve held in the marketing industry, OBI definitely feels like home and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for OBI.”

Jernstrom (second from left) at the College World Series in Omaha

Between her philanthropy and her career, Jernstrom still finds time to get out and unwind. She was recently at TD Ameritrade Park for the 2012 College World Series and will return to the downtown Omaha stadium soon to see Brad Paisley in concert. Jernstrom embraces all types of music, from hip-hop to country, and is hoping to attend Lollapalooza this August with a few friends.

All the while, she’s spending her downtime helping fourth graders garner the knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful later on in life. When working with children, it’s impossible to predict how exactly their futures will unfold, but the entrepreneurs, leaders and even presidents of the future are now under the watchful influence of caring individuals like Kristin Jernstrom, those who exemplify the positive attributes of leadership in all aspects of their lives.

Social marketing leader Starbucks dedicated to digital

June 18, 2012 in The Work

Last month Starbucks announced the creation of its first chief digital officer position. The CDO position is in charge of all of Starbuck’s digital projects — Web, mobile, social media, digital marketing, Starbucks Card and loyalty, e-commerce, Wi-Fi, Starbucks Digital Network and emerging in-store technologies.

The move to consolidate these digital initiatives into one category was significant, according to Venture Beat, because it signaled that Starbucks was “turning itself into a tech company.” This statement was a bit misleading, but Starbucks is considered by many to be a leader in social media marketing initiatives.

It launched My Starbucks Idea, essentially a crowd-sourcing Website, to allow customers to come up with new ideas for the company. That was in 2008, making Starbucks the second major company to implement such an initiative — the first was Dell’s IdeaStorm launched in 2007.

An early adopter of new social media platforms, Starbucks was on Twitter before it had even taken off in popularity. Today, Starbucks has 2.5 million followers on Twitter and 30 million likes on Facebook. The company was also quick to use Instagram and has posted 173 photos. Fans of Starbucks have posted 600,000 photos to Instagram with the hashtag #starbucks.

Starbucks currently has 18,000 stores in 58 countries and is relying on digital channels to help create even more growth for the company.

Starbucks’ first ever CDO Adam Brotman told Venture Beat, “Digital has to help our store partners and help the company be the way we can tell our story, build our brand, and have a relationship with our customers.”

OBI Creative’s Business Development Coordinator Jeff Price worked as a manager at Starbucks throughout college, and cited his experience there as having a large impact on his wanting to pursue a job in marketing. There’s a good reason why.

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