Breaking Down the 2016 Heisman Campaigns

By: Joe Londergan, @Joehio_

The next recipient of the Heisman Trophy will be announced on December 10th. Over the course of the year, we watched the 5 finalists leave everything they had on the field in hopes of taking home the hardware for their school and family. In that time, we also saw the finalists respective universities put together campaigns for their candidates to convince voters that their student-athlete was the most deserving. In preparation for the big announcement, we took a look at some of the high points of the Heisman promotion of each of the five finalists.

Deshaun Watson

Clemson's always exceptional digital team has done plenty highlighting Watson's accomplishments this year. Image via @ClemsonFB on Instagram

Clemson's always exceptional digital team has done plenty highlighting Watson's accomplishments this year. Image via @ClemsonFB on Instagram

The Clemson quarterback is the only one of this year’s finalists that managed to lead his team to berth in the College Football Playoff. Watson is also the only finalist who was also a finalist for the award last year (Alabama’s Derrick Henry won in 2015) and threw for 3,914 yards, 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season and ran for 529 yards and six touchdowns.

As expected, Clemson’s digital team have created some really fantastic and vibrant pieces to highlight Watson’s accomplishments this year in both video and graphic form across social media throughout the season.

In terms of digital activations, you won’t find much specifically aimed at Watson’s Heisman campaign on Clemson’s channels, but you will find plenty on Watson and the rest of an impressive Clemson team that just secured the ACC championship this past weekend and the two seed in the playoff. The official hashtag for Watson’s campaign is #Deshaun4Heisman and it works. It’s to the point, it’s a play on Watson’s jersey number, and while it may be a little long, it gets the job done just like Watson has on the field all year.

Jabrill Peppers

The only defensive player named a finalist for the award, the Michigan junior played 15 different positions this year and finished the season with 72 total tackles (16 for loss), four sacks, eight QB hurries, a forced fumble, an interception and 751 all-purpose yards in a season where Michigan ended up 6th in the nation in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

To state the obvious, Peppers is an amazing and versatile athlete and one thing Michigan Football has done very well over the course of the season is showing that with highlight action GIFs on Twitter. Other highlights of Peppers’ Heisman campaign include a highlight video released prior to the Michigan vs Ohio State game where Peppers explains his football philosophy and what it means to be a Michigan man along with an Instagram story posted on December 6th with Peppers’ condensed Heisman resume.

Michigan also did a great job capitalizing on the uniqueness of Peppers to create a site focused on the stats and the characteristics that make him so special. Michigan’s talented web and social teams put together some amazing pieces of content around Peppers, and it was nice to see that all in one nicely wrapped package for voters still on the fence.

Additionally, the hashtag of #HEI5MAN for Peppers campaign works as a play on his jersey number, but feels somewhat uninspired as that has been used for other football players with the jersey number 5 in the past.

Michigan could have used this chance to create something more unique to one of the most electrifying athletes in the sport.

Lamar Jackson

The sophomore Louisville quarterback has been in the discussion as the favorite to win the Heisman trophy since September and accumulated an extremely impressive 4,928 total yards (3,390 passing, 1,538 rushing) and 51 total touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing) leading U of L to a final ranking of 13 and their first Heisman trophy finalist in the history of the program.

To their credit, Louisville has been very proactive in getting the word out about Jackson and his Heisman potential. Early in the season the athletic department set up Lamar8.com as the official home of everything Lamar Jackson. The site features Jackson’s stats from not only this season, but his freshman season in 2015 along with his high school career as well. The site also features a social media tracker which features an extensive curated list of tweets from media outlets as well as the Louisville Football account detailing highlights of Jackson’s historic season. The site even features Lamar Jackson wallpapers that you can download for your desktop or smart phone and a game by game breakdown of what Jackson has accomplished this year.

In terms of social content, some highlights of Jackson’s Heisman promotion have been constant video reels of his jaw dropping athletic feats, consistent voting in Heisman polls through the team account (which then shows up in a separate tweet on the timeline) to encourage fans to engage with the process, and a slew of sleek, intense graphics usually with a stat or record to go along with it. Louisville's creative team really shined with this section of the campaign.

Jackson’s campaign hashtag that U of L created in conjunction with adidas is #L1C4LIT. The hashtag goes along with a grass roots initiative put into place this week where iconic parts of U of L’s campus and the city of Louisville were lit red and adorned with U of L branding in celebration of Jackson officially being named a finalist for the award. Frankly, I get building on the hashtag of #L1C4 which is commonly used with U of L athletics coverage, but the way in which it was built on with the phrasing LIT is strange.  What's more, turning the University into a literal "red light district" was an unfortunate choice given the allegations concerning prostitution surrounding the basketball program recently. This section of the campaign could have executed better.

Aside from that, If I had one criticism of Jackson’s campaign so far, it would be that I would have loved to see a little more of Jackson’s personality on display. With Peppers’ campaign and the Mayfield/Westbrook campaign, we got a great look at who those student-athletes are underneath the pads and, to an extent, what they are like as human beings. There was an opportunity here to do the same with Jackson and Louisville didn’t take it.

Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook

The Oklahoma Sooners are in an interesting position with two student-athletes both up for the same award (the first time this has happened since 2004 when Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush of USC were finalists). Mayfield threw for 3,669 yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions and ran for six touchdowns, while Westbrook caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns this season en route to a Big 12 Championship. 

In order to capitalize on the situation and the resulting chemistry from Mayfield and Westbrook’s friendship, they’ve been marketing them as a sort of tandem similar to a president and vice president. An example of how the Sooners have done this is through the utilization of gifs and videos of the two showing off their dance moves together and participating in joint interview sessions. They’ve also chosen what seems to be a clever hashtag for their digital efforts in #We2Deep.

Additionally, OU did an exceptional job capturing the personalities of their two candidates in filming the exact moments that Mayfield and Westbrook each realized that they would be traveling to New York for the ceremony (something Michigan also did for Peppers).Additionally, OU did an exceptional job capturing the personalities of their two candidates in filming the exact moments that Mayfield and Westbrook each realized that they would be traveling to New York for the ceremony (something Michigan also did for Peppers).

A visit to the official joint campaign web page MayfieldWestbrook2016.com provides a nice, aesthetically consistent compilation of the tandem’s campaign to date including quotes about the players from media figures, coaches of other programs, teammates as well as opposing players along with an assortment of highlight videos that any Sooner fan could happily get lost in for a while. The site also features how the QB and receiver stack up against national competition with their rankings compared to opponents within the Big 12 and the power five. This one page provides voters all the info needed to make an informed decision about both players.

It’s clear that a lot of work and passion went into each of these campaigns by the student-athletes and the sports business professionals behind them. No matter the actual winner, congratulations to all of the finalists and the marketers who told us their stories.

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