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Special Project

Special Project
From the 14th Annual Shorty Awards

IBM Consulting x ESPN fantasy football

Entered in Multi-Platform Campaign

About this entry

Over the past five years, IBM has partnered with ESPN to collectively develop and accelerate their digital engagement through improving the fantasy football experience.To highlight this sponsorship, our advertising team drives buzz around new AI-powered fantasy football features in a campaign every season. Traditionally, they've framed the sponsorship around the capabilities of IBM Watson, IBM Cloud, and OpenShift delivering insights to millions of fantasy football players. While the technical narrative is important to showcase what IBM can offer, we saw an opportunity to leverage storytelling elements to show how the IBM Consulting x ESPN partnership successfully embodies a "business transformation led, technology supported" initiative to accelerate digital engagement. 

That's why we decided to run an experiment to test a variation campaign that focuses on a single, narrative-driven CTA and ultimately tells the business transformation story behind it. We chose to spotlight IBM Consulting as it aligned with IBM’s 2021Q4 media investment and sales play. It also helped build equity in support of the IBM Consulting Q4 rebrand, post-Kyndryl separation from IBM.

Why does this entry deserve to win?

The original fantasy football landing page talks about and drives visitors to every part of the solution set with 6 separate CTAs sprinkled throughout the page. Based on experiments run in September through our partnership with the US Open, we hypothesized we would get more traction out of these kinds of pages by focusing on a single solution within the larger sponsorship story. To test our hypothesis, we built an alternative ad campaign and landing page experience that emphasizes the backstory of how IBM Consulting and ESPN's partnership has evolved over these past five years, ultimately driving all traffic with one consolidated CTA to the main Consulting page. With this test, we aimed to answer a few key questions: How do we get the most out of our sponsorship deals in support of the business objectives we want to drive? How can we use storytelling to generate meaningful engagement from this audience?

Because this initiative spanned both traditional media and digital, we were able to practice a new way of collaborative thinking between disciplines. Together, we strategized— hypothesizing how we could best leverage this sponsorship story to emphasize IBM Consulting's business transformation capabilities. We all worked closely on a day-to-day basis, writing the narrative and mapping out this concept in a digital journey. With the recent IBM Consulting rebrand in mind, we infused elements of the brand voice, color palette, identity, and anthem into all marketing materials and seamlessly integrated the ESPN fantasy football theme. We worked tightly with multiple creative teams to bring our vision to life through illustrations, two display banners, a paid social video, and a narrative-driven landing page.

This initiative utilized many capabilities from our new Adobe tech stack. The landing page was built in Carbon Design using AEM components to allow for a smooth migration to the new Adobe CMS. We also tried a new technique to capture audience data. We set up Adobe Target activities to track several Adobe Audience Manager audience segments to tell us who is landing and interacting with the page. We now have data to show that Decision Makers, Recommenders, Technical, and/or Non-Technical audiences are coming to- and continuing their journey on these campaign landing pages. While both pages drew in similar shares of these audience categories, the Consulting page, to our surprise, generated comparatively deeper engagement among technical visitors.



This project drove a seamless ad to on-site experience to IBM Consulting. We originally hypothesized that a focus on the business partnership story will increase engagement throughout the digital journey (from awareness to consideration).

At a creative perception level, the partnership-oriented messaging was associated with higher relevancy, suggesting that leaders/decision-makers may see wider business implications for their businesses compared to tech-oriented messaging. The consulting partnership-oriented banner messaging generated higher CTRs as compared to tech-oriented messaging. Copy changes focusing on broader messaging was associated with slight increases in CTRs, potentially due to the brand equity of the IBM Masterbrand as compared to the newer IBM Consulting brand. The narrative-driven landing page with narrow messaging and CTAs generated deeper engagement further down the funnel, suggesting a more focused audience.

Our consulting banners with specific messaging yielded 2x the click-through-rate, compared with the original fantasy football banners. In contrast, the original, broader fantasy football landing page had a 1.5x engagement rate compared to the consulting fantasy football page. This data is interesting given we anticipated the opposite effect to occur.


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