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Cause Marketing Your Bowl Game

Two of the 35 bowl games held this season… the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl… overtly use cause marketing to appeal to fans.

In the United States the college football season basically ends the first week in December. The bowl games are a series of post-season contests featuring teams that don’t normally play one another. The Armed Forces Bowl, which airs at noon today (ET), for instance, pits BYU against Tulsa, which have played against each other just seven times.

Bowl games are festive, even indulgent affairs. Team members and coaches get the full VIP treatment. There’s plenty of food, marching bands, pep rallies, cheerleaders and in a handful of cases, parades. At the Armed Forces Bowl the cheerleaders and mascots pay a visit to the Cook Children’s Hospital.

The Armed Forces Bowl is meant to call attention to members of the military, present and past, active duty and reserves. “The Dallas-Fort Worth based bowl game has featured a military theme since 2006,” press notes say. “Patriotic overtones recognizing all five branches of the military are prevalent throughout the game. Past Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowls have included fan-fest areas showcasing military hardware; flyovers; demonstrations by several of the military’s top skydiving teams; on-field induction ceremonies; military bands and honor guards; and the awarding of the annual "Great American Patriot Award" (GAPA) presented by Armed Forces Insurance."

At today’s game the honoree at halftime will be Salvatore Giunta, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, one of only 85 currently living.

Bell Helicopter is a brand of Textron, a defense contractor and aircraft manufacturer.

Kraft has been promoting the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which airs Dec. 31., as a culmination of its efforts on behalf of Feeding America. On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Kraft announced at press event that it was donating more than 25 million meals to Feeding America. Last year, the first for Kraft’s sponsorship of the bowl, the company donated 21 million meals.

Starting in August, Kraft drew on a number of football greats along with celebrity chefs Pat and Gina Neely, whose faces graced a number of ads during the course of the season. That's them at the left in an ad from People magazine.

“To further support the mission of the bowl,” promotional materials say, “organizers are donating a meal for every ticket sold, as well as in the name of every player participating in the game. Players and coaches from the University of Illinois and UCLA also plan to volunteer at Bay Area food pantries on Friday.”

Of the two, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is much better marketed, and more of a pure-play cause marketing effort. That’s probably because ESPN owns the Armed Forces Bowl and treats it like just another media property. By contrast the San Francisco Bowl Game Association owns the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and appears to have turned over all the marketing to Kraft.

It’s a clever use of a bowl game, by Kraft. But they do walk a sponsorship tightrope here.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is at best a second tier bowl game. That’s why they could so fully take over the marketing. By the same token, in most years it features teams with mediocre records. This year’s contest pits Illinois, which is 6-6, against UCLA which at 6-7 has a losing record! So on game day itself, Kraft is marketing to a pretty small TV audience in a baseball stadium (AT&T Park in San Francisco) whose capacity is just 40,184.

Of course, neither contest is the first to mashup a bowl game with a cause. That honor goes to the East-West Shrine Game, an all-star game that features college seniors and benefits Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. The East-West Shrine Game debuted in 1925!

The next game takes place on January 21, 2012 and sponsorships are still available.

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