Taco Bell’s contract extension as the official quick-service restaurant partner of the National Basketball Association will include “a lot of firsts for the brand,” including new digital and social media layers to showcase last-second shots and buzzer beaters from NBA games this season.

The chain of more than 6,000 restaurants in the United States has been an official NBA sponsor since 2009. This year, Taco Bell and the NBA will integrate their social media channels to build excitement for league games.

“We’re really trying to become a lifestyle brand, and there’s no sport like the NBA that is so influential on lifestyle,” said Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer for Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell. “It influences music and fashion, and it’s the No. 1 sports property talked about on social media. To the extent we can amplify those conversations with some Taco Bell stories, it’s a perfect fit for us.”


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Once again, Taco Bell’s commercials and branding will be featured prominently in games broadcast on TV, for the NBA as well as the WNBA and the NBA D-League. The brand also will be an associate sponsor of the NBA All-Star Jam session and the title sponsor of All-Star Weekend’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge. As part of that event, Taco Bell and NBA Cares, the league’s charitable association, will award college scholarships through the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens.

The new digital program is designed to reinforce Taco Bell’s exposure from the TV broadcasts, Brandt said. In particular, the viewers targeted by Taco Bell’s increased social media video presence would be Millennial consumers, who have a habit of using another screen like a smartphone or laptop computer while watching games, he added.

“We don’t have a TV plan; we have a video plan,” he said. “Viewers aren’t necessarily watching things just on TV. It’s imperative that brands aren’t on just one screen, but across all of them. It’s a subtle change, but a meaningful one.”

Taco Bell is still “working through the machinations” of how it will integrate its brand presence on social media with the buzzer beaters in NBA games, whether through hash tags or edited videos, Brand said.

“We’re trying to take that excitement and connect it to ‘Live Más,’ and that could even mean a missed shot at the buzzer,” he said. “A ‘Live Más moment’ is about going for the win and not the tie, about the effort and not the achievement. We’ve done those ‘Live Más moments’ with our tie-in on ESPN, and we think it’ll carry over nicely to the NBA.”

Though the NBA has diversified its media platforms across its own NBA TV cable channel, ESPN, TNT, TBS and YouTube, Taco Bell does not worry about any dilution of reach for basketball viewers, Brandt said.

“It’s really the ‘power of and’ with that,” he said. “Millennials already have this habit of tweeting or using another screen while they’re watching basketball, and we’re trying to amplify that. We’re not asking them to do anything more than what they’re already doing.

“If you as a brand enhance what you’re doing online,” he continued, “especially in social media where those consumers are anyway, it creates a much richer experience for them, which leads to a better identification with the brand.”

During its previous four seasons as an NBA sponsor, Taco Bell has executed several basketball-related promotions, including the NBA Five Buck Box meal and the “Driving Better Choices” program for fitness in 2010. Last season, the chain introduced the NBA Big Box during the 2013 Conference Finals, and packaging for the meal featured 42 NBA players, along with customized NBA content accessed through QR codes.

Taco Bell is a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN