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Athletes as Advocates: How Beats Goes Broad Without Selling Out

The Sounds of Influence

Note: See the full accompanying infographic here.

Regardless of your preferred brand of headphones, it’s hard to ignore the noise Beats by Dre is making in the consumer electronics industry this winter. Its signature headphones are seemingly on every set of ears in professional sports. Ellen Degeneres is dancing around in a costly Super Bowl spot promoting its new music app, and its Facebook community has swelled to over 6.4 million fans. The Beats buzz is not only making a major dent in the headphone market, but also raising the bar, handing 40% of all U.S. sales to the brand over the Christmas period. But what will keep them on top in 2014 isn’t the extra cash lining Dr. Dre’s pocket – it’s the community of advocates they’re building through American sports culture.

With their credibility firmly in place within the hip-hop community, Beats has set their sights on a mainstream audience in 2014 with the launch of its new Beats Music app. It’ll be a delicate balance for the brand as it attempts to woo the American consumer while keeping its core base of loyal advocates that have made them a major player in the game. Here’s a look at the house Beats built and the doors it’s opening to new customers this year. 

Building Buzz

  • December 8th, 2013:
    • Action: Beats debuts a spot featuring 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernik before a crucial regular season matchup with division rival Seattle Seahawks. In it, Kaepernik, wearing Beats headphones, drowns out the sounds of a rowdy crowd that closely resembles the Seahawks faithful.
    • Reaction: Known as the loudest fans in the NFL, Seahawks fans took to social media to bash the commercial and even threatened to boycott the brand.
  • January 19th, 2014:
    • Action: Beats responds to the cries of Seahawks fans with a spot featuring their outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman.
    • Reaction: After the commercial aired, real life began to imitate art. Sherman got in a post-game spat with 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree after his game-winning defensive stop and took his frustration into a now famous post-game interview with Erin Andrews. The clip went viral and the commercial earned Beats frequent mentions in the conversation raging throughout news outlets and social media. 
  • Super Bowl Week: Beats continues the chatter on their Facebook page with posts featuring Sherman leading up to the game.  
  • February 2nd, 2014: Beats debuts its Ellen Degeneres spot promoting the new music app.

The controversy swirling around Richard Sherman drove the most influential conversations in the Beats community by far. Garnering 92 likes and comments on 114 mentions by fans on Facebook, America’s spirited debate around Sherman cited Beats as a key witness. The brand became a part of the controversy and their community flourished as a result.

Beats Top Influential Keywords

Expanding Its Reach

Through aligning itself with NFL player endorsements prior to the Super Bowl, Beats was able to capitalize on edgy social buzz, while also targeting a mainstream audience with the approachable Ellen DeGeneres in their primetime spot. The question then becomes: why add in Ellen and break from the controversial athlete formula if it’s working? They aren’t abandoning anyone– Beats is just expanding their demographic range. In order to make noise on the streaming music stage, Beats will need to expand its base into Middle America while still keeping the core fans of its brand. 

Retaining Advocates

Instead of patting itself on the back , Beats has nurtured the spike in awareness on Facebook and built an engaged and influential community of brand advocates that it can market to throughout the off-season. On their own, new Facebook ‘Likes’ are meaningless without engagement. Looking into the Beats Facebook community, 24% of their recently engaged fans came back during Super Bowl week and reengaged with the brand – more than double their reengagement number from a month earlier. That strong percentage highlights a successful launch, mixing a hyper-engaged existing fan base creating influential content with a new flock of fans that seem willing to jump into the conversation.  Beats Community Engagement


Creating Community

Each year, America’s love affair with sports culture invokes spirited debate over who “won” Super Bowl advertising. In 2013, Oreo dominated the conversation with a real-time marketing triumph that many tried (and failed) to emulate this year. While real-time marketing isn’t a flash in the pan, the Beats approach has staying power. Rather than focusing on the uncertain formula of capitalizing on a cultural moment, Beats is building a cultural narrative through professional athletes. While the NFL playoffs landed Beats in homes throughout the country over the past month, the community of brand advocates they’ve built will keep new and existing fans listening to their message all year long. Through expanding their message without abandoning existing fans, Beats can successfully expand their offering into the music services market while also strengthening their audio equipment business.

What were your favorite community campaigns from the Super Bowl? Did any Super Bowl commercials had a lasting impact on you? Continue the conversation with me below or on Twitter at @Danielmsullivan.

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