On Super Bowl Sunday, the NFL’s “100-Year Game” ad won USA Today’s Ad Meter, a ranking of Super Bowl ads by consumer rating. The star-loaded ad launched the NFL’s centennial, a yearlong campaign that will culminate in Super Bowl LIV in 2020. If your company or brand is coming up on an anniversary milestone, maybe the “100-Year Game” inspired some ideas. Or maybe it just made you jealous. After all, it’s hard to compete with the star power and production resources of the NFL.
Over the past two decades, I’ve helped countless clients plan and implement campaigns for their company anniversaries and business milestones. And based on what I’ve learned in this highly-specialized niche, I understand it’s a once-in-a-generation task that’s a challenge for even the most seasoned communicators and marketers. Not all of us have the luxury of launching our campaign with a Super Bowl ad, but here are five insights anyone planning their company or brand’s anniversary needs to know.
Align with your organizational objectives
This may sound obvious. Yet, we repeatedly find that smart and sophisticated communicators and marketers who work for some of the most admired companies and brands in the world ditch a lot of 101 best practices when it comes to anniversaries. They tend to get very tactical very quickly.
The best anniversaries use the milestone to effectively propel efforts that the organization is already engaged in to drive business goals, such as increasing employee retention, driving sales, deepening intermediary and supplier relationships, changing a company culture or setting a direction for the future. Of course, the most compelling company anniversaries use the milestone to show not only where the company has come from, but where it’s going.
One thing I’ve learned? There’s no shared definition of what constitutes “early.” Starting early doesn’t mean the month or quarter before. Planning and executing a successful anniversary campaign typically requires a minimum of 18 months, and ideally two to three years. Sure, it can be done much faster, but there’s exponentially more stress. And the tactical options and opportunities are diminished when it’s pulled together within a year or less. As Karen Kozak, global brand director at Cargill and speaker at the 2018 Anniversary Marketing Summit, said: “Get buy-in and get it early, especially from the most senior levels.”
Age doesn’t matter, content does
One of the most common missteps is focusing on the year as a central message. The vast majority of your target audiences don’t care that you’ve turned 75 or 100 or 350. It’s what you did to get to where you are today that matters. Stories and other forms of authentic content drawn from the past help enunciate key messages for today and tomorrow. The NFL’s “100-Year Game” didn’t focus on the fact that the League is turning 100. It focused on the iconic players who shaped its first century. Notably, it also prominently included women because of their participation in the game today and their importance to its future.
Create a campaign that can be localized and scaled
While anniversaries are planned by a team at headquarters, it’s important to engage the entire enterprise and create tools for customization and reach. Jack Daniel’s, another presenter at the Anniversary Marketing Summit, nailed this best practice with its 150th campaign. A toolkit that provided guidelines and opportunities for customization helped the brand implement the campaign in 57 markets around the world.
A successful anniversary depends on a team with clear roles and responsibilities. It’s an enterprise-wide initiative that’s going to have the attention of the highest levels of the organization and require involvement from a lot of people in different roles and locations. Having a clear operating model—especially for global companies and brands like Cargill and Jack Daniel’s—is vital to delivering the scale and results that you’re looking for.
Follow these five tips, and you’ll have a strong foundation to make the most of your milestone. Then the real work begins, because like any campaign, execution is where the rubber meets the road.
Jason Dressel is Managing Director at the History Factory. To get more insights and hear about how great companies and brands plan and execute their anniversary campaigns, attend The Anniversary Marketing Summit in Chicago on April 9, presented by History Factory and O’Dwyer’s. Presenters include the NFL, Intel, Bridgestone Americas, Brooks Brothers, the Special Olympics and more. Click here to register.