THE BACKGROUND | A TRUE UNDERDOG
We were pitching Champs Sports, the mall-‐based sports apparel and footwear retailer. We were tasked with developing a summer campaign that would get our audience, the male high school athlete, to take notice of the brand. But Champs Sports wasn’t really on their radar. Between e-‐commerce, outlet stores and big box retailers, teens weren’t spending as much time at the mall. When teens did think of sports apparel, they were influenced by Dick’s budget and broad offering, Foot Locker’s celebrity endorsers and Nike’s ubiquity.
We had to dig deep to make an impression with the male high school athlete. That’s why I proposed we drive 765 miles across Texas to find out what it was like to be an athlete today and how this overlooked brand could mean something more to them.
THE RESEARCH | SCOUTING THE PLAYERS We were required to use Champs Sports’ tagline, "We Know Game." To live up to that line we needed to know our audience, but the client knew the male high school athlete (MHSA) as an athlete and nothing more. I had a feeling Champs Sports needed to find something more meaningful than that, but we needed research to confirm. General market data wouldn't help; it couldn't capture the realities of such a specific group.
If we wanted to sell our audience sneakers, we had to walk a mile in their shoes.
I convinced my boss to carve out a shoestring budget so we could fly to Texas, one of Champs Sports’ biggest markets. To better understand today’s MHSA, I interviewed 16 teens and spoke with dozens more from Wichita Falls to Dallas. I went to their schools, their practices and their games. I had them show me their closets, their schedules and their smartphones. I hung out with them and ate Chick-fil-A, threw the football and played Xbox.
I saw why the clients and the category latched on to the athlete aspect of “game.” Dominating on the court or field will always be a key element of the MHSA’s game. That’s obvious. But I saw firsthand that game doesn’t just apply to sports. Game is as much off the field as it is on the field; it’s an around the clock mentality.
THE INSIGHT | GAME IS ALL DAY, EVERY DAY In many ways I saw them take their ambitious, competitive spirit off the field and into their day-‐to-‐day lives. I saw it when Cole was bragging that he was the first among his friends to stack seven figures in Grand Theft Auto V. I saw it when Isaiah looked straight into the camera to ask whoever was watching to follow him on twitter (@mayfield_isaiah). I saw it when a group of guys recited Big Sean’s latest lyrics like they wrote the song themselves.
I saw “game” in everything they did. The male high school athlete is always hustling. Game doesn't ease up when the whistle blows. Game doesn't have an offseason.
Game is a grind that never stops.
THE STRATEGY | OUR PLAYBOOK Our strategic approach: reflect the constant grind of game through fun, relevant summer moments like going to the pool, pick up games, sneaking out at night and chasing girls. This would give Champs Sports a broader appeal, give meaning to “We Know Game” and reflect a reality that the MHSA wasn’t seeing from Dick’s or Footlocker.
Champs Sports’ summer product lacked focus, carrying everything from tanks and cargo shorts to training gear and running shoes. Our approach let us flip this disadvantage into an advantage by speaking to the breadth of the MHSA summer. The competition focused on performance gear, while Champs’ summer product ran the gamut.
It wasn’t just what we said or how we said it, it was where and when. With a modest budget and the knowledge that these teens are plugged in 24/7, we focused our entire spend on digital/social/mobile. The MHSA summer lacked a typical schedule, so we delivered content to reflect their routine, scheduling around sleeping in and staying out late.
THE WORK | EXECUTING OUR GAME PLAN The creative team honed the insight even further and developed the concept of “Game Never Sleeps.” This platform connected to our core consumer in summer without the category conventions of gridiron ambitions or celebrity endorsements.
We launched a landing page, champssports.com/gameneversleeps, which served as the hub of the campaign. The page featured episodic videos that integrated product into summer “game” moments and user submissions from a seasonal content franchise, #PicOfTheNight.
We worked with Complex Media to launch Champs Sports’ new blog, The Drop. The Drop covers several tenants of game; sports, style, smarts and sound. This provided us with season-‐agnostic content that the male high school athlete was seeking.
We developed a look, feel and tone for all campaign elements, including social channels, the blog and in-‐store signage. This made sure Champs Sports received credit across all channels, not the featured product or partner.
THE RESULTS | FINAL STAT LINE We won the pitch, and Game Never Sleeps was the best performing content Champs Sports had ever published. The first video garnered over one million views in 24 hours and the series registered 18.9MM complete views in less than a month. Champs Sports’ social performed well; within the category we were second in total engagements and share of conversation, and our Twitter and Instagram follower growth both increased by 50% over the prior period. And my cousin, a high school football player, said the work was “sick.”
For me, I learned the value of putting myself in the shoes of the people the brand is trying to reach. Even if that meant roadtripping and couchsurfing across a state as big as Texas. It gave me actionable insight that got the team – client and agency – out of the tunnel vision typical of the category and connected the brand in a meaningful way to our audience.