Teaching Old Brands New Tricks: What Gillette Is Learning from Esports and Endorsements
Greg Via is one of the most experienced sports marketing and sponsorship executives in the business, having started his career with Gatorade in 1990 before roles with Accenture, Motorola and New Era before joining Gillette in 2007.
Shortly before his departure from P&G, Greg sat down with All Access Interview Series host Jim Andrews to discuss what has worked and lessons learned from Gillette’s pioneering sponsorships in esports, as well as its changing approach to partnerships with athletes. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: Under your leadership, Gillette was one of the early non-endemic brands to identify and find success in esports. Can you share some of the lessons learned over the last few years about what works and what doesn’t when partnering with esports properties and athletes?
Greg: About five years ago we did what is known at P&G as a “test and learn” with ESL and the world championships for League of Legends. It was phenomenally successful. We had a booth at the arena, we did 3D razors and interacted with a lot of people. And we saw something we hadn’t seen before. Compared to being at a Super Bowl or Olympics or other events where everyone is on their devices while the game is going on, that wasn’t happening at the LoL finals. Everyone was glued to watching the action on the big screens.
Next, we sponsored a team, TSM (Team SoloMid). That worked for us but not as well as we expected, because we need content and to be interacting all of the time. Esports athletes are training and playing all of the time. We didn’t realize how much time they needed and the team didn’t realize how much time of theirs we needed. We were looking to get the same things we get from the New England Patriots, the Olympics and FC Barcelona and that was something they were not comfortable with.
We did start a program with TSM and Twitch called Bits for Blades. If you clicked on a banner to purchase Gillette blades—Twitch is owned by Amazon of course—you earned Twitch Bits, which is currency on the site. That has been very successful.
Jim: The perception is that the esports community is different from the mainstream audience in many ways, but particularly in terms of being receptive to sponsors. Is that the case?
Greg: Esports fans are welcoming to sponsors, but they are wary. They are welcoming you into their home and you need to recognize the rules for doing so. We are not going to be able to take the advertising we do on mainstream TV and put it on our Twitch feed or YouTube. That can get you destroyed by the community. The way to go is by
providing value, as with Bits for Blades. It’s commercial, but it works because it offers the community something. I have treated it similarly to action sports in the ‘90s, which was a very closed community. It’s about having a relationship with your consumer; that’s the way you get ahead.
Jim: Over the course of your career, you have done many deals with athletes, with an emphasis lately on a compelling roster of NFL players. With the option of so many athletes across multiple sports that you could potentially partner with, coupled with the fact that many are young men and women just beginning their careers, what type of research do you do to identify those athletes that will be the right fit?
Greg: We go through a marketing strategy process that first asks whether we are going to use mainstream advertising, entertainment, sports, etc., and if it’s sports, are we going to use a property or a talent, or a combination. Our marketing plan this season for the NFL was “Every Day is Gameday,” so we needed athletes who first, need to shave or are well groomed, since we are a grooming company; and second who meet our brand values. We look for a story and we do a lot of research and due diligence. That includes looking at market research results and other data, and also just making a lot of phone calls. What does the NFLPA know about them? Are they comfortable talking to people or appearing on camera? What does someone on the athletic training staff have to say about them? We will talk to agents, coaches and scouts.
Jim: There aren’t that many people who have been in the sports marketing field continuously for 30 years. Clearly plenty of things have changed over that time, but what stands out to you as ways that the business is most different now than when you began your career, and what ways is it perhaps fundamentally still the same?
Greg: There is a greater understanding that sponsorship needs to include more than signs, tickets and ad spots. That never really worked. If you look at sponsorship packages now, it has really evolved to where they include digital presence, social platforms and community involvement so that there is real impact on the consumer and the fan.
The thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of relationships and respecting those relationships. You get more from people when you build a relationship and you treat them well.