Tom Bracher
Tom Bracher 19 July 2018

Why targeted messaging on social media is so effective: A sporting example

Audiences with specific passions on social media can sometimes cross paths based on other interests they share - and when it comes to the sports passion network on Twitter - there are many different sub-communities. So when brands look to target their sport-fanatic audiences, they may want to look above and beyond a typical marketing campaign. 

With Pulsar Platform's data viz below, we can separate sporting communities based on the specific sporting interests they have - in this case we can hone in on Premier League fans, American Football fans and sports fanatics. What we then divulge from this is a clear set of sub-communities that are deeply passionate about their preferred sport.


This might suggest little crossover in terms of the sports these fans are interested din - although sports fans generally have a some sort of interest in more than one sport. Despite this, it is the sports themselves that make each audience segment clear to us – which is the common theme bringing these groups of fans together. Once these sub communities have been identified, we can use the data viz to see where there are alternative interests coming into play.

Geographical location plays an important part in identifying audiences within the sports passion network. There is increased popularity with certain sports depending on which country we’re focusing on, such as American Football in the US. Despite global awareness of these sports growing year on year, there’s no denying fans of baseball and basketball will likely live in the US or Canada.

When taking into account sports that are popular all over the world, such as Association Football (Soccer), there are sub-communities that become distinguishable on a more granular level within their own countries.

Pulsar’s Sameer Shah provides an insight into his experiences being part of one of these sporting sub-communities:

“As a real-world example, I can offer my own social media community. The underlying reason why we all follow each other is our support of Arsenal Football Club: but from that starting point, I engage with and see others interacting based on different passions ranging from cricket to rugby and music to movies. I’ve also witnessed the rise of regional sub-groups, such as supporters who are drawn to each other via the experiences they share (e.g. those in India and Pakistan who stay up until inhospitable hours to watch an evening match). It is this existence of various sub-groups that amplifies the need for targeted messaging.”

What can brands do to capitalise on this?

Brands should do their best to understand these differing audience passions as much as possible, otherwise their approach to messaging can be fruitless. 

There were many different examples of good and bad targeting efforts during the World Cup.

One example is the Nigeria national team team kit - which was launched by Nike and received plenty of hype and attention. The design certainly caught the eye, and it was previewed  earlier in the year by Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi. Then came an official launch date - shortly before it was first worn by the national team during a pre-WorldCup friendly against England.

More than 3 million shirts were snapped up - and it was probably down to a combination of the eye-catching design and the social media hype that followed. It had a massive impact on the UK capital - as the friendly match was played at Wembley stadium, while there is also a large Nigerian population in London. Which brings us back to Alex Iwobi, who lives in London and at club level plays for Arsenal of North London. Nike managed to connect with their audience prior to release and turned the unveiling of Nigeria’s new kit into a huge success.

The same cannot be said for Burger King Russia, who managed to get the opposite response from their audience with a marketing campaign offering female fans burgers for free as well as a cash prize ‘if they got pregnant by a football player’ during the tournament. The campaign went viral on social media for all the wrong reasons - but the biggest issue from Burger King Russia’s perspective was the failure of the ad. Not only had the offended millions, they’d also misunderstood their audience entirely - believing the only way to target a female audience during the World Cup was to avoid the competition in its marketing campaign entirely. Burger King Russia were forced to apologize and subsequently remove the ad.

What can we learn from this example?

It is absolutely essential from a brands perspective that they are speaking the same language and resonating with sports fans – as these fans can quite easily tell whether the passion they have with their team or sport is shared by brands (they’ll know within seconds of an advert starting).

Here are some key takeaways on how to speak to an audience dedicated to sport:

  • Know where your fans are: if you’re aware of well-populated locations or major events - advertising in these spots can get your brand talked about
  • Identify true influence: if there’s a genuine connection there, sports fans will always listen to their heroes 
  • Tap into stories: if you’ve got some impressive, historic information to tie into your ad campaign - use it. This would be greatly appreciated by fans
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