The Denver Broncos might have lost last Sunday, but they’re still “Tebowing” at FRS.
The functional beverage company, which relies on the antioxidant quercetin to provide an energy boost, has attempted to capitalize on the fast-growing popularity of Tim Tebow, the second-year quarterback who has endorsed the brand since he left the University of Florida for the NFL draft.
“We’re working with our customers – our distributors and retailers – to make sure consumers make the association,” said FRS CEO Carl Sweat, adding that although Tebow also has endorsement deals with Jockey and Nike,”we’re the only people who can put so much of Tim’s face in-store.”
And the visibility of that face has been on the rise since Tebow was named the Broncos’ starting QB in October, while the team was mired in a slump. Since then, the Broncos have gone an exciting 7-2 and had won six straight games before they lost to the New England Patriots, and Tebow has been in the spotlight for the last-minute comeback variety of many of the victories.
A look at FRS’s marketing activities in the past weeks as Tebow’s popularity soared gives a glimpse of how an entrepreneurial beverage company can put its resources behind a celebrity endorser. According to a recent Bloomberg story, Tebow and fellow endorser, Lance Armstrong, have received “vast” – but unspecified – equity stakes in the company, although little cash.
But while the company has always promoted its relationship with Tebow – he signed with it shortly before the NFL Scouting Combine – FRS CEO Carl Sweat indicated he realizes he has a very hot property to raise the brand’s profile.
The company had made a television commercial with Tebow that it aired during football games beginning with last winter’s slate of Bowl games, but once he was named the starter they began doubling down and spending in advance of his higher profile. While the company cannot buy time on NFL broadcasts because of the league’s other partnerships, Sweat said, FRS commercials featuring Tebow are appearing on ESPN programming and during college games into the new year.
“Normally in the fourth quarter, we’d be dialing back our media, but we’ve put a lot of our additional resources behind it,” Sweat told BevNET.
While the traditional media spend has been significant, Sweat said, he added that the company has also tried to capitalize on “social media’ like Facebook, where FRS has gone from a few thousand “likes” to nearly 150,000. And as the business media has begun to zero in on Tebow’s financial picture, the brand has attempted to create an echo effect – for example, having Armstrong “tweet” about an interview CNBC’s Darren Rovell conducted with Sweat on the topic of Tebow and FRS.
“What we try to do is magnify whatever we’ve got going on from the social media and promotion side,” Sweat said.
While FRS is distributed by PepsiCo on the supermarket side, the brand has added several new, important accounts while closing distribution gaps for its convenience store business, which goes through DSD.
Again, Sweat said, Tebow is helping the company sign on the new distributors.
“In the next month to (six weeks) , we’ll finish contracts with another 10 distributors in geographic voids, and I believe we’ll add on another 5-10 in January,” Sweat said. “A lot of that is part and parcel to the popularity that Tim has. Since he can’t appear live, he’ll write us letters and send an autographed item. We’re trying to really try to break loose and take advantage of that passion that’s out there.”
That passion is also helping in accounts where FRS was already visible.
“Our longest standing customers like GNC and Safeway will be up high double or triple digit numbers,” Sweat said.
One concern about Tebow’s marketability has been the quarterback’s highly outspoken Christian views, which have been the subject of some public controversy. He has been imitated – and mocked — for “Tebowing” – dropping into a deep, worshipful prayer bow following every touchdown.
But for Sweat, the religion issue isn’t a big deal – after all, Tebow is known for being faithful to his beliefs.
“No matter how people feel about the polarizing side of him,” Sweat said, “There’s nobody that would say that Tim would say this product worked for him if it didn’t work for him. If he says it worked for him, people believe that he believes it must be true.”