By Barry Janoff
August 31, 2015: There will be some different things on-site and on air for the more than 700,000 people expected to attend and those who will watch the 2015 U.S. Open in the Billie Jean National Tennis Center in New York, which begins today and is scheduled to run through Sept. 13.
There is a new roof being installed over Arthur Ashe Stadium, a new LED system and sound system to improve the in-stadium experience, a free admissions day (Sept. 10) and, on TV, ESPN now has exclusive wall-to-wall coverage, including the women's and men's finals (Sept. 12 and 13, respectively).
Also new, which will play more to the palate of fans, Mondelēz International, whose billion-dollar brands include Oreo, Cadbury, LU, Milka, Nabisco, Tang and Trident, will be there via a sponsorship deal to become an official partner of the U.S. Open. That adds to a Modeléz official roster that includes Nascar, NCAA, MLS and U.S. Soccer.
The agreement gives the company promotional rights in store, stadium and in digital media and advertising. On site, Mondelēz will have presence to support the recent release of Oreo Thins. Mondeléz said it would also offer samples of its beiVita breakfast biscuits.
Mondelēz International, which in 2014 had pro forma revenue of more than $30 billion, joins a roster of U.S. Open partners that includes Chase, J.P. Morgan, Emirates, IBM, Mercedes-Benz, Esurance, Heineken, Polo Ralph Lauren, Xerox, Visit Orlando, Evian, Grey Goose, Jacob's Creek, Lavazza, Tiffany, Westin and Wilson.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Stephen Chriss, Senior Director, North America Consumer Engagement and Marketing Services at Mondelēz International, about the pros and cons of aligning with sports and entertainment properties, the challenges of bringing a new product to market and the strategy behind working with the U.S. Open to reach fans and consumers.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What is the strategy that Mondeléz follows when looking at potential partners and then in signing deals such as the one with the U.S. Open?
Stephen Chriss: This is a favorite topic for me to talk about. We are a company made up of amazing, iconic brands. So when you start with this portfolio, we are laser-focused when we do deals such as the U.S. Open. Our pockets are not as deep as some of the other partners you might find in Arthur Ashe Stadium or the NCAA Final Four, where we are also the official cookies and crackers. Or in sports such as Nascar, where we are the official cookies and crackers. Or most recently our endeavor and investment in soccer in North America, where we are the official snacks for U.S, Soccer and Major League Soccer. So it starts with that laser-focus of understanding that match of what our brands are and the sports with which we want to be associated. The backdrop for that is, for me, it starts with putting our brands in the cultural conversation of things that are incredibly relevant with consumers today.
NYSJ: Mondeléz has a vast array of brands, and some are more well-know than others. When you are planning strategy, is there a challenge to promote some of the lesser-known brands, or to piggy-back Oreo, for example, with a brand that is not so top-of-mind among consumers?
SC: We recognize that we have a wide portfolio of options to offer consumers and that some are everyday brands, like Oreo, and that there are some on the other side of the channel. From an integrated marketing perspective, we often approach these partnerships as a multi-brand initiative. The scale of these relationships is very important to us. Very rarely will you see us do a brand-specific initiative. It's usually in our category: cookies, crackers, candy, gum, which such brands as Oreo, belVita, Triscuit, Trident, Sour Patch, Swedish Fish. That portfolio comes to life in various ways for the consumer. When you go into a grocery store, a convenience store or a club store, you'll see our brands come together in a display. Depending on the property and the deal, that's one of the more important things for me. How am I going to win in-store. So behind soccer, NCAA, Nascar, what we call 'Snack Moments' during events with cultural relevance, getting consumers to stop when they are shopping is my bread-and-butter and where I have to win. So in our portfolio approach, yes, our smaller brands win in a big way.
NYSJ: How will this come to life at the U.S. Open?
SC: The Open is a culturally iconic and a world-class sports event. While it's a category for us in cookies, we will shine over those 14 days and 14 nights with Oreo. What is even more special for us is that we have just come out with Oreo Thins. The U.S. Open gives us an amazing platform to introduce this product, provide exposure with an incredible amount of TV impressions (including commercials for Oreo Thins) and social media impressions. We will also have several hundred thousand samples and trial opportunities, talking about the product during the course of the event. Our brands engage consumers where they are, at the Open in person, and increasingly on digital and social media as well as through TV.
"The U.S. Open is one of those rare events that has an amazingly strong appeal to our core target of moms, families, millennials and multi-cultural consumers."
NYSJ: How has the growth of social media helped your strategy?
SC: For us, there are two things that come to mind about social media and buying rights and the assets, and leveraging the conversation and the traffic around it. One is that it is authentic. Our brands are often a part of that moment. So if you think about soccer, the NCAA or tennis, it's a moment. And often that moment is watching it, either live in the stadium or on-air on TV or a second-screen. Our snacks are part of that moment. So when you have Snack Moments and you take cultural relevance, and you put those two together, it's part of the screening process through which we go. It's authentically there from the Snack Moment perspective, but it also gives us the credibility to talk about it that much more.
NYSJ: How impactful is that?
SC: For the tennis fan, it's one thing to be around it, but it's another thing to be in the stadium, sampling and providing trials and opportunities for our great products on the U.S. Tennis Assn. grounds over the two weeks of the U.S. Open. We are at soccer events when we are associated with soccer. Or being in the Final Four city. It provides us with that added credibility. And consumers are savvy enough to understand that there is a loyalty and awareness, and that ultimately results in increased sales for us.
NYSJ: What is your overall strategy to marketing during the U.S. Open?
SC: The U.S. Open is one of those rare events that has an amazingly strong appeal to our core target of moms, families, millennials and multi-cultural consumers collectively. The sport is growing among youth. (More than 700,000 people) attend it. So we will have an integrated approach, highlighted by the exposure of Oreo Thins. We will have signage in Arthur Ashe center court; experiential opportunities on the grounds in the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center, a booth where the creative will change, depending on day or night, to showcase different brands but led by Oreo Thins and beiVita. And we'll do consumer and social media engagement. It's employee engagement and great pride for our employees to be associated with such a world-class event. It makes you feel good to work for a company with brands that include Oreo and belVeta and to be associated with the U.S. Open.
NYSJ: Is part of the strategy to make people who are not familiar with Mondeléz aware of the fact that so many products they either use or are familiar with all part of the same company?
SC: Mondeléz is our corporate name and quite frankly it is not consumer-facing. We live by our brands. They are what people eat, what they know, what they buy. Oreos is an amazing, iconic brand. Ultimately, our cookie and cracker brands ladder up to a trademark that has a long history in Nabisco. So it's not about Mondeléz. It's about our brands. But when we are talking about our brands, or are in a store, the plethora of brands, the wide options make for an amazing portfolio.
NYSJ: What are the challenges of keeping your message from getting stale during a live two-week event versus a one-time event?
SC: There are two important aspects. One is focus. People will see a consistent look and feel from us, primarily led by Oreo Thins. This is a great platform to support the launch of a new product. We will rotate creative in our experiential area, primarily between Oreo Thins and beiVita, and maybe a few other brands. People who are coming during the day and those who come at night will get a different experience. There is enough of a diverse consumer who is going to the Open who will not be there on a regular basis. For those who are at the Open in person, they will see different things and experiences from us. Not only with products, but the way our people talk and the way they look, as well as different types of activations in a live time perspective over the 14 days and 14 nights. There are some challenges with a long event, but I love the focus and I love getting additional exposure that will apply not only to our entire portfolio but specifically to Oreo Thin.
NYSJ: How important has the alliance with U.S. Soccer and MLS been?
SC: Soccer has taken over this country in the past two years, specifically, but has been on a trajectory of growth whether you are watching it, going to the games or participating, The sport is booming. Our brands are there. Over the last two years, the U.S. Men's team did quite nicely in the World Cup and the U.S. Women's team won gold in Canada this summer. We have been putting our brands in that conversation in the stadiums, in the parking lots, among fans and consumers watching it on TV or their second-screen (including an alliance with Alex Morgan, pictured). My job is to make sure our brands are part of that. It's not about ubiquity for us, otherwise we'd be in a lot more places and be spending a lot more money. We watch every dollar that we spend.
NYSJ: Looking at the different properties with which Mondeléz is aligned, it's clear you have a strategy that goes 12 months, not just part of the year or seasonal.
SC: Exactly. We look at it as an annual calendar. We look at snacking moments from the beginning of the year, with that big football game that happens, and when you get into the end of the first quarter what's big with consumers is March Madness. When you get into the summer months, our primary focus over the past two years has been soccer. Toward the end of summer, there are big snacking moments for us. The U.S. Open is a new one for us. Another, and where we have a strong presence, is moms getting their kids ready to go back to school. One of the passion-points for kids during that time of year is music. We have been partners for two years with One Direction, and this year with 5 Seconds of Summer (pictured). It's all about that passion point. All to a relevance with kids during that time period.
NYSJ: What else are you looking toward after the Open?
SC: There are two other periods during the end of the year for us: The college football tailgating and snacking experience. So we promote brands such as Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Ritz, Premium saltine crackers, and how to use them in recipes and use them while you are tailgating. And we round out the year in November, December, looking at the holidays, with people coming together between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are always looking for ways to reach consumers in moments throughout the year with our great snacks.
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