The Super Bowl is the most anticipated marketing event of the year. Global brands go big, spending enormous sums on TV spots, hoping to score with over 180 million viewers. Much of that ad spend is aimed at post-game purchases or brand building, but plenty of marketers are focusing on Super Bowl Sunday itself.

Small businesses, especially those in the food and beverage space, can do well marketing to fans. For the most part, marketing for the big game is just like any national event. Just be careful with the trademarks because the NFL’s attorneys can complicate things.

The NFL has strong trademark defense

Trademark law is complicated. The important thing to know is that you do not, as a business, have the right to use a trademark in any way without permission. The NFL earns about $2 billion a year on sponsorships, licensing and merchandise related to their intellectual property. So they defend it very aggressively.

“Super Bowl” is one of their main trademarks and using it to promote your business can get you a cease-and-desist letter sent faster than a first-round draft pick’s 400-meter combine time. It’s not just the words that are trademarked. The NFL also owns the names and nicknames of teams, the design of helmets and uniforms, and a host of other small design assets.

If you use any of their trademarks, their lawyers can demand you stop immediately or face stiff financial penalties. Legal action rarely moves beyond the notice, but complying can still be expensive if you’ve already started running online ads or have created banners, staff shirts or other assets with the infringing trademark.

If you think they aren’t serious about catching small fish, consider the fact that they sent a cease-and-desist letter to a pastor who planned to show the game on a projector at his small church. He was hoping to offer a family-friendly alternative to barrooms, but the NFL limits non-commercial viewing to one TV, no bigger than 55 inches.

The NFL has a multi-million dollar legal team dedicated to chasing down offenders. How do they find scofflaws? Usually just a simple keyword search for “Super Bowl Party” or the like. Digital marketing efforts and social media posts can be found fairly easily.

What’s the best play for the Super Bowl?

So, what do you do if you’re a small business, say a sports bar, that wants to throw a Super Bowl Party? The trick is to come up with a description that allows consumers to clearly understand that the ad is for something Super Bowl related without using the exact term. This is why so many companies use “Big Game.” In fact, the NFL has been trying to lock that one up, too. Thankfully, they haven’t been able to— yet.

Comedian Stephen Colbert helped introduce another cheeky option, “Sunday’s Tight Pants Man Clash.” However his own team of intellectual property lawyers came up with a better idea. By moving a letter, they created “Superb Owl.” Colbert even looked for sponsors for his new event. A company with a notable owl logo, Hooters, took him up on the offer and ran a commercial on YouTube in support of the comedian’s Super Bowl alternative.

You don’t have to go to that much trouble, though. You can just use the word “super” in some relatable manner. Consumers seeing the word “super” in an advertisement will usually consider it a tie-in to the Super Bowl. If you advertise some traditional football party items, your customers will catch what you’re trying to pass them.

Score with email marketing

Email marketing is another great way to promote your “Superb Owl” event. Since the message is going directly into a customer’s inbox, you’re less likely to get a nastygram from an NFL attorney. For emails, the usual tactics you might use to promote a holiday event will work well.

For event emails, or really any email, subject lines can make or break you. Make sure you are keeping the language short and exciting. If a subject line is too long, it’ll get cut off on mobile devices, which is where about 77% of emails are read.  Subject lines with 3 or 4 words get the best response.

It might also be a good time to experiment with emojis. Though they may seem frivolous, they can actually increase open rates by as much as 56%. If the emojis are holiday related, they can be even more effective. For example, hearts for Valentine’s Day or shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day can boost open rates even higher.

A combination of the American football and party popper emojis next to each other is basically the same as saying “football party.” You can use the links in the previous sentence to get versions that will work in almost any format.

Don’t forget your MVPs

You should offer some compelling reasons for customers to come in beyond watching the game. This could be special appetizers, discounts on pitchers of beer or anything else the average football fan might enjoy. You’re not just competing with other businesses, you’re also up against people’s home parties. So make sure you’re offering something exciting.

With digital marketing you also have the opportunity to reach specific customers, so think about something a little extra for your die-hard fans. You can send a separate email to them if your email list is segmented well. This  takes more work, but it is often more effective. Marketers have noted a 760% increase in revenue from segmented campaigns.

WiFi marketing is an effective way to understand customer behavior and segment them into targetable groups

For example, if you apply a special tag for customers who visit during your Big Game party you’ll have a good list for all the big sporting events. March Madness is just around the corner and everything mentioned above (including the trademark issues) will apply. More than anything, you want to start thinking about your regulars more often, especially for marketing. They tend to spend more and they will help you with word-of-mouth marketing.

Make sure you have fun

Big games are big fun. They bring out crowds of people who are ready to party (and hopefully ready to spend money). If you’re careful about trademarks and clever with your marketing, you should be able to bring in a good crowd without any issues.

Don’t forget to document your crowds and show how much fun everyone is having on social media. The Super Bowl is definitely the biggest single championship to watch, but if people know you do sports well, you’ll always have a crowd on game day.


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