Levi Scores An On-Site, Online Marketing Touchdown

San Francisco agency Heat promoted the opening of Levi’s Stadium by bringing the jeans brand and the 49ers together through spectacle and social media.

It’s not everyday that a clothing company unveils a football stadium, so when Levi’s Stadium opened last July, Levi Strauss & Co. wanted to make a big impression. The brand, which bought the naming rights to the new home of the San Francisco 49ers in May 2013 for more than $220 million dollars, turned to creative agency Heat to help it launch Ninerfied, an on-site campaign that incorporated social media.

Heat's Naomi Ducksworth
Heat’s Naomi Duckworth

“Levi’s wanted to do something more than just slap their name on the stadium,” says Naomi Duckworth, senior art director at Heat. “They wanted to do something for the fans that made them feel like they had a legitimate presence at the stadium and an authentic connection with the 49ers.”

Brands and marketers have come a long way in developing digital media to render a relevant, personalized experience for customers — but what about an authentic one? Duckworth and Heat sought to define that notion with a marketing plan for Levi’s Stadium that was both subtle and total in fusing the identity of the team and the jeans brand together in fans’ minds.

Get Real

For Levi’s and the 49ers, delivering fans an “authentic experience” means transcending “the world of digital marketing,” Duckworth says. It means doing something “real in real-life,” Duckworth says, adding “and that’s how we came up with the idea of the Levi’s Ninerfied campaign.”

Transcending digital does not mean rejecting digital. In fact, digital was a part of Ninerfied, but it was the physical stadium and its on-site fans that were at the heart of the campaign.

“We did giveaways online and events all around the Bay area,” Duckworth says. “But the centerpiece of what we did was there at the games, at the stadium.”

While fans were generally excited about the new stadium, which promised a number of upgrades, the move carried some risks for the 49ers. Not only was the team leaving behind its arena, Candlestick Park, which for many fans holds sentimental value, it was leaving San Francisco. Levi’s Stadium is located in Santa Clara, which is about an hour drive from the Golden City.

Having Fun With History

One of the goals of the Ninerfied campaign was to establish a connection between old fans and the new stadium.

“The 49ers are a legendary team and they created a lot of great memories that [they brought] from their [former] stadium into this new stadium,” Ducksworth says. “Levi’s wanted to bring that magic along with them.”

And so, throughout the debut season at Levi’s Stadium, Heat set out to let fans literally infuse items with memories by converting a shipping container into the “LevisNinifier” machine, letting attendees “ninerfy” their apparel, Duckworth says.Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 1.40.28 PM

“Basically, you could put any article of clothing in this machine — whether it’s your Levi’s jeans, or your favorite jersey,” Duckworth explains, “The [article] then goes through different stations. In the first station it is misted with the sweat of [49er’s quarterback] Colin Kaepernick. Then it passes through a car wash type setup that’s made out of compounds from the 49ers’ cheerleaders. Next, it stops in front of a set of 12 player’s gloves a worn by players on the field and is basically caught by these gloves.”

That’s only the first few phases. An item goes trough several more cycles before it comes out, suffused with 49ers glory. “The whole thing happens in a matter of a couple of minutes and fans loved it,” Duckworth says, noting that over 1,200 items were run through the machine throughout the 2014 season. The machine, which consumers had to pass in order to enter the stadium, also drove on-site merchandise sales. Duckworth says that roughly 80,000 people bought merchandise to run through the contraption.

Ninerfied was promoted via radio, and also had some “visual promotion,” Duckworth says, but the biggest non-physical aspect of the campaign came in the form of social media.

“We had a hashtag [#LevisNinifier], and ran some social contests around the Levi’s hashtag,” Ducksworth says. Heat also worked with the Forty Viners, a group of Vine-based video artists that the 49ers, in partnership with Levi’s, created. Additionally, the campaign featured a photo op wall at Levi’s Stadium where fans could get their pictures taken and upload them to social media using the campaign hashtag, Duckworth says.

Beating Skepticism

The on-site spectacles not only attracted and engaged fans, they amounted to a creative solution to a problem Duckworth says agencies and brands often face when marketing to sports fans.

“Sports fans — and football fans in particular I think — tend to have a really low tolerance for when a brand is just trying to market to them,” says Duckworth. “They can kind of sniff marketing for a marketing sake, and they’re always looking for something that feels more authentic.”