Social Wins From Gators Football

The college football season is always filled with creative and social inspiration. Every year, without fail, football programs raise the bar with their graphics, their hype and their content strategy. This year has been no exception.

The Florida Gators are a program that has burst onto the scene this year and have consistently delivered. From their amazing visual identity to their videos made for the platforms, the Gators are a program that should be on your radar for inspiration. Below are a few takeaways and curated examples:

Visual identity only they can own.

It’s important that teams put in the effort to define a visual identity in today’s crowded space. It makes content stand out above the crowd and eventually because recognizable for fans.

The Florida Gators not only created a visual identity, but they created one that only they can own. In their design, they leverage the teeth from their Gator logo as a consistent element throughout all their graphics. The use of the teeth is a distinction unique to them. Combine that with their bright colors and strong composition and the result is a strikingly sharp and eye-catching graphics package.

Videos made for social.

The Gators have stepped up their video game. They leverage everything from powerful emotion, inside access and their own game footage to provide access and content for fans. Each piece serves a unique purpose and they are extremely thoughtful about the creative execution.

It’s hard to pick out one thing they’re doing well across video because it’s all so engaging. So, take a look at their vast portfolio and get inspired.

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Just the B E G I N N I N G 🚫🧢

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Original reaction GIFS/content.

There is a big debate in the social and sports world about pop culture GIFS and memes. To share or not share? I’m a big believer that teams and brands should lean away from content that isn’t unique to their brand, and instead, work to create original content that evokes the right reaction and emotion.

It’s not easy to create content that is relatable for the moment. It’s a creative exercise that takes time and the desire to test and learn.

The Florida Gators have had some strong moments where they created content that taps into the emotion of the moment, whether it’s humor or hype. The below are good examples of how original content can win in the moment and still evoke the right type of emotion.

If you’re interested more on the topic of pop culture GIFS and memes, check out this post here.

Intentional execution.

As mentioned briefly, the Gators focus on their creative execution and doing it right. They design intentionally and with the platforms in mind. The details and nuances matter. A great example of this  is their “win tweet” execution, where they leverage four photos to form one larger graphic on mobile (and if you aren’t on mobile still looks sharp).

The Gators also do a fantastic job creating for the six-second loop feature on Twitter. They can tell a story in less than six seconds. And, they know the type of content that’s so memorizing you want to watch it on loop forever. Below are a few examples.

The bottom line is this: Concepts are important, but how we package and execute is also key. Leverage every platform’s different strengths to create content that is eye-catching, engaging and unique to the platform.


If the Gators FB social (and the athletic department in general) are not on your radar, it’s time to put them there. From their strong visual identity to their intentional creative executions, they’ve found a way to shine and capture the attention of their fans.  Follow them here: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What other college football programs have caught your eye this season? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

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Leadership Huddle With Harry Arnett, Callaway Golf

It’s time for the fourth installment of Leadership Huddle, a series on the blog where leaders in sport and beyond offer perspective on digital today. Some of the guests work directly in digital while others are leaders outside of the space (but get the work and advocate for it).

This installment of the Leadership Huddle features Harry Arnett, the CMO at Callaway Golf. Arnett has been at Callaway for more than six years. In his role his serves as the SVP of Marketing for Callaway Golf and the President of Ogio. Before arriving at Callaway, Arnett worked at TaylorMade – adidas Golf and Russell Athletic.

Arnett is a true advocate for the digital space. He has built a culture where digital and content is priority, ideas flow freely and brand fandom is encouraged. If you follow Callaway Golf on social, that probably comes as no surprise. They’re innovative, engaging and one of the best follows in sports. Below is the Q&A. I hope you enjoy the perspective and insights.

It’s evident that Callaway has invested heavily in digital, content & innovation as core to its business. What was the catalyst for going “all in”?

Ultimately, we want to be wherever the consumer is and obviously with so much technology being available for connectivity, we felt that being dedicated to feeding peoples’ needs to curate their brand experiences was the right way to go. That meant behaving more like a media entity with daily engagement and round the clock content than it did functioning like a traditional OEM or consumer products brand.

I’ve seen social be attributed as part of the formula for success of Callaway’s Growth. Clearly, you all have a mature approach to digital. What are the keys to building a strong strategy that maps back to business?

The key is to not treat social in a silo or separate from the brand, but instead, as an integral and vital part of consumer engagement. We put social engagement as a starting point for all of our brand activities, even leading with it.

We view availability and accessibility to our brand as a way to directly interact with our fans rather than relying solely on traditional media. We let what was happening in real time via social media inform the rest of our brand and marketing activities. It gave us a freshness and currency that has created a noticeable and needed energy for our brand.

A lot of organizations struggle with the fact that organic social/content does not always have a direct tie to revenue. What role do you think organic social and content play in the business? And, how can teams think more strategically about its value?

We want to be top of mind for consumers at all times, not just when they are further down the purchase funnel. So constantly engaging via social media is a major part of that strategy so that people look at us more than just a transactional or only think of us occasionally.

In our context, that means getting golfers specifically to be thinking of Callaway as a valuable partner in their entire golf experience, Monday through Sunday, not just on the weekends when they are playing or on an even more infrequent basis. From that standpoint, strategically, thinking broadly about how your brand might fit into a larger frame of reference for a current user or a potential user can carve out interesting opportunities that maybe don’t have as much competition. In our case, that was definitely a white space in our competitive landscape.

You seem to be an extremely engaged CMO, even actively participating in live shows, podcasts, etc. Why is it important for you to be so engaged at this level?

We think it’s important for consumers to appreciate that these are real people working on our brands, making our products, teaching them the game, and working around the clock to deliver a unique experience for them. I love that interaction with people who like our brand and our company. It’s really important for me personally to know that my job is truly to be of service to them.

Many social and digital teams report into leadership who is not as engaged (and have never done the work). For teams whose leadership is not as engaged, what advice do you have on educating and getting buy-in?

Find a way to let the leadership be a part of it. That can be as simple as reviewing all the activities within the function on a regular basis or even allowing them to be integrated with the content. Understand that a lot of what happens in social media is an abstraction to people who traditionally work in very concrete terms. So,  making abstractions concrete is really important.

An example of that would be to not necessarily talk about brand impressions, but more about the audience you’re reaching and the engagement that audience has with your ad messaging. In this sense, ad messaging is your social media executions.

What have you learned about setting digital/content teams up for success?

First thing, be fanatical about the type of environment you want to create. Ultimately, for social to be effective, you have to have an organization that welcomes the freewheeling and ever-changing dynamics within the social sphere. And not only to embrace it but to actually thrive creatively within it.

You have to let people have the freedom to experiment with the brand executions. And of course, to do that, everyone who touches the platforms and the end consumer has to know and love the brand more than anyone.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for digital in organizations today? And, how can teams work to offset these challenges?

It’s dealing with the relationships the brand has with consumers in an environment where the rate of change in digital is entirely too fast to try to predict. And, it all unfolds transparently because of the interconnectivity of all the stakeholders.

Finally, what excites you most about the future of digital and business?

It’s a playing field where creativity is rewarded much more than getting it perfect. So personally, it’s awesome to wake up every day and be around the most creative people doing work they love. That’s a nice place for a brand to be.

A big thank you to Harry Arnett for his time and perspective. Connect with him: LinkedIn and Twitter. And, be sure to follow the Callaway Golf across digital for some great inspiration.

If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to read the others from this series: Eric SanInocencio, Graham Neff and Brendan Hannan.

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Let’s Talk Humor, GIFS and Memes

There’s a philosophical debate among those who work in social. And, it’s a debate that’s fiercely divided. To pop culture GIF or not?

GIFS, humor and memes have taken over the internet. Everywhere you look there’s a cat meme or GIF from The Office that’s already been used a million times. People use them. Brands use them. Teams use them. You get the point … everyone uses them.  And, it’s time to pause and ask a serious question. Should we be leaning so much into content and moments that are not our own?

I understand the case for teams or brands to use pop culture GIFS and memes. They are funny, relatable and often engaging. But every time I put on my brand hat I go back this: They aren’t ownable or related to most brands in any way.
And because I firmly believe in “wearing the brand hat” (yes, sometimes too much), I’m not a huge fan of leaning heavily into pop culture GIFS and memes. Here’s why: 

Brand > winning the internet.
If you work in social, your job isn’t just to “win the internet”. Your job is to bring the brand to life AND capture the attention of the internet. Literally, any brand can share a pop culture GIF and generate engagement.  It’s our jobs to figure out how we can engage fans in a way that’s relevant AND right for our brand. 

It’s unoriginal.
In a similar vein, a brand isn’t built by joining a sea of sameness. Great brands are built through a unique value proposition, a sharp point and original thinking.  The brands that win are original, authentic and true to their core. They deliver content that is fresh, new & something only they can own.

Pop culture memes and GIFS aren’t unique; they’re accessible for all to use. As @CodySharrett eloquently put it, “they are the antithesis of creativity”. Teams and brands, be original. 

Opportunity lost.
If you’re promoting Michael Scott GIFS then you are most likely losing an opportunity to promote a player or the brand. 

Social media is the front door to brands today. We should do everything we can to leverage moments to elevate it (the brand or our players). Why waste an opportunity to promote your team and brand with something that literally anyone has access to, like a pop culture meme?

Alienates your audience.
Pop culture GIFS/memes can alienate your audience. They also lend themselves to personal biases (as we are more likely to share what we think is funny and clever). If you didn’t grow up in the 90s or aren’t a Stars Wars fan, then you won’t care about that content even if it’s from your favorite team. It’s all relative.

You don’t know for sure if your fans relate to Seinfeld, but you DO know that they relate to your team. Why push out content that is unoriginal and has nothing to do with your team when you can invest energy in building your own content and unique voice?

So, what’s the solution? How can teams be relatable on the internet while still putting their brand first?

Always remember the big picture.
Humor, GIFS and memes that are relevant to the brand can be a great way to build a relationship with fans. There’s a place for it, but just remember, it’s part of a much larger picture. Our success is not defined by one or two tweets; it’s the totality of everything. At the end of the day, it’s our job to drive back to business goals. 

Put the brand strategy to paper.
To figure out where humor, GIFS and memes fit into the overall picture, but your brand strategy to paper. Too often social media is a wild, wild west and the brand voice does not actually reflect the organization. If your brand voice on social doesn’t match what you would put on a billboard, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

A strong brand strategy will set your team apart from the rest.  And, it helps combat the wild, wild, west. It becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t. Stick to what was defined. Make sure you focus on your own, unique thing. Humor, GIFS and memes can be a part of our presence but it’s not the only thing.

Every team and league should put their brand strategy to paper. Define your values. Stat the goals. Understand what makes the brand unique. Know your consumer. Create a personae. Once the brand architecture is in place, that’s your guiding light. All the work, whether it’s social or a more traditional marketing channel, should ladder back up to it.

Think about the sweet spot.
Putting the brand strategy to paper helps teams understand what the right tone of voice is on social channels. And, once you know what your brand stands for, it’s time for the fun work.

Social media is supposed to be fun. It does not need to be serious all the time. I’m not saying brands and teams shouldn’t activate pop culture GIFS because they can’t let loose a little bit. The problem is they are completely unoriginal and unrelated to most brands/teams.

It’s our jobs to figure out how accounts can be relatable, funny, engaging (or whatever the tone is) while making sure the content is still relevant to the brand.  Great creative work is able to stay in a box while getting the tone and message across. It’s the sweet spot.

The best work connects all the dots between your brand, your fans and what’s relatable. It’s also about the right content, right context and right delivery.  Take the time to understand what this means for your brand/team.

Plan, plan, plan.
Teams and brands can be relatable, funny, quirky, intense and evoke all sorts of emotion while still being original. It simply takes planning. And, lots of it.

Let’s take reaction GIFS. A lot of teams leverage pop culture GIFS in moments when they want to evoke a certain emotion. Well, you can still do that in a way that’s ownable. When you’re planning your content before each season, write down a list of all the emotions you might tap into. Think about your favorite pop culture/reaction GIFS. Storyboard out how you can bring those emotions to life in your own unique way.  Then, recruit players or content creators (if you are doing something like illustrations) to make them happen.

With planning and focus, you can create original content that reflects the brand and still very much resonates with fans. Put in the extra effort. It’s worth it.

Let creators work their magic.  
Creating content that evokes an emotion or plays into a pop culture moment, while staying in the brand box, is hard. That’s okay. It should be.

Put in the effort to plan ahead. Hire creative people and let them work their magic. You won’t always hit a home run and you won’t always be able to activate during every moment. But, the more the team flexes its creative muscles the easier it will be to find the sweet spot.

If you need some inspiration, here are some GIFS, pop culture moments and unique ideas that evoke emotion from teams and leagues:

Funny, relatable and ownable. 
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Which LUUUUKE describes your mood today?

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Unique, original and something only the Panthers can own. 
Original comedy, brought to you by B/R.
This is pop culture that heroes players. So, even if fans don’t like the Office it at least puts their players in a more personal & humorous light.
Sports provides plenty of opportunities to create your own memes. 
Oregon owning a pop culture moment in a way that only they can.
PGA Tour asked artists and fans to help them create a meme. 
Yes, this piece of content includes footage that the Browns don’t own. For teams really looking to push the envelope though, this is a good example of how you can pair pop culture footage with your own footage to make it more original. I would use this tactic sparingly, but for certain cases like this example, it can be golden (depending on the brand voice of course).

When you work in sports, you have more access to content than most brands. There’s no need to rely on others for content, even in humorous moments. Tap into existing content, leverage your designers and create epic GIFS, memes and content that not only resonate with your entire audience but also help build your own, unique team voice.

At the end of the day, creating relatable GIFS and moments that seep into pop culture is a creative exercise. It’s a challenge that will be hard but also rewarding. The key is to connect the pulse of the internet with your brand. Remember, original content wins.

To Note: I understand that strategies are not a one-size-fits all. What works for one brand might not work for another. Expectations, leadership, brand voice and  vision are all extremely different.  This is especially true with humor and pop culture. There are no hard-fast rules. This is merely food for thought.

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Why #StandWitness From The Maple Leafs Works

A lot of the posts here lately have talked about brand campaigns and making sure the work ladders back. Yes, these points are a bit of an obsession for me. Why? Because there’s something powerful about holistic work where all channels align and work together.

As I’ve been thinking about these things, I wanted to find an example of a strong brand campaign from a team that was more than one moment in time. So often teams launch a strong hero piece a the beginning of the season to never tap into the narrative again. As @stephensonmc put it, a strong campaign and narrative is one that extends, evolves and sustains across channels.

After some research and conversation, @RossDunbar93 tipped me off to the perfect example: #StandWitness from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The campaign launched in 2016 to celebrate the franchise’s 100th year. Below is the background on the campaign, according to the team website:

“Stand Witness is about a journey. It recalls some of the legendary and historic moments of the team’s past, through the eyes of a loyal fan who has witnessed the highs and lows over the past century.”

The campaign kicked off with a hero spot that set the tone for what #StandWitness is all about. And, the piece is an emotional, powerful punch that is sure to pull fans in:

But the campaign did not stop at the hero spot. And it did not stop in the 2016 season. Since then, it’s come to life across tickets, in-venue, social media, etc. and during every season. Check out the small sampling of how they’ve activated it over the years:

Hype video for the 2018 playoffs.

#StandWitness is an example of what strong, integrated brand work looks like in sports. It’s work that should be celebrated and in many ways emulated. Here’s why:

First, it’s rooted in insight.

Strong campaigns are rooted in insight. They start with a brief and understand of what the message needs to convey. Creative work and campaigns should have a reason for being, well beyond a tagline and the hope to make a splash at launch. 

The Maple Leafs put a lot of thought into #StandWitness and what it represented. Check out the insight and what the creative is meant to convey:

“We wanted to be authentic about what our fans and this team have gone through,” Shannon Hosford, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Fan Experience explains. “For us, it was about finding a concept that could actually tell the story of the past and the future in a concise and powerful way. We want to own the good and the bad of the past as we look ahead to the future.”

Hosford says there are three key things Stand Witness is meant to embody: 1) Celebrating the past, 2) looking ahead to the next 100 years and 3) signaling change. The point isn’t to close a chapter in Leafs history, she explains, but rather to turn the page and be a part of the next hundred years to come.

Second, it’s a long-term narrative over a splash.

A friend in the industry, Evan Zeller, taught me something about brand work that has really stuck with me: It’s less about a campaign and more about the brand narrative.

Essentially, in many instances, brand campaigns are thought of as a moment in time. Often these moments don’t ladder up to a larger message. One season a team is talking about grit and the next they’re talking about brotherhood. Tactics and executions end up becoming fragmented, and in the end, dilutes the message.

#StandWitness was created with the idea that this is something that could carry on well beyond the start of their 100th season. Their team clearly put thought into the concept and how it could evolve with time. It would have been easy to create a hero spot commemorating their 100th season and walk again. But instead, the Maple Leafs leveraged this moment as an opportunity to remind, re-engage and articulate in a meaningful way what the franchise is all about. 

We have to shift our thinking with brand work to be less seasonal and more long-term. Consumers see so many messages today that it’s imperative we have a sharp point. What about our brand do we want to convey? This is long-term work. It’s not something where success happens overnight. 

If we shift our thinking from a campaign to a narrative, then all work will ladder back to the brand’s messaging hierarchy. This does not mean that all creative will look exactly the same. But, it does mean that all work will ladder back to the brand message strategy.

Third, it has legs to evolve.

If all work is going to ladder back up to a singular brand narrative then the idea must have the capacity to talk on many forms. It must be narrow enough to be ownable for the brand but scalable enough to come to life in different ways.

StandWitness has worked so well because of its scale. Whether the team is talking about the draft, the start of the season or a Stanley Cup run, #StandWitness works as the message. #StandWitness works in moments. It can ladder back to social content franchises. And, it can evolve and stay fresh.

In order for this idea of a brand narrative — and one that sustains — to work, the idea must have the ability to ebb, flow and evolve with the storyline of the team. And, the team must put it in the work to understand how it will come to life in all the different forms and fashions.

And finally, it has all the feels.

The best ads don’t feel like ads. They don’t scream buy tickets and focus on a transaction. Instead, they tap into emotion.

StandWitness is a campaign that took into account what Maple Leaf fans have been through. It walks up to the tension and the truth that there has been highs and lows — and that tension makes an impact.

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools we have as marketers. And, the power of emotion in sport is something that should not be taken for granted. A great brand narrative evokes a share of emotion. Tap into it.

Our job is not to cover the team. Our job is to bring the brand to life. Brand work like #StandWitness is a true case study for what an integrated and sustaining campaign looks like. And one that will more the needed in the long run over one moment in time. More of this in sports, please. 

What other brand work have you seen from team that inspires you? Share below, and as always, thanks for reading! 

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Success In Social Is Not Black & White

Success in social is not black and white. In fact, it’s complicated. Beyond the engagement numbers, the follower growth and the memes that sometimes go “viral” is a much larger picture.

It’s easy in this industry to get bogged down in the public-facing data. To focus on the engagement, the fan sentiment and what the industry holds as a gold standard. But success is greater than the numbers, especially the vanity ones.

Social media today is the front door to most teams, leagues and brands for fans. It’s a connection to what a team stands for, well beyond the scores. The nature of the platforms (conversational, nimble, always on) makes social one of the strongest branding tools.

Success is also about how well you tell the brand story. It’s about representing your brand and bringing it to life in the right light. It’s about executing on the organizational goals. It’s about communicating the messages and values that are a priority.

Here’s the thing. Fan content is going to perform differently than on-the-field content, so we can’t compare. Player reaction GIFS are meant to evoke a different emotion than branded graphics. Value-driven messaging is different than a pure, fun engagement play.

We have to be careful about what we let dictate our decisions. It’s not always about comparing your performance to another team. It’s not always about fan sentiment (because the haters are always louder). It’s not always about beating your engagement average from the last week. And, even more, it’s not always about winning the internet. 

Different content serves a different purpose. Different teams have different goals and initiatives. Things aren’t always apples to apples. And because of that, we can’t compare them. 

Success is complicated, multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the end of the day, the work is about much more than one or two tweets. It’s about the totality of everything. Take the time to understand what matters to the organization. Define the north star and invest your energy there. Keep the outside noise away where it makes sense.

We can’t get so bogged down in the data and enemy of comparison that we forget about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves of that.

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