For decades celebrity endorsements have dominated mainstream advertising. However, these endorsements haven’t always panned out. In 1982, we saw O.J. Simpson claiming he rented cars through Hertz. Needless to say, that went sour. In 2001, Britney Spears landed an $8 million deal with Pepsi, only later to part ways because she admitted she was more of a Coca-Cola girl. In 2012, Oprah sent a tweet to her 14.8 million fans promoting the Microsoft Surface from her iPad. In 2015, Kia and LeBron James had to dispute whether the current king of basketball does, indeed, drive a Kia.
Unsurprisingly, these failed endorsements have made consumers wary about the information they receive in the media. According to ZenithOptimedia, the average American spends more than 490 minutes a day — nearly 8.5 hours — consuming media, meaning consumers have become bona fide professionals at consuming, filtering and cataloging the onslaught of advertisements they see every day. What’s more, only four percent of consumers believe brands act with integrity when advertising.
Marketers are starting to understand that using celebrity endorsements to peddle a product just isn’t the most authentic way to influence consumers. They understand that it’s not only risky to place so much branding power on a single person — it isn’t credible. Consumers value the advice and recommendations of someone they can trust. This poses the question: whom can consumers trust?
Credible recommendations come from passionate, knowledgeable and experienced individuals, which is why, in recent years, brands have turned to social media and influencer marketing. But paid influencers have also lost their authenticity and trust from consumers. Savvy consumers know that credibility cannot be bought; it must be earned. One way marketers can maintain credibility is by harnessing the branding power of the existing customers who already share their passions with the masses.
The Toronto Raptors and their super fan, Nav Bhatia
The Toronto Raptors brand is already doing this. The 2019-2020 NBA season is getting ready to tip off and the Raptors are the defending champions. But winning hasn’t always come easy for the 24-year-old franchise. Since they joined the league in 1995, the Raptors have made the playoffs eleven times. Despite their inconsistent history, the Raptors have been able to build a passionate and diverse fan base.
Meet Nav Bhatia, Toronto Raptors superfan. This is not just a self-proclamation. This is the real deal. In 1998, general manager Isiah Thomas honored Bhatia at center court for his unparalleled dedication to the Raptors. Bhatia was given a jersey with “SuperFan” inscribed on the back.
During the franchise’s 24-year history, Bhatia has never missed a game. If that’s not enough, he’s never even been late to a game. Ever. (I personally reached out to verify). The Raptors made their NBA debut in 1995 at which point Bhatia purchased two season tickets. Today he is the proud owner of 10 seats.
Players, coaches and even referees have connected with Bhatia on a personal level. Any time NBA coach Mike Woodson is in town they grab dinner together and catch up on the latest in the NBA. He’s even frequently seen next to hip-hop superstar and fellow Raptors fan, Drake (insert comical gif here).
Nav is more than a fan; this man is addicted to his Toronto Raptors.
“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t womanize. I Raptorize. That’s it.”
The Raptors growing fan base
The Raptors have done more than simply labeling Bhatia as their super fan. He now serves as the Raptors South Asian community ambassador where he is asked to help diversify the fan base through his passion and super fandom.
“My responsibility is to promote the game of basketball and the Toronto Raptors South Asian community. Most South Asians are inclined to follow our traditional sports such as cricket. It’s my job to get them to come out and support the Raptors,” said Bhatia.
It’s working. According to Nate Silver the Raptors have an eight percent Asian fan base, the sixth largest in the NBA. With the continued help of Bhatia, the Raptors are poised to continue strengthening their fan base diversity.
“When I started in ’95 there were hardly 100 South Asians going to the games, and now there are thousands. The Raptors have won the most diverse attendance award in the NBA because of our hard work,” Bhatia continued. “If you visit a Raptors game, it is a true resemblance of our multicultural city of Toronto. There are thousands of South Asians in the arena and hundreds outside watching.”
Bhatia is not paid as a super fan, or to serve as the South Asian community ambassador. Instead, every year he pours nearly $300,000 of his own money into growing the Raptor fan base simply “to continue [his] passion for integrating the South Asian community with the mainstream.” The Raptors see the impact of this super fan. Former MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke told a group of Ryerson students, “Within 10 years, the Raptors are going to be the most popular team in Canada.”
The Raptors are now looking for new ways to put Bhatia’s reputation to good use. Recently they have asked Bhatia to promote the Raptor’s 905 D-League. He also started hosting two South Asian nights each year. Bhatia remains grateful for the Raptors organization and said, “This wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Raptors marketing team.”
The Bottom Line
Nav’s experience with the Raptors shows that consumers respond to authentic voices that they can trust. Marketing strategies should reflect that. Credible recommenders like Bhatia are building brand awareness, growing fandom and increasing sales because their favorite brands are recognizing and empowering their passions. Not every brand has a fan like Bhatia, willing to spend millions for their love of a brand, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a significant impact.
“Every brand should engage with their super fans. Fans are attracted to super fans because energy is contagious,” said Bhatia.
Look at your customers differently. They have potential to become an extension of your marketing efforts and help you build your brand in an authentic, credible way. They are looked at to recommend your brand — or your competitors — and those recommendations matter. Your super fan may not be sitting courtside at every home game, but if you look closely they are always within reach. They are after all, your fans. They could be your super fan.
To learn how Wooly can help you unlock the power of your super fans, schedule a demo with us here.