Fantastic Indeed! How Alcoa Helped Pioneer Content Marketing

September 27, 2012

The death of NFL Films legend Steve Sabol has prompted countless well-deserved tributes — with several showing off the beautiful game footage he was so great at capturing. The retro images have triggered many fond memories for me of watching games in the early ’80s, including barefoot kickers, single-bar facemasks and my very first introduction to sponsored content.

“Alcoa Fantastic Finishes” were little vignettes that aired during network TV broadcasts at the two-minute warning of each game. They tapped NFL Films highlights to tell the story of amazing comebacks. And they were immediately followed by a 30-second spot for Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) promoting the benefits of aluminum cans.

I legitimately got excited for the “Alcoa Fantastic Finishes.” Seriously, I wasn’t going anywhere when the two-minute warning was approaching. And I’m certain I implored my parents to buy aluminum cans due to my appreciation for Alcoa.

But I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the target audience, so I did a little digging to see if the campaign was actually successful. A quick Google search turned up this 2010 article about Aloca’s first-of-its-kind sponsorship deal, which put the brand in front of millions of football fans at peak viewership times.

Interestingly, Alcoa had planned to buy the air time, but didn’t have enough budget to pay for the “Fantastic Finishes” vignettes and an Alcoa brand spot. Amazingly, they convinced the networks and the NFL that the Fantastic Finishes would enhance the viewer experience and they were included as part of the broadcast for free. Combined with the 30-second brand spot tagged on the end, it gave them 60 seconds of air time at the two-minute warning at half the cost.

Plus, this was a time when people were starved for highlights. There was no ESPN or NFL Network showing highlights 24/7, so it was cool to see these dramatic endings to classic games — particularly if your team was victorious (sadly, that’s not the case in the clip featured here).

According to the creators of the campaign, it increased awareness by 80 percent. And while the concept wouldn’t be as effective today for a number of reasons, they had a recipe for success that still holds true. If you offer consumers relevant, compelling content, they will accept your brand message as part of it. Done right, branded content is entertainment, not an interruption. Too often, however, marketers forget the relevant and compelling part.

Anybody else remember the “Alcoa Fantastic Finishes” as fondly as I do?