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State tournament: Great hockey, lousy marketing

I just spent three days in Minnesota’s biggest barrel of fish, and nobody took a shot at me.

I’m referring to the boys’ state hockey tournament, where 18,000 Minnesotans jam the Xcel Energy Center day after day — and pretty much every one of them has a cell phone. They’re texting, they’re talking, they’re Googling.

And yet I didn’t see a single instance of a company engaging this audience via mobile.

Marketing at the hockey tournament seems stuck in the 1980s. Companies set up tables in the lobby and hand out tchotchkes. They pass out brochures and invite you to enter a drawing for a prize.

In the arena itself, the state-of-the-art scoreboard and message boards constantly flash advertising messages, but they’re strictly one-way communication.

In three days, more than 120,000 people will pass through the Xcel gates to watch the state’s top teams face off. Many of them are repeaters, but even so, that’s a huge audience of people passionate about sports, community and education.

They’re also passionate about eating and drinking. Many are from outside the Twin Cities and might be looking for places to dine and party.

Why not flash them a message on the scoreboard inviting them to text for a coupon? Give them a game to play on their iPhones, direct them to a microsite, offer them a Google map to your restaurant.

Guerrilla theater
Low-tech options exist, too. How about a little guerrilla theater in the plaza outside the arena?

Let me pause in my bashing for a shout-out to one of my favorite promotional gimmicks of all time. If you’ve ever been to the tournament, or seen media coverage of it, you’ve seen people wearing those goofy little cardboard hockey helmets that look like the first-generation plastic helmets we were wearing on the rink back in 1969.

Bauer, the hockey equipment maker, sponsors those helmets, which you fold together like a piece of origami. And although I can’t say for certain, I’m pretty sure that our friends at the Minneapolis agency Olson came up with the idea — they’re Bauer’s agency, and the gimmick has that special brand of Olson wit.

We at Fast Horse also have used the tournament to activate programs for our clients. Last year, we passed out “Hanson Brothers” glasses — heavy, black plastic frames with white tape on the nosepiece, like the ones worn by the famous goons in the cult hockey movie “Slap Shot.” We used them to promote Insight School of Minnesota, an online high school that was just opening to Minnesota students. It was a great opportunity to reach kids who might be interested in a different education option.

But I think a lot of marketers are missing the chance to engage a passionate and prosperous audience with an excellent mix of young, old and middle-aged consumers.

The hockey tournament is a great Minnesota tradition. Marketers should make it part of their plans for suitable clients.

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