Root Root Root for the Home Team

Baseball is as American as apple pie. Or cowboy boots. Or McDonald’s.

Throw in tiny humans playing the game and what’s not to love?

I had been working on the McDonald’s account for about a year when an owner/operator came to me with a conundrum.

Owner/Operator: Rebecca, I need your help. I am really involved in the community, but I can’t seem to connect with them. I don’t get it.

Me: On it. What are you the most passionate about?

Owner/Operator: The kids’ baseball games. I really want to show that I care about the community and I do! I go to all the games, I cheer for the kids, and I even hand out free fry coupons. But it just doesn’t feel like I’m connecting with anyone.

Me: That’s because you’re an advertiser. Not a member of the community.

This was an answer he clearly didn’t expect.

Owner/Operator: But I am a member of the community. ??

Me: Right. But when you’re at the games, you’re not simply in the stands cheering them on; you’re handing out coupons. Even if you’re not meaning it that way, it seems like a bit of an ulterior motive to the parents. A thinly veiled “come to my restaurant and get free fries when you buy a large Coke and a Big Mac.”

I saw him get it.

Owner/Operator: Then how do I make it right?

Me: Be a member of the community. Show that you truly care about them and that your primary focus is the community, the kids, and the parents. Put the cards away.

Owner/Operator: But I’m still a business owner. Why can’t I do both?

Me: You can. It’s all how you frame it. It’s how you present it to them. It’s your intention. Your tone. Your actions.

Owner/Operator: Ok, I get that. But how do I tangibly do that?

Me: Buy their uniforms.

This is where he was a bit taken aback. It was so counterintuitive to him. How in the world did he get from handing out coupons to buying jerseys for an entire little league team? He looked at me as if I had said, “Give them a 25% share of the business”.

“Think about it,” I said to him. “It’s a really tough time right now for parents. School is back in session and they’ve had to shell out a lot of money. School supplies alone bring added stress with their itemized lists from teachers that now include name brands – Puff’s tissue, Elmer’s glue, Crayola crayons – and are often two sheets long. Then you have to add new clothes, shoes, instruments, teacher gifts, lunch money, birthday parties, PTA dues, and a million other ‘asks’ that slowly eat away their entire monthly budget. It’s no wonder that when their child says that they want to play sports, their first thoughts don’t turn to peanuts and Cracker Jacks, but instead wander into the cost of the jerseys, bats, baseballs, gloves, cleats, gas to get there and back, drinks, and snacks… it’s all overwhelming. What should be a time of family togetherness is turned into an extremely stressful situation and they don’t see a way out. I mean, it’s not like they can say, ‘that’s awesome! But no. We can’t afford it right now.’ That would break their hearts. They’re their kid’s hero.”

I watched his skepticism turn to understanding.

“And that’s the perfect time for you to be their hero.”

Owner/Operator: Ok, I’m gettin’ ya. And I can put the logo on the jerseys and get additional people seeing McDonald’s that way as well as get some good PR out of it.

(He is a very successful businessman after all)

Me: You can. But we’re not putting the Golden Arches sprawled over their entire back. You can add the logo to the sleeve.

His disappointment was evident.

Me: Remember, you’re not doing this, per se, for profit. You’re doing it to make a connection with the community. To show them that you’re there with them. That you care about them and are invested in their children. And what you’ll see? They’ll repay you tenfold. You want to leave them with that little notion of ‘it was really cool that McDonald’s did that’. That’s it. And they will see that logo every time they’re in the stands and every time they pick it up off of the floor because said child still can’t manage to throw it in a laundry basket let alone the washing machine. And that little nudge will remain with them. They’ll think it was cool of you and, you know what, they need to pick up fast food for their family on game nights because there isn’t time to run home from work and make a meal, and they’ll remember McDonald’s cares. They’ll pick up a 50-piece McNugget and 2 gallons of sweet tea when their child tells them on the way to the game that it’s their turn for snack day. Because you care. And when their team wins the big game? It’s off to McDonald’s to celebrate with Happy Meals and a sweet and creamy vanilla soft serve ice cream cone. Because you are in it together.

This is the core of engagement marketing. Every media plan I create and every media buy that I execute is laser-focused on making that emotional connection because I know that it is through that connection that you create brand loyalists and develop a relationship that lasts far longer than a campaign.

The results?

That McDonald’s location ran out of food and paper costs. Their sales significantly increased overall and the most significant increase was… you guessed it…on game days. Parents were coming into the restaurant. Free jerseys did what a free fry coupon couldn’t. They mattered.

Go Team.

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