By Barry Janoff
September 5, 2015: When spending time in New York, people enjoy painting the town red.
Thanks to an alliance with Voya Financial, ESPN is painting its coverage of the U.S. Open in New York orange.
When Voya Financial began its company-wide rebranding last year from ING, it took a road that ultimately led it to ESPN and the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader In Sports" coverage of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open (now through Sept. 13).
As a sponsor of ESPN’s first year of exclusive 14-day wall-to-wall U.S. Open coverage, Voya has been able to present its rebranding message — "Orange Money: The money you save for tomorrow, today" — and company strategy via integrated activation, including ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3; Internet, social media destinations such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube as well as other on-air presence.
As it did during Wimbledon (June 29-July 12), the agreement includes significant commercial inventory, plus live "Voya Bench Talk” segments with accompanying graphics and audio mentions and Voya on-screen branding during ESPN's 360-degree “freeD” replay technology, which was tested at Wimbledon but has made its full-fledged debut at the U.S. Open.
A key part of Voya's marketing tactic includes an alliance with former tennis player, coach and current ESPN tennis analyst and commentator Brad Gilbert. Gilbert reprises during the U.S. Open a role in which he appeared in six original Voya-produced videos throughout ESPN's Wimbledon coverage by starring in six new videos, again explaining such tennis terms as "Paint the Lines," "Bagels and Breadsticks" and "Moonball." Each video concludes with text that reads, “Brad Gilbert: Changing the Way You Think About Tennis. Voya Financial: Changing the Way You Think About Retirement.
The deal with ESPN enables Voya to get its message out to consumers without becoming an official partner of the U.S. Tennis Assn. or the U.S. Open itself.
"Clearly from a Voya perspective and other partners, the ability to weave that content throughout our platforms, to be able to put it in more places, to be able to provide more access points for the content and the relationship with sponsors, it’s something that we certainly think is going to be a big step up for us and a step up for our partners throughout the two weeks," Scott Guglielmino, svp-programming for ESPN, told NYSportsJournalism during a pre-U.S. Open media conference call.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Ann Glover, CMO for Voya Financial, about the strategy in aligning with ESPN and Brad Gilbert, the challenges of rebranding — "Voya is an abstract name coined from the word 'voyage,'" Glover explained when the rebranding process began in mid-2014. "It reflects momentum and optimism, and a view towards the future" — and the company's other new and on-going marketing plans to reach consumers.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What was the internal strategy to align Voya and the company's rebranding process with ESPN, in particular during Wimbledon and currently the U.S. Open?
Ann Glover: We are at the first-year anniversary of unveiling the Voya rebrand to consumers. We study and think a lot about who those consumers are and what they like to do. One thing that we know is that they like to watch tennis, and that the demographics are in equal numbers between men and women. So that puts tennis in a very desirable spot for us. The other thing that we love, which we did at Wimbledon and that we are doing at the U.S. Open, is that with the tennis tournament we have the opportunity, especially with a new brand, to get our message in front of consumers multiple times throughout the duration of the tournament. That's really important to us. The third thing is that tennis as a sports property offers us the opportunity to talk to consumers not just during the broadcast but through social media, digital advertising, other activations. Even though it's also the start of football season, people, especially in and around New York, are talking about tennis and the U.S. Open. We knew we could do an integrated program around tennis.
NYSJ: Have you been able to access the impact of working with ESPN during Wimbledon?
AG: We had very good results from Wimbledon in terms of numbers of impressions across multiple channels. We had more than four million paid and organic consumer views of our Brad Gilbert series, which is really good. The campaign also generated earned media placement across more than 40 online news and sports outlets. Those outlets attract a combined 250 million unique visitors a month. The whole goal with the new brand is to keep the Voya name in front of the consumer for as much of the year as we can. So with Wimbledon, we were able to extend our media presence into the beginning of the summer. And we have a really nice fall schedule that is going to kick in. But the U.S. Open becomes a bookend for the end of the summer and the beginning of our fall media schedule. So it's way for us to get that awareness back up in gear.
NYSJ: How important is it for Voya that this is ESPN's first year of exclusive wall-to-wall coverage of the U.S. Open?
AG: It's great to be able to work with them to get our message across on multiple levels across multiple platforms. We know that anything on ESPN gets lots and lots of views. One example: ESPN on Instagram features photos of the day, and some of those will be brought to you by Voya. Along with commercial inventory we will have the 'Voya Bench Talk Series.' And this is really cool. ESPN is using a new system, a 360-degree 'freeD' replay technology (in Arthur Ashe Stadium) where they have (28) cameras set up around the court, which we are sponsoring and will have on-screen branding. They tested it at Wimbledon but are using it for the entire U.S. Open. We will also highlight on ESPN's digital platforms our sponsorship of the tennis home page, various banner media, promoted video tweets and Voya-created social content.
NYSJ: Brad Gilbert was part of Voya's platform at Wimbledon. How did that come about and what have the results been to date?
AG: Brad Gilbert is a fun guy And it's fun to hear him talk about using the 'Gilbert Glossary' to help people think in a different way about tennis. And we are tying that in to our platform about how people can think differently about retirement. Each video ends with the text, 'Brad Gilbert: Changing the Way You Think About Tennis. Voya Financial: Changing the Way You Think About Retirement.' It supports the optimistic, forward-thinking tone of our brand and the way in which we want consumers to start thinking about their retirement, and how Voya can help them.
NYSJ: Was he the guy you wanted from the outset to carry your message?
AG: Absolutely. What we loved about Brad is that he is an announcer, he is an ESPN celebrity, so he has maintained his public profile in transitioning from player to being an on-air personality. And he's a real guy. He fun and he enjoys what he is doing. At Wimbledon, we dressed him in Wimbledon white; at the U.S. Open, he's dressed in Voya orange.
NYSJ: You mentioned being at the one-year anniversary of rebranding to Voya. Are people aware of the change and responding to it, through your activations in tennis and elsewhere?
AG: We have seen that it is gaining traction. In the many areas where we are getting the message out through our distributors, there has been unbelievable awareness about the Voya brand. And the consumer numbers are also clicking up very steadily. We love the fact that people are connecting Voya with the whole idea that we are helping people be better prepared for retirement by planning, investing and protecting their savings. They are connecting Voya with a better path to retirement.
NYSJ: When you talk about the demographics of tennis being split between men and women, how does that translate to the demographics of your consumers?
AG: We have found that in many cases, the financial decision-makers are women. This is interesting: If you ask men who makes the financial decisions in the family they say 'I do.' If you ask women, they say 'We do.'
NYSJ: Considering that Serena Williams and Roger Federer are in their 30s and, in tennis terms, are nearing retirement, have you considered having them as Voya spokespersons?
AG: We don't have deals with them. But let's put it this way: We are always on the lookout for new ideas and new people to help us. To help us bring the idea to life that we are committed to change the way that people think about retirement. The fact that they are going to be moving into a different phase of their lives does tie-in to what we are getting across, that moving on to the next part of your life is challenging but can be very enjoyable. Retirement planning is so easy to put off. And we are trying to make it much more in the present and more relevant. So if talking about Serena and Roger retiring does get people thinking about their own retirement plans, they should know that with Voya, retirement plans are based on individuals and what they want.
NYSJ: Beyond tennis, what has Voya been doing to support the rebranding process?
AG: We recently won an award from a life insurance marketing organization for a 'Born to Save' program we ran last year during National Save For Retirement Week. The headline was, 'We are helping the next generation take its first step toward retirement readiness.' We were expecting about 10,000 babies to be born (during that week), and for every baby who was born on the first day of National Save For Retirement Week in October we offered a $500 mutual fund investment. We had 1,000s of babies signed up by their parents. So when we say we want to change the way people think about retirement, it's not immediately obvious that you would link newborns with retirement. It was different enough that people stood up and took notice. It received great traction in traditional media, social, digital. We have a lot of data which shows that when people see your brand in more than one media format there is a significant increase in awareness.
NYSJ: Specifically with Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, is the plan to have people associate retirement with being active rather than sitting on a chair and not doing anything?
AG: Yes. People today want the retirement phase of their lives to be better. It should be an after-party. It should be better than your working life. People are living longer, so when you retire you still have a lot of years left to enjoy yourself.
NYSJ: What does Voya have planned beyond the U.S. Open?
AG: We are looking for consumer passion-points. It could be sports but there are a lot of interests that motivate people — cooking and travel, just as examples — into which we can tie and create an integrated program. To use all of the forms of media at our disposal to bring that to life. We know that integration is a great way to capture the attention of customers. It's smart, it's efficient and it works.