The Marketing – and lack of payment – of College Athletes

Marketing is a vital pillar to a successful collegiate athletics program. The program must market itself to fans, the student body, ticket-buyers, and prospective student-athletes. Marketing for these athletic programs can take place in many different ways, including social media, commercials, or direct mail. As straight-forward as these marketing tactics seem, it can become complicated when programs specifically use amateur student-athletes as marketing tools.

Student-athletes are classified as amateurs and therefore cannot receive compensation for any services that are in connection with their athletic skills. When a college football program wants to use the likeness of their star player for a commercial, it is allowed. However, it is not allowed for that specific player to receive compensation from the school for the commercial. Likewise, many universities and local stores sell college football jerseys. The number on these jerseys is almost always the number of the school’s star player, without a name on the back of it. By selling the jerseys, the school and local stores are profiting off of an amateur-athlete’s skills while the athlete receives nothing.


A study in 2015 showed the average football player at the University of Texas is worth $622,000 to their university. That is a monumental amount of money – and what does the athlete get in return? A free education. The math simply does not add up. College football programs all over the nation, as well as many other sports, use their players to sell tickets and memorabilia while the athlete is left out to dry.

What is the solution? Student-athletes deserve to be compensated for the use of their image, story, name, and number. Not compensating them is essentially stealing. One would never think that an author or a scholar would not be compensated for the use of their name or work. Why is it different for college athletes? The system, put in place and enforced by the The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is unfair to the athletes, who are the very people the system claims to protect.

While marketing for collegiate athletic programs is important, and can also be beneficial for student-athletes, there has to be a compromise between the two parties. Compensating student-athletes when they are used in marketing campaigns is not only logical and standard practice in every other industry, but it is also fair and the right thing to do. A change with this rule will greatly benefit the student-athletes. After all, the student-athletes are the key ingredient for the mega-business that is college athletics.

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The Pussyhat Movement

On November 11, 2016, I decided that I needed to finally visit Washington DC.  Unlike some kids, I never had the pleasure of taking a school field trip or a family vacation to our nation’s capital (those were reserved for theme parks and zoos).  Even as an adult, I always knew that I would eventually visit the DC area, but I certainly wasn’t in any sort of rush to do so.  However, on November 11, I quickly decided that that was about to change.  I swiftly searched for the cheapest flight and hotel that I could.  I knew that if I waited even one day longer, the prices would be 2x – 5x more expensive.  I grabbed my credit card, plopped in the numbers, and boom, I was headed to the Women’s March on Washington!

According to the official Women’s March on Washington website, “The Women’s March on Washington is a grassroots effort comprised of dozens of independent coordinators at the state level. The effort is helmed by four national co-chairs and a national coordinating committee who are working around the clock to pull it all together.”  People had many different reasons and motivations for marching, and all were valid according to the event’s organizers.  My motivation was simply to show defiance against the outcome of the presidential election.  I also am a big supporter of women’s issues and think that we need to stick together, so any organized effort to do just that is one that has my support.

In the days leading up to January 21, 2017 (the day that the march was to take place), I only gave passing notice to the talks about women making and wearing these things called “pussyhats” at the event.  From what I had briefly heard, these hats were to be homemade, pink, knitted hats that had the shape of cat ears in them.  These hats were to symbolize a backlash against a recorded comment that Donald Trump made.

I generally despise wearing anything that is pink, homemade or knitted, so I was not on board with wearing a pussyhat.  However, when I arrived on January 21, 2017 to the march, I was absolutely astonished by how many people were wearing them!  They were literally EVERYWHERE!  Everywhere!  I quickly learned how viral the pussyhat marketing campaign had become.  More than a marketing campaign, this had become a bona fid movement.  It was a movement in solidarity against gender and sexual discrimination/abuse/assault.  This was living proof of what could happen when a few people with a simple idea start an innocent marking campaign that reaches millions across the world.  I was so incredibly honored and proud of have marched side-by-side all of these wonderful people.


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The Fight Against Fascism

Last night was the biggest night of the year for TV advertising, the night of Super Bowl 51. Therefore, I am going to write this blog post on a common theme that I noticed in many of the ads from lasts night’s game: the theme of acceptance.

As I’m sure everyone is aware, Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States of America. For me, as well as for the majority of the Americans (his approval ratings are at a record low for an incoming President) this is an extremely frightening concept that I have been struggling with on a daily basis. The numerous executive orders that Donny Tiny Hands has signed in just the first two weeks of his presidency have shown that he is dead set on following through on many of the bigoted promises that he made during last year’s election campaign. These orders include the resumption of the construction of the highly controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, in which The Donald is personally financially invited in. But the executive order that has made the biggest waves has nothing to do with pipelines, and has everything to do with bigotry and fear mongering. Of course, I am referring to Trump’s executive order that attempts to bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United states and suspend the admission of all refugees into the United States. I feel that there is a prevailing sense of fear spreading across this country that I love; a sense of ‘us versus them’ that is very much un-American.

This is why, last night, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of ads that were based around the on the theme of acceptance of all people. The ad the stood out to me the most was an ad for Airbnb. It was a 30 second clip that consisted of interchanging diverse facial images with simple piano notes playing in the background, and the text “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship we all belong.” In total there were seven ads focused on acceptance that aired on Fox last night: Anheuser-Busch, Turkish Airlines, NFL, Coca-Cola, Kent State, 84 Lumber, and Airbnb. This shows that many major companies and corporations are willing to go against the desires of those in power in order to connect to what they feel is the majority of Americans, regardless of the consequences. And seeing the actions that this borderline Fascist regime has already taken in just two weeks of being in office, there very well may be some consequences. The right to protest is a huge part of what makes America so great and unique. Many states have already started to pass legislation that would severely infringe the people’s right to protest. When I see major corporations take a form of protest through controversial advertisements during the most watched event of the year, I feel a little less pessimistic about the state of our nation and the direction it seems to be going.

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Uncle Drew’s Baller School now in session!

You look at it and see one thing, but inside was something different.

This is PepsiMax and this is what it is all about. In the Spring of 2012 it wasn’t a basketball player from the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder, the two teams representing the NBA Finals, that electrified the NBA world. Rather, it was an unlikely 80-year old geezer whose crossover dribbles broke ankles, and whose powerful slam dunks rattled rims. This decrepit old man’s name? Uncle Drew.

In order to provide some insight, PepsiMax is a zero-calorie, sugar-free cola, which supplies the boost of an energy drink and the taste of a soda. As a result of its hybrid nature, PepsiMax had to find a way to compete with energy drink giants like Redbull and Monster, as well as the low-calorie soda known as Coke Zero. Simple right? Not in the slightest. Because it was such an  extremely competitive market, PepsiMax needed a flavorful marketing campaign, one that was bolder than the self-proclaimed taste of their cola. In their history, PepsiMax has spent billions on a series commercials with Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo and owner Jerry Jones, in addition to airtime during Super Bowl XLII and XLV, and were looking to continue their sport partnership.

Now who better to be the face of this revolutionary campaign than a white-haired, chubby old man who looks like he’d have to wake up at 5 a.m. just to make it to the retirement home breakfast hall by 9 a.m. But this was no ordinary 80-year old man, this hustler crossing up defenders and slams home jaw dropping alley-oops better than most NBA players. Plot twist! This man of mystery was none other than the 2012 Cleveland Cavaliers rookie phenom Kyrie Irving.

The Marketing Arm’s vice president of content development, Marc Gilbar, had an idea that was influenced by the 1984 “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Eddie Murphy going undercover as a white man. So why not have some fun and do this with Irving, right? The hope was to create a campaign in which what consumers assumed at first glance wasn’t the true depiction of the product.

With the help of professional make up artists, Irving transformed into the chubby 80-year old man that we all fell in love with. Uncle Drew and his film crew hit up Clark’s Pond Courts, and the journey began. The initial 5 minute video goes as follows: A young basketball player in New Jersey brings his grey-bearded, ancient-looking Uncle Drew to the courts to enjoy some evening pickup games. At first, Uncle Drew plays like he looks – he’s barely mobile, shooting bricks, and playing like it’s amateur hour. As the game goes on, he starts to find his rhythm, begins to bang home jumpers, handles the ball like a yoyo, trash talks like a boss, and crashes the boards with thunderous dunks leaving the crowd staring in awe.

I was immediately mesmerized and hooked the first time I watched the video. The amazing thing is that the video was never intended for broadcast in the first place! But with the initial momentum that the video gained (10 million YouTube views in its first 3 weeks), PepsiMax had practically no choice but to buy prime ad time for its short mega-viral sensation. I mean, how could you pass up the opportunity to grow your baby into the potential giant that it could be. PepsiMax was able to find the media budget needed to broadcast a 30-second trailer of the original during the NBA Finals.

Statistics of the initial campaign reaction proved the online popularity of the video as 80% of viewers were still tuned in after the first 4 minutes and the hashtag #UncleDrew garnered over 10,000 mentions on Twitter, while NBA star Steve Nash and ESPN site were sharing the ad with their followers.

This immediate success laid the groundwork for more videos in this series. A sequel was designed featuring Kevin Love, who is referred to as Wes. Uncle Drew 2 received even more views than the original, and had a 30-second clip play during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. PepsiMax was definitely hitting all the right buttons, but wouldn’t it be wise from a marketing stance to diversify and connect with a broader consume base? Maybe feature stars from the Women’s National Basketball Association? Enter the 3rd installment to the series, featuring the likes of 3-time NBA Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson (“Lights”) and Maya Moore, who played for college powerhouse Connecticut and in the WNBA. PepsiMax did a tremendous job diversifying by adding a female element, and included more humor between Robinson and Moore.

Uncle Drew has grown to 5 episodes and has maintained the central conceit but started to develop a sense of humor and a soul and eclipsed the surprise element from the original video. Casey Romany, PepsiCo’s Senior Manager for Local Sports Activation, has helped keep the Uncle Drew franchise fresh with new narratives and characters – Chapter 4 includes Ray Allen (“Walt”) playing H-O-R-S-E against Irving and the most recent Chapter 5 is all about Uncle Drew as he delivers a speech about what it takes to become a champion, in wake of the Cavaliers NBA championship victory over the Golden State Warriors.

Uncle Drew is a perfect example of how Pepsi looks to continue rewarding fans with fun, authentic, and exciting moments all across pop culture and sports. In addition, Pepsi embraces the spirit of youth and Uncle Drew certainly represents that with his willingness to take on any youngblood that stand in his way. One aspect of the Uncle Drew series that has been key is its ability to remain so popular with millennials by thinking of different ways to package the capture content, whether it be the witty one-liners, entertaining video clips, or key moments in each episode. The great thing about the series is that it has it all: comedy, surprise, entertainment, hoops action, and amazing personalities.

Just my two cents, the one thing that’s missing from the series thus far is an international presence for one of the sporting industries most global sport. Using an international superstar talent such as Ricky Rubio would be ideal to market PepsiMax to Europeans. Another idea is to possibly film an episode North of the border, such as Toronto, and not just because I’m Canadian! Strictly thinking about the marketing opportunities, as current film destinations have included New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Toronto has an NBA team and would make perfect sense to market PepsiMax internationally and help target a new regional demographic.

I’m excited to see the direction that PepsiMax continues in and am eagerly awaiting the next episode, but I am wondering how much longer can Uncle Drew ball hard? I mean the geezer is 85 this year.uncle-drew


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iPhone Advertisement Campaign

We all know, that every memory is associated with an emotion. My memory of an iPhone is associated with the feeling of elite sophistication. In the US a cellphone is synonymous to an iPhone, what the iPhone meant in India was so much different than what it has been in the US. It was expensive, uncommon and owners of these carried a style statement and a lot of pride.

I, like every other cellphone user was impressed with the phones that Apple made. The first time I was closely introduced to it was through a relatively short 30 second TV advertisement. The commercial spoke about both the hardware and software being made in the same place, and the phone’s sleek and classy design. What stuck to me was the slogan “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone”. That further added onto my initial notion of supremacy. It seemed like a phone that I would buy if I could afford it or if anyone fancied to buy me a present.

From then to now, now I am in a place where 9 out of 10 people have an iPhone. It no longer seems like a statement of pride or supremacy, it seems like a necessity. It is no longer a subject of flaunt, because hey, anyone and everyone has an iPhone here. Now in retrospect, as I educate myself on Marketing through this amazing B school and am constantly learning things like the buyer’s motive, value and surplus, I seem to think of our purchasing decisions and choices differently. I intuitively think of how much the creator of the product has influenced my rational decision making for the purchase. And as I think of iPhones, I am more than convinced of how smart Apple has been with marketing its products. By creating a market for itself and allowing its loyal users to sustain its products since the establishment of the market. Like it is cynically said, anything Apple will make, we will buy.

Here we go with one such marvelous marketing example. Let’s talk about billboards. Those that were dressed with beautiful images. Images not from graphic designers or professional photographers but from ordinary consumers, like you and me. Images of nature, pumpkins, shoes, kids, butterflies…Which of us was not captured by those? That was art, created with a really simple idea. And behold, that art wasn’t created by Apple, it was created by its users!

You probably know what I’m talking about and could guess where this is head. Yes, in 2015 Apple brought to the civilized world (another) new model of iPhone. But what you might not have thought about it, was the strategy Apple chose to promote it. Apple made its customers market the new phone for them. It launched a campaign called ‘World Gallery’, which won the Outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes. The gallery brought together the spectacular results of the campaign – 77 images from photographers in 70 cities across 24 countries. It was first started in 2015 and relaunched in 2016. The idea was for users to click a picture of everyday things with the new iPhone, share it on social media sites such as Instagram and Flickr with the hashtag ‘Shot on iPhone 6’. The best 77 were then selected among these shared photos and published on the billboards with the photographer’s name and location on it. Intuitive, engaging and easy. Now let’s take a minute to think about what Apple accomplished through this.

The prime improvement in the iPhone 6 series is the camera. Apple was always known to provide the world’s most popular camera (in smartphones) and it just went a notch above in this new series, thanks to its improved hardware and software. This was what Apple wanted to profess about the new product, which the campaign conveyed eminently and economically. More importantly, it was conveyed through demonstration, by other users and not by the company who made the product. The greatness of the item was also well concealed in the indirect message of what you could do with an iPhone, instead of what the new iPhone can do.

To think of it, Apple setup a self-sustained cycle at a minimal cost. It ensured that its already loyal customers made sales and channelized more people into buying the new phone. The owners of iPhone 6 were promoting their loyal brand with a personalized statement. This did not fail to influence more customers into buying the iPhone, using it and sharing pictures and videos on social media, to tell the world about how awesome the phone was. Attracting more people towards it, thus increasing the initial investment of the number of users, which replenished the cycle each time, without any inputs by Apple.

Isn’t that an amazing strategy? Apple empowered their users and made them feel special by making them a part of yet another pride worthy product. In return its users supported their loyal brand.

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A Few Things I Didn’t Consider…


For years I never really thought much about marketing. Occasionally, a flashy ad or movie preview would catch my interest but I never really considered the sheer amount of time and effort devoted to campaigns. Then in my last job, I worked for an organization focused on research, early diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases. We were launching a new Public Service Announcement campaign with both print and commercial elements and I ended up working with the marketing team on and off. They spent weeks getting ready. There was casting, followed by the contracts, the scripts, the settings and a million other small details.

Then came the day of the shoot and although I wasn’t involved in that aspect of it, my boss had asked my colleague and I to attend.  We took a cab down to the Meatpacking district from Midtown and there was plenty of traffic. We were very late and when we finally arrived at the venue we went to the wrong stage and ended up on the set of a Honda commercial. We were promptly told off which my colleague didn’t take so well which led to us getting kicked out of the building all together. Fortunately we finally found another entrance and made it the right stage and it was close to chaos.  My boss was terribly upset as lunch never arrived, one of the actors couldn’t get his lines right and the pink background on one of the sets wasn’t quite the hue she had envisioned.

After the shoot was over the editing began and that took weeks as well. In the end we were quite proud of the final product. They were simple PSAs but they got the message across. The response we received was largely positive as one would expect given that it was a simple healthcare focused PSA but we still had our critics. In one of the ads, the actor, a young blond boy says, “when I grow up I want to be a fireman”. We received countless emails and social media posts about this campaign as “firefighter” is more inclusive.  In addition, people were also critical of other aspects of the campaign from the roles chosen for the actors to the scripted stories and so on.

While our campaign was largely a success it impressed upon me just the number of ways  campaigns can go wrong and the amount of planning required and different angles that must be considered. Some high-profile examples include Guinness’ use of a four-leaf clover instead of a shamrock in a Canadian ad. Other examples include, “The Perfect Body” ad released by Victoria’s Secret which created a backlash for featuring a dozen women of all the same tall thin body type.

Some of the more amusing examples I came across dealt with cultural misunderstandings.  Some words don’t translate well to other languages. I learned this living abroad and even words as simple as common names can have a different meaning in another language. For example, Anneick is a lovely name in most languages but in Arabic it literally translates to “I F***”. IKEA experienced issues with the names of its furniture as some took on other meanings in different languages. Translations can also be difficult and one example is the Pepsi campaign launched in China with a slogan that should have translated to “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” but due to a bad translation really said “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

It is fascinating to think about the details that must be considered for any campaign and also the ways a campaign can go astray.



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Marketing for Non-Profits? Rethink Social Media Strategy

It is challenging for non-profit organizations to sustain themselves in the long run by solely relying on external grants, fundraising and charity events. At some point in time, most non-profit organizations must reassess their overall revenue structure. Like any for-profit business operating in the free market, non-profits also have the potential to ‘sell’ their products/programs to clients and achieve their overall mission. My short blog post reflects on a potential revenue generating source for non-profits and ho2w social media can help achieve their marketing and overall organizational goals.

First, let us reflect on a real-world case study. As part of my graduate assistantship, I work for a research center within the university. The center is a bustling hub for research activity with a wide range of programs supporting faculty and student scholars. The only revenue generating source for the center is its methodology program which offers intensive seminars, workshops and private consultations in quantitative methods and analysis. The center’s methodology and other support programs have directly helped faculty members improve their grant proposals and win hundreds of prestigious foundation, NIH and NSF research grants to conduct meaningful research. Yet, only a handful of university community members know about the existence of the research center and its services.

The case mentioned above is one of many examples of non-profit organizations that do excellent work in our communities but yet remain stagnant in the ‘unsung hero’ status. While it is more important for non-profits to share and sell their organizational goals and success stories – there is often a lack of a robust marketing strategy that prevents them from achieving their goals. Leveraging social media and reevaluating social media strategy are two effective ways in which non-profits can better position themselves in the market – without adding any additional distress to its finances.

Non-profits can reach out to their target audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Organizations can create a digital platform to spread the word out about their services, engage in developing relationships with their clients and supporters, and eventually expand their reach. By managing events pages on social Social media conceptmedia, organizations can recruit participants to attend their conferences and other events. For example, regular creative posts on Facebook may be more effective in getting your invitees excited about an upcoming conference than regular Constant Contact email blasts.

Imagine employing social media to launch a marketing campaign for a two to three days long conference.  Staff could leverage free social media accounts to advertise planned opportunities for professional networking, workshop and training, and participation in panel discussions. Using online platforms, staff can facilitate participants sign up for the conference. Participants could pay registration fees online and use special discounts and coupons advertised by the organization on social media posts. The costs of organizing the conference could be easily recovered via revenues generated through sponsorship, registration and advertising fees.

By building an online presence and leveraging social media platforms, non-profit organizations have the potential to improve corporate relationships, community ties and volunteer engagement. Non-profits can also employ social media to encourage the private sector to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility. Similarly, non-profits can engage in fruitful dialogues, build successful rapport with their communities, and advance their organizational goals through social media marketing.

– Palista Kharel

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