For some, watching the Super Bowl is synonymous with eagerly anticipating these marketing mini-masterpieces, some of which linger in the minds of millions for a lifetime – I’m looking at you, Coca-Cola Polar Bears!
Hailing from Illinois, my unwavering loyalty lies with the Chicago Bears, a football team forever etched in the chronicles of NFL history as the 1985 Super Bowl Champions. Led by legendary halfback Walter Payton, the ’85 Bears remain immortalized, not having claimed a Super Bowl victory since. The enduring question persists: why are the ’85 Bears still remembered today? The answer lies in their masterful marketing.
The ’85 Bears boasted charismatic and larger-than-life personalities, from the swagger of head coach Mike Ditka to the infectious enthusiasm of players like Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, and the iconic defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry. The diverse roster offered a player with a distinct personality for every fan to rally behind. As a child of the 80s, my personal favorite was The Refrigerator, a man of colossal size displaying grace on the football field and entertaining everyone in McDonald’s commercials. Even now, I can distinctly remember his contagious smile, with one tooth missing, proudly holding a McDonald’s burger. This mental picture stays with me as a continual reminder each time I encounter the golden arches on my travels. Such is the impact of exceptional marketing.
The Bears actively engaged with the community through events, autograph sessions, and public appearances, reinforcing the bond between the team and its fan base and generating positive PR opportunities that enhanced the team’s overall image. The excitement surrounding the Bears began as early as summer training camp. Even back then, and continuing today, reporters were invited to capture the early stages of the magic being crafted before the regular season began. An interesting story involves a reporter documenting Walter Payton’s 20-minute helicopter ride from Chicago to Wisconsin, ensuring he wouldn’t be late for training camp practice. In today’s social media era, such moments would swiftly circulate globally by the end of any team practice.
The unforgettable ‘Super Bowl Shuffle,’ a commercial with a music video flair featuring Chicago Bears players, is a marketing masterpiece. This gem brilliantly highlighted the team’s personalities, camaraderie, and love for the game, leaving an enduring imprint on pop culture. The infectious charm of the Shuffle solidified the Bears’ reputation for confidence and fun.
Going beyond conventional advertising, the Bears initiated imaginative promotional activities. William Perry’s unforgettable touchdown in Super Bowl XX highlighted his on-field versatility and paved the way for marketing opportunities. The phenomenon of sports icons securing multiple endorsements across a wide range of categories, spanning from food to sports shoes, was unprecedented until the Chicago Bears demonstrated how to master it.
The team’s success translated into players securing lucrative endorsement deals and forming strategic partnerships. Quarterback Jim McMahon, renowned for his rebellious persona, emerged as a highly marketable figure, adding a distinctive flair to the team’s overall marketing impact. One can only speculate about the many endorsement deals he inked for headbands and sunglasses during the ’80s.
The decision to promote this so-called “bad boy” was nothing short of marketing brilliance. Drawing a parallel to the likes of John McEnroe in tennis, McMahon’s confrontational on-field demeanor didn’t hinder his likability; instead, it added to his charm. Despite incidents like “mooning” reporters in response to injury inquiries, McMahon remained a beloved team player, showcasing the effectiveness of an unconventional marketing approach, spinning the “bad boy” image as a loveable teddy bear, and making McMahon “just one of the regulars” like you and me.
Do not overlook the thrilling opportunities for fan interaction during Bears’ game days, where carefully crafted promotions and entertainment aimed to elevate the overall fan experience. This encompassed halftime shows, interactive activities, and sponsored promotions, fostering a lively atmosphere and encouraging enthusiastic fan participation. It’s crucial to highlight that these initiatives occurred before the Internet and social media dominated the marketing landscape. Getting the word out relied on purchasing newspaper and magazine ads, promotional mailers, and radio and television commercials – marketing avenues still practiced in today’s social media landscape.
I can recall the days when collecting a set of 32 Bears player cards from McDonald’s was a highlight of the football season. The fast-food giant devised a four-week promotion called the “Kickoff Payoff,” enabling customers to acquire a football card of a Bears player. Each card came with a scratch-off game coupon revealing an upcoming game. Based on the winning team, the coupon could be redeemed for a free food or beverage prize upon purchase. Offering incentives through familiar and beloved food items, like meal coupons, is a strategic way to keep customers returning for more and a perfect business partnership that lasts to this day.
Jump ahead to the upcoming Super Bowl LVIII. How often have you seen commercials featuring last year’s Super Bowl standouts, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes, during this football season? From State Farm promotions and Subway advertisements to vaccine shots, individual team members can significantly boost their income and television facetime with solid support from an effective marketing team. Surprisingly, even Andy Reid appeared on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” And let’s not overlook the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that lost in last year’s Super Bowl, creating “A Philly Special Christmas,” which promptly sold out, topped the Compilation Albums Chart, and featured gentle giants singing classic holiday tunes—an unexpected but fitting touch of the football spirit.
As we prepare for Super Bowl LVIII, observing the clash between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s interesting to consider who will make a lasting impact. While the thrill of victory on the field is fleeting, savvy marketing during and after the game secures a lasting presence in everyone’s minds. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be donning my Ditka sweater vest to cheer on the Bears during NFL Draft Day while I’m dining at Ditka’s Steak House, a perpetual homage to Da Coach and the legendary ’85 Bears.