As one of the driving forces behind social media content creation and influencer strategy at Mars Wrigley Confectionary, Michael Italia is an expert at feeding fans’ appetite for authenticity. From contributing to the SNICKERS Hungerithm to satisfy cravings in real-time to collaborating with NASCAR driver Kyle Busch on a social-first fan sweepstakes, his digital strategies have helped some of the world’s most iconic candy brands connect with consumers in innovative ways.
Speaking with Hashtag Sports for a quick chat about M&M’S sports sponsorship strategy, Italia discusses ways the brand is entering emerging areas like esports to connect with consumers, how their NASCAR sponsorship is generating high ROI, and why agility and authenticity are critical components of an athlete-brand relationship.
M&M’S has teamed up with NASCAR and Kyle Busch on a campaign called #18n18 offering fans who use the hashtag the opportunity to have their name featured on Kyle’s car. How did the “connected fan” influence strategy behind the creation of this social-centric campaign?
All programs that support Mars Wrigley Confectionery brands are social by design, and programs that support our NASCAR sponsorship are no different. While we know that fans are using social to connect with M&M’S Racing and Kyle Busch, leveraging the #18n18 made so much sense due to Kyle Busch carrying the No. 18, obviously it being 2018, and then the incredible momentum that Kyle and the entire M&M’S Racing team has had this season.
With eight wins so far in 2018, asking fans to demonstrate their passion for M&M’S Racing and Kyle Busch with the simple hashtag and then incentivizing with some once-in-a-lifetime prizes that were tailored to exactly what NASCAR fans crave – access and recognition – made this a program that fired on all cylinders.
What fan feedback or response to the original reward (VIP meet-and-greet experience) from the first phase of the #18n18 campaign in July, if any, resulted in the fan reward changing the second time around?
Feedback and response to both phases of the promotion has been strong, with more than 10,000 uses of the #18n18 hashtag, and more than 3,500 entries thus far. We purposely rethought the prizing from the beginning of the promotion, knowing that we had the regular season and NASCAR Playoffs windows.
M&M’S Racing – and NASCAR fans in general – are incredibly driver and brand loyal, and are proud to show their support for their driver, with Kyle’s fans banding together under the banner of “Rowdy Nation,” a group of fans that are known for being very proud and vocal. The shift in prize allowed us to provide the access and recognition fans want in a scalable approach.
What’s a specific example of content or engagement from the #18n18 campaign that’s successfully helped M&M’S connect with the next generation of NASCAR fans coast-to-coast?
While the use of the hashtag and entries themselves have been exciting to see and very focused on M&M’S, we’ve been most excited to see instances where Kyle Busch himself has been active on Twitter and Facebook and actually commented on a fan entry. Think about how amazing that is for a fan of Kyle Busch and M&M’S – to actually have Kyle like, comment and add some words of encouragement to that fan’s original post.
How have key engagement metrics for the #18n18 campaign differed across social platforms?
The largest amount of mentions have come from Twitter, where we have seen over 10,000, while Instagram has seen around 1,000 entries. Even though Instagram has a much smaller number, we have seen some great photos from fans on Instagram showing how they are celebrating #18n18.
The largest waves of entries have been following a social post from Kyle, NASCAR or Joe Gibbs Racing, as fans are replying to and retweeting the posts.
Five years ago, Mars reported a 4 to 1 return on investment from your NASCAR partnership. Viewership of motorsports is now in decline, and the average age of NASCAR fans is on the rise. How are these trends impacting the partnership’s ROI?
All sports are suffering a loss of viewers, but we’re encouraged by how NASCAR fans (and the sport itself) has embraced social and digital to offset some of the traditional TV viewers, while also making the sport relevant to younger fans. Beyond #18n18, we’ve seen incredible success in our NASCAR program in 2018 alone, with more special paint schemes on the No. 18 including M&M’S Caramel, Flavor Vote and White Chocolate that promote our new products. These are in addition to the incredible success we’ve seen on track with Kyle Busch.
What’s another example of a way that M&M’S has activated a sports sponsorship across social or digital that over-indexed in ROI? How have you attempted to replicate those successful elements across new campaigns?
Sports sponsorship gives us a chance to create engaging and creative content where our brand is front and center.
Using social to engage a passionate fan base is also done with our SNICKERS Brand with their NFL and WWE partnerships, and we’re even going a level deeper on SNICKERS with esports like the sponsorships with FlyQuest and the Madden Franchise. This evolves the idea of digital and social activations beyond traditional sports and brings it to an emerging area where the activity actually takes place on digital and social platforms, allowing brands like SNICKERS a new, direct line to relevantly connect with its consumers based on their passions.
The M&M’S flagship website features NASCAR as one of one only four options on topline navigation (alongside no other sponsorships). How and why does M&M’S activate on traditional digital mediums (non-social) to ensure fan avidity for both the sport and the brand?
The NASCAR presence on M&M’S.com is an easy and efficient way to showcase the sponsorship, and provides a level of detail about the team and driver that is relevant to the M&M’S and M&M’S Racing “super fans” that we see visiting M&M’S.com.
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NASCAR has put greater emphasis on marketing its younger drivers to help reach younger fans. Kyle Busch publicly expressed his frustration with this. How does M&M’S navigate supporting one of the brand’s most established drivers and engaging his existing fan base while staying aligned with NASCAR in reaching and engaging a new generation of fans/consumers?
Our sponsorship in NASCAR includes being an official partner of the league as the Official Chocolate of NASCAR, which allows us to support the entire sport. We even send M&M’S Chocolate to every driver who wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Things like that allow us to build a relationship with other drivers and stakeholders and support the entire sport as it develops the next generation of drivers and fans.
What characteristics of an athlete or his/her social following will M&M’S look for moving forward when building on the success of the #18n18 campaign?
Agility and authenticity are two characteristics that are very important. #18n18 is authentic to M&M’S and all Kyle Busch and M&M’S fans, and we’ve been thrilled to see Kyle embrace this on his social channels. In addition, the agility comes into play as you look beyond a specific program like #18n18. Through his social channels, Kyle supports a wide variety of Mars Wrigley Confectionery products, programs, and platforms. We also have a great working relationship across all of our NASCAR partners and stakeholders to support our initiatives, which expands the channels, reach and ultimately the audience you reach with your message.
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