February 5, 2023

Digital Marketing Education

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HBCU brand deals are on the rise—what marketers are getting right and wrong


Some advertisers have been stepping up corporate sponsorships of HBCU athletic departments in other ways.

Procter & Gamble said it would be taking several steps to drive more partnerships with HBCUs in 2023 including increasing its brand and corporate presence at key HBCU events including homecoming and sports games.

Cricket Wireless has been inking corporate sponsorship deals with HBCUs since 2018, first with the Southwestern Athletic Conference sponsorship, and has been adding schools since; expanding to include the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) in 2022.

“The HBCU sponsorship wasn’t just a ‘let’s pick a standard sponsorship package and plug Cricket in,” said Tony Mokry, Cricket Wireless VP and chief marketing officer. “It was an intentional approach to follow our strategy that ‘Cricket Wireless helps you unleash your ingenuity.’ The success of the partnership and Cricket’s long-term investment has helped attract other brands to sponsor HBCU events.”

Mokry said Cricket Wireless also hired film director Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah to produce a series of commercials starring HBCU graduates in 2021, including “Horizon,” that aired during HBCU games and at the BET Hip Hop Awards that year.

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Aflac donated $75,000 to the Jackson State University Athletic Department for professional development in 2021, as well as $25,000 in April 2022 as a supporting partner of former Jackson State head football coach Deion Sanders’ football camp, which was featured in the insurance company’s “Believe” commercial. Aflac donated another $125,000 to Jackson State in 2022 and plans to continue its support in 2023.

Nissan started expanding its college sponsorships to HBCUs in 2015 and, as of 2022, encompasses seven such schools such as Howard University, Jackson State University and Tennessee State University. It also expanded its Nissan Heisman House Tour to visit HBCUs in the past two years including Jackson State and Hampton University. The Heisman House campaign involves Heisman Trophy winners and imagines what it would be like if they were housemates.

Nissan U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Allyson Witherspoon said these partnerships are mutually beneficial to the colleges as well as the carmaker.

“These types of partnerships, they do move the needle,” Witherspoon said. “Especially when you structure them to have impact. It isn’t just about stadium signage. It’s something we want to have that goes deeper, through to internship programs. The more you can build out these programs, the more successful they will be.”

More HBCUs to engage

As demand for HBCU partnerships becomes more robust, it is essential for brands to look beyond the most recognized HBCUs to smaller colleges and universities. 

Walter Cooper, director of Alabama’s Tuskegee University Career Education Leadership Development Center, said only two advertising agencies have signed up as career fair corporate partners over the last two years. He declined to name which.

“I haven’t seen an uptick,” Cooper said. “We would welcome an opportunity to collaborate with advertising agencies.”



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