- ESPN ran a campaign to boost viewership for the NBA Finals by sending personalized messages to iPhone users in several locations in New York City, according to Adweek. The campaign relied on AirDrop, the feature that lets users wirelessly share photos, videos, documents and links with nearby Apple devices.
- Marketing teams from ESPN and agency R/GA sent individualized messages to bystanders that asked them why they weren't watching the basketball championship. For example, a person sitting on a park bench might have received a message asking, "Enjoying a rest on the bench? LeBron isn't," referring to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
- The stunt was part of a broader promotion that featured the tag line "You Seeing Thing This?" and included TV commercials and digital ads. ESPN also created live ads in Instagram Stories to add to the sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), ESPN's director of sports marketing Michael Kopech told Adweek.
ESPN's stunt to promote its coverage of the NBA Finals was likely a hit-or-miss effort. Reaching iPhone users depended on the chance they had set the oft-forgotten AirDrop to notify them that someone had requested to share a file, and likely surprised people with what could have been perceived as either a clever, slam dunk mobile effort or a major violation of privacy.
However, the campaign appears to be difficult to scale to a larger audience, given AirDrop's limited range of about 30 feet. ESPN mostly tried the stunt for "learning purposes," Adweek reported. AirDrop trolling isn't a common way to deliver marketing messages to iPhone users, but can serve as a fun way to prank people and compel them to tune in to a game.
While consumers increasingly prefer personalized marketing messages, 75% find many forms of the strategy creepy, customer experience intelligence platform InMoment found. Marketing that makes people feel like they're being stalked or watched can backfire and threaten consumer loyalty, with 22% leaving for other brands after a creepy experience.
ESPN's test campaign demonstrates one of the unorthodox ways broadcasters are working to gain viewers. Broadcast ratings weren't as strong this year as past championships, as Game 4 ratings slumped 12% from Game 3 a few nights earlier and 11% from the prior year, per Hollywood Reporter.