A Fan’s Life: Visa And The NFL Celebrate Sports
We’ve talked before on Test Your Ad about the “brand of a lifetime” style of commercial, which tracks the relationship between a brand and an individual across key moments in their lives. This kind of ad is usually popular – it’s got a readymade storyline, it can be highly emotional, and it allows the filmmakers to bring to life a whole range of brand touchpoints. But it can also seem a little forced – do people really feel a lifetime bond with a particular candy bar?
But of course there’s one kind of brand-fan relationship where lifetime bonds are the norm: sports fandom. And Visa’s new ad with the NFL, “Neverending Fan”, taps very cleverly into it. Visa aren’t telling the story of one man’s Visa fandom – they’re telling the story of one man’s lifetime love of his team, the Buffalo Bills, and how he passes that on to his children and grandchildren, just as it was passed down to him. That’s something people – especially if they love sports – can relate to.
So how have Visa and agency W&K Portland fitted the credit card brand into their storytelling? At points in the storyline, characters buy themselves replica Bills jerseys, and they pay using Visa (the Visa card designs are authentic to each era, for another little nostalgia hit). That’s all, and it’s a perfect way of including the brand without distorting an emotional story by focusing too much on it.
There are lots of other lovely executional touches too. The cars, haircuts, and jerseys are all period authentic, and there’s a ticker in the top right of the ad tracking every day our protagonist has been a Bills fan, from his first boyhood jersey to his pride at his Bills-loving granddaughter. The ad is happy to pause brand mentions for key emotional moments, like when the hero suddenly proposes to his girlfriend while watching a big game on TV. It all adds up to make an ad where human connection and emotional storytelling is firmly at the centre.
We tested the ad among two audiences. First, a standard nationally representative US audience. Second, an audience of current sports fans – people who’ve watched or played sport recently. We wanted to see if “Neverending Fan” would attract a Sports Dividend – a big jump in effectiveness among sports fans. A lot of sports-themed ads are aired mostly or exclusively during sports broadcasts, so it makes sense to check their effectiveness with the audiences watching those, as well as with the general public.
To find out more about The Sport Dividend, check out our recent special report on sports marketing and advertising.
We found that “Neverending Fan” did indeed get a Sport Dividend. But crucially it was a big success among the wider audience too. For the nationally representative sample, the ad got 4.0-Stars, and we saw a lot of appreciation for the storyline with few of the sports-rejecting comments an NFL ad would typically get. For the Sports Fan sample, that total jumped to 4.8-Stars – a significant boost. The ad’s core audience really get it, and appreciate the story. But the wider public love it only slightly less, and the ad scores an Exceptional short-term Spike Rating for both groups.
As the Sport Dividend report shows, there are several ways sports-themed advertising can go wrong as well as right. “Neverending Fan”, for instance, might draw criticism for just focusing on one team – what if you’re not a Bills fan? But the ad is so well-done, so universal and so heartwarming that fans of any team – or no team at all – can and do respect its storytelling and its hero’s love for his boyhood favorites.