when less is more

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This past weekend I attended my first Golden Gophers football game when Minnesota played the University of Wisconsin.  To be honest I’m not the biggest college football fan.  Most of that has to do with where I went to college for my undergraduate studies.  When your alma mater is the University of Kansas, there is really only one sport that counts.  Also, I’m not that big of a Gopher fan.  Even though I attended the University of Minnesota for graduate school, I never really felt a strong affiliation to their sports teams.  But the U (that’s what the University of Minnesota is called locally) has a great new on-campus football stadium, and  I’m a fan of Wisconsin since it’s my brother’s alma mater.  So I jumped at the chance to see TCF stadium and the heralded Badger offense on what turned out to be a gorgeous Indian Summer afternoon.

I heard how nice the stadium was beforehand but I was still impressed with it when I got there.  While it’s nowhere near the size of other football stadiums in the Big 10, it compensates for that by having seats which are close to the field that create an intimate feel.  You really could envision how fun the atmosphere might become at TCF stadium if the football program turns around.  The venue was also designed with great attention to detail — whether it was the color scheme that paid homage to the university or the native Minnesota limestone used in the construction materials.

The last thing that struck me about the venue was the sheer amount of paid placements that abounded for brands and businesses.  To me it was almost overwhelming.  It was like you couldn’t turn around without having a commercial message in your face, and I actually kept a tally going of what I saw:

  • Four-to-five different brand sponsors on every scoreboard
  • Name placements on every gate entrance; although to be fair these were from paid donors not companies
  • Brand sponsorship of the proverbial t-shirt throw giveaway
  • Four-to-five different brand sponsors that were rotated through on every single replay that was shown on the video boards; my favorite sponsor being “ Minnesota Soybeans”
  • A sponsored “pick the tune/be the DJ” music contest
  • A sponsored cell phone picture contest
  • A sponsored text message contest
  • A sponsored video board kissing cam
  • A sponsored game of memory on the video board

I’ve been to a handful of major sporting events the last couple of years and I’m accustomed to the commercialization that has taken place, but I found the experience at the Gopher football game to be a bit over the top.  From an design standpoint, I wonder if anyone from the university took a step back and asked the question: “What do we want people to actually experience?”  There was so much noise in the system that it was hard to tell what we were there to do.   Going to the game wasn’t just about the game anymore.  It was almost like the sporting event was a mechanism to just get out the almost endless supply of marketing messages.

For me, attending sporting events in their purest form are really unique experiences.  They can feature passion, speed, grace, strength, competition, joy and sadness.  But I think all that gets lost when too much is piled on top of the games themselves.

I know that the University of Minnesota isn’t overflowing with extra money.  I understand the economic impact that these sponsorships have and how they help cover a significant portion of the operating expenses.  Because of that, maybe a non-commercial institution isn’t the right target for this type of critique; however, from a pure consumer point-of-view, I think the question can still be asked when is enough, enough?

Taking this back to how we as marketers operate, I believe that it is important to really push that question.  We should be asking ourselves questions.  What does it take to deliver compelling experience without over engineering it?  How can we create effective campaigns without beating someone too many times over the head with message after message after message?  I don’t think there is a black and white rule in how this plays out.  It’s not that simple.  But instead maybe it’s more about a philosophy of trying to make sure we blend the art in with the science.  To me, that feels right.  And with what marketers should be trying to deliver in the end, how it feels is what things are about.

(Photo courtesy of Creative Commons license: Michael Hicks.)

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