Since launching a TikTok account in July 2019, Benny The Bull has been on the forefront of the platform. The account’s more than two million followers outnumber any North American professional sports team, as well as the main accounts for UFC, MLB and the NHL.
Looking to take advantage of that popularity, the Chicago Bulls have become the first professional team to release branded content on TikTok.
Partnering with Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank, the Bulls engaged in choreographing and creating dance challenges for fans to participate. It also produced and created original audio and music for each post. On the music side, the Bulls worked with Hawaii-based group Young Black Kings to develop and produce original songs for the branded content series.
The Bulls rolled out its BMO Harris branded content on January 12. The video featured Benny unveiling the Benny Dance Challenge with the #BullsBMOChallenge and #ad hashtags accompanying it. As of March 2, the video has generated more than 1.2 million views, 170,200 likes, and 520 comments. The 16.27-second-long video has also been shared more than 6,000 times and seen a completion rate of 86%.
Another #BullsBMOChallenge video by the Bulls has performed even better, drawing more than 1.3 million views, 190,500 likes, 747 comments, 747 comments, and 4,400 shares. The 15-second video also saw a completion rate of 87%.
The success of the branded content has been a result of following the same strategy – bringing together challenges and relevant audio – that has made Benny the Bull popular on TikTok in the first place, according to Kamil Strycharz, the Bulls’ digital marketing coordinator.
“One thing especially that BMO Harris looked for this season was, ‘how can we reach a different audience that in their case are the future bankers?'” Strycharz added. “For us, a huge reason around [using] TikTok is to reach the next generation of fans and a younger audience. And so with those two points alone, we’re able to both connect on similar goals and objectives.”
Beyond the millions of views that the video saw, the #BullsBMOchallenge hashtag became a mini-trend on TikTok, Strycharz said. More than 9,000 people both published videos to the song and learned and performed the dance as well. It drew interest from personalities ranging from TikTok influencer @cameronfromwalmart – who has more than three million followers – to Craig Smith, a Kentucky-based teacher with more than 44,000 followers on the platform.
“Our past social media successes with the Bulls have made us willing to explore new creative collaborations that put our brand in front of new and diverse audiences,” Josh Epstein, head of corporate sponsorships for BMO Financial Group, wrote in an email. “The TikTok series is just another example of the best in class content that the Bulls produce that we are thrilled to partner on.”
Benny is not the only part of this Bulls-BMO Harris activation. BMO Harris will be mentioned in the copy of each post and naturally integrated into the posts, similar to how the BMO Harris ATM is seen in the background of the launch video.
The partnership calls for five original audio captures to be made, with there likely to be more than eight videos created, Strycharz said. Almost all of the videos will be shared throughout the season, with the possibility of releasing some during early summer before the 2020-2021 NBA season. Fans who participate in the videos will also have the opportunity to receive BMO-branded hats and gift cards, Strycharz said.
The Bulls declined to comment on the financial terms of the BMO Harris branded content series.
Robbie Levin, TikTok’s strategic partner manager for media and brands, sees the Bulls-BMO Harris partnership as a great way for sports teams to create engaging content with their sponsors.
Days before the Bulls-BMO Harris collaboration, the New York Giants incorporated Pepsi, one of their sponsors, into a video. While it might have come slightly before, Levin said that the Bulls-BMO Harris campaign is the most significant that TikTok has seen from a sports partnership side.
“The partnership with The Bulls and BMO Harris is a great example of how sports teams can create engaging and fun content with their sponsors,” Levin said. “We encourage and empower our partners to work with their local markets to bring value for their sponsors.”
“From TikTok’s perspective, it’s great to see sports teams supporting local businesses on TikTok in a creative and authentic way,” he added.
One of the toughest tasks for marketers is letting the consumer call the shots, Sean Branagan, director of the center for digital media entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, said. That makes the partnership’s willingness to give fans control of the company’s content assets all the more impressive, he said.
“[The Bulls-BMO Harris content] is a fantastic combination of sponsorship use of the team’s intellectual property and in a way where you’re handing it over to the fans to make something new and imaginative out of it,” Branagan said. “With these artists hats, I don’t know if that’s ever been done before – that’s fantastic.”
Having an established sports team like the Bulls on TikTok also helps with executing successful campaigns, Mathew Micheli, co-founder and managing partner of media marketing agency Viral Nation, Inc., said. Through the Bulls’ personal account as well as Benny’s, they were able to strategically inspire nearly 10,000 video creations across TikTok alone, according to Levin.
“I think the Bulls hit the nail right on the head with what they tried to do,” Micheli said. “If you put this particular initiative on Facebook, it would probably have four views, whereas this on TikTok was meant for TikTok.”
“Content for specific platforms and specific initiatives has to match the audience that you’re going for,” Micheli added. “As time progresses, we’ll be looking at how well these teams utilize TikTok for the content that does well: the challenges, the dances, utilizing music. That will be important to see how successful TikTok is over the long haul with regard to monetization.”
Although there are always valuable lessons to take from every campaign, Strycharz acknowledges that luck played a part in the effectiveness of the Bulls-BMO Harris activation. It not only worked well with the Bulls, but it also introduced BMO Harris to TikTok and gave it a chance at diversifying its social media presence.
While more videos are to come, Strycharz and the Bulls have received plenty of positive feedback from other NBA teams. The NBA also reached out to Chicago and let it know that the league was going to present the video launch to the 29 other teams during its annual sales and marketing meetings.
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“The ability to show other teams how to monetize, that alone is so awesome to see that reused as a best practice,” Strycharz said.
While the program has been successful thus far, Strycharz acknowledged that it is not always as easy replicating success on something as unpredictable as social media.
“This is the kind of video we’re looking for now that has to be replicated with different performance teams and members that haven’t been using TikTok as often,” he added. “We have to make sure that we’re always staying in line with the goals and not only that but also staying true to the platform.”