Irish Spring is not normally a brand that advertises around college football, especially in comparison to market rivals. But it has taken the opportunity during rivalry week to promote its brand to the sport’s most rabid fans.
The Colgate-Palmolive subsidiary will unveil a new pop-up activation on November 30, highlighted by “Neutral Zones” where fans of opposite teams will compete together performing karaoke to win free product giveaways.
Irish Spring is historically a rare participant in sports marketing, particularly in college football. Rather, the brand’s marketing materials often play up Irish culture. Even when the company has delved into sports, it still typically has focused on that.
For example, when Irish Spring underwent a rebrand in 2016, which featured the market debut of its Irish Spring body wash, it advertised it in a rugby commercial. Three years prior to that campaign, the brand also inked a marketing deal with Irish-born WWE superstar Sheamus.
By comparison, fellow deodorant soap maker Dove has shown strong interest in college football. Through its Dove Men+Care product, Dove has launched multiple campaigns with prominent college football media personalities, including Jesse Palmer and Kirk Herbstreit, over the last decade. Unilever, Dove’s parent company, also became an official corporate partner of the NCAA in 2011.
This particular marketing opportunity around college football fell into Irish Spring’s hands, according to Brian Keough, marketing director at Colgate-Palmolive. After a local grocery store removed all Irish Spring products from its shelves to troll Notre Dame before the FIghting Irish took on the Georgia Bulldogs on September 21, Irish Spring went on the offensive – creating a new Twitter account to respond.
“We were overwhelmed by the positive fan response and knew we had to do more. Thus, the idea for Irish Spring Neutral Zone was born,” said Keough. “This weekend hosts the most storied rivalries in all of college football, but we shouldn’t forget that our shared love of the game, sportsmanship, and respect for one another is what fuels these beloved moments.”
Irish Spring’s media strategy is focused on connected TV, digital video, and paid social activations. So when the buzz from the events leading to the Georgia – Notre Dame game began to build, it worked with ESPN to secure a mention of the story on College GameDay, Keough added.
Irish Spring’s new pop-up tailgates are set to appear in the lead up to the games between Ohio State and Michigan, Florida versus Florida State, and the Iron Bowl, which features Auburn against Alabama.
Former Michigan Wolverines linebacker Dhani Jones is also partnering with the brand on the campaign, and will be in Ann Arbor as Irish Spring’s spokesperson. All the pre-game events will be made available to viewers on Irish Spring’s Twitter account, according to the company.
“When Irish Spring first came to me with the idea, I started thinking to myself that rivalries get so heated and out of control that it’s important to remember, from a football perspective, it’s about the game and everyone rallying around the tradition of college football,” said Jones. “I think it’s admirable from a brand and company perspective to promote that.”
Asked what other sports activations Irish Spring has planned in the future, Keough said, “Right now we’re just focusing on celebrating good, clean sportsmanship during rivalry weekend, but who knows where we’ll spring up next?”