Right now, the Chicago Bulls sit in seventh place in the NBA's Eastern Conference. And while plenty of eyes will be on what might be done before today's trade deadline, the team's also got a game plan to entertain fans off the court.
This season, the Bulls began a sponsored content deal with BMO Harris Bank to create a stop-motion Vine series that's become some of the most unique and best-performing content across all of its social channels. The newest #BMOVineabulls post dropped yesterday and has Benny the Bull flying Jordan-style around His Airness's iconic statue outside the United Center.
The Bulls' digital content manager Luka Dukich says this is the first stop-motion work by any NBA team and so far the series has been their most popular piece of digital sponsored content. The Vine platform is perfect for the Bulls' social media audience, as Dukich found that even on Facebook the average video view was seven seconds.
"So we started adapting and putting our Vine videos on Facebook and Instagram as well and the response was off the charts," says Dukich. "A couple videos so far have come close to hitting a million views on Facebook alone, which is unheard of for our sponsored content. If we put up a game highlight or dunk video, that will get millions of views no matter what, but for sponsored content, this has been our best performing stuff."
Dukich wanted to focus on stop-motion because, rare among NBA teams, he was looking for a new and unique way to engage with fans. He asked Vine to recommend a stop-motion artist, but was told to contact any artist he liked directly. They didn't have to look far, eventually teaming with Travis Brooks, a stop-motion animator and doc filmmaker who lives about a mile from the United Center in Chicago.
The creative process behind the series is simply Brooks, Dukich and the Bulls' marketing and digital team brainstorming ideas, bouncing them off BMO Harris Bank, settle on a few concepts and go from there. Despite being only six seconds long, Dukich says each shoot can take hours.
"The '80s night dunk Vine took three hours to shoot alone—the dunker had to do the exact same dunk, the exact same way, getting the same height, about 70 times," says Dukich.
Despite being sponsored content, the Vine series has blended seamlessly into the Bulls digital strategy. Dukich says the key is not to be too heavy-handed with the "sponsored" part of the content. It's a way for us to connect with our younger fans in a way that feels natural for them, and in a way they'll think is cool," he says. "People are savvy enough now to know when they're being marketed to, but they'll accept that if the content is cool enough and worth their time. Being able to speak their language and offering them unique content, and being honest about the sponsored aspect—we're not hiding that at all. As long as we continue to crank out cool, legit content that's not too in-your-face about pushing a sponsor, people will be ready to check it out."
There are now seven Vines in the 10-part series, and Dukich says there will be more projects like this coming in the very near future. "It's definitely an area that more and more brand partners are asking about because they want to find a way to reach our fan base through digital content," he says. "We expect that to grow more and more as time goes on. We don't want to just slap a logo on something—we want to use sponsorships to create content that people will actually want to watch. That's a win-win for everyone."