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View from the Stands: Heisman Marketing In A New Era

Social media's changed everything, including the race for the Heisman. #Andre44Heisman


Social media changed everything about the world.

In the past five years, we've seen how social media can impact news stories and everyday life. The old way of waiting for the news at night and reading the newspaper in the morning have given way to the new way of delivering fast, lightning-strike impacts. In regards to sports, the era of the old-time newspaper writer is gone; the Will McDonaughs of the world no longer exist, replaced by a number of blogs that deliver more specialized news and analysis about one particular segment of their market.

Whether you believe that to be better or worse, it's well-documented how this now works. And as the world of media evolved, so, too, did the methodology of promoting one's cause. It's also been documented (including on this website) about how Brad Bates is using social media as a way to connect, using it as an ultra-guerilla marketing scheme the likes of which were completely foreign to Boston College. We've discussed at length how the time spent by Bates to delve into the minds of his fan base included reading blogs, holding symposiums, and being active on both Twitter and Facebook. But if Andre Williams is to win the Heisman Trophy, it'll turn the concept of the Heisman Trophy marketing scheme upside down thanks to the new era strategies embraced by the school's administration.

Last year, Johnny Manziel defeated #1-ranked Alabama late in the season to explode onto the national scene. Already a freshman phenom, he became something bigger after taking down the big, bad elephant of the SEC. It took a team ranked in the top 20 and propelled them into the top 10, and his performances continued into a high-profile bowl game. Manziel became the featured story on the national radar because of the high profile of the SEC, the higher profile of playing and beating Alabama, and the highest profile yet of taking down an undefeated, defending national champion.

This season, Jameis Winston burst onto the national scene early thanks to his play in his first start against Pittsburgh on national television. He's been a story that the national media has covered from the start of the season, and along with Manziel and Marcus Mariota from Oregon, have always factored into the Heisman race. Williams is the polar opposite. He's a running back, which automatically markets him as a less media-ready option behind the popular quarterback position (which won 11 times since 2000). He's also the running back on a team that's not well-known in the national media circles, not on par historically with USC or Florida State, and lacks the victories or national ranking that constantly places him on national television. While they've had some national attention and certainly have some history, it very obviously lacks in the general scope of things in the way that some of the other, more well-known schools have. To that extent, BC is very far ahead of some but still lagging behind others.

Additionally, BC itself hasn't been marketing a single player since the start of the season. After last year's 2-10 debacle, Williams flew under the radar for essentially the entire season despite rushing for 200 yards against Wake Forest and rushing for 149 against Florida State. Quite simply, he was maybe one of the best running backs, but plenty of the nation's best statistical players have been outshone by players who rose to the occasion against the nation's best.

That's what makes the marketing scheme and the case study of Williams so interesting. The Andre Williams for Heisman hype picked up following the New Mexico State game when he broke the Boston College rushing record with 295 yards. At the time, even we decided that Williams would be destined for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best RB but wouldn't touch the Heisman. When he absolutely torched NC State for nearly-350 yards, we started talking Heisman on these discussion boards, but even the school didn't fully get behind it.

The groundswell for Williams exploded this past week when he delivered another 260-yard performance against Maryland and essentially helped BC to win the game when it looked like they were playing for overtime. Losing to the Terps, Williams broke off a 74 yard run, then returned on the next drive to set up the winning field goal by breaking off another. The game itself drew attention to him, and when people started asking who he was, they found his statistical review and highlights of him dominating competition.

The calling for Williams for Heisman forced Boston College to assess if this would be for real. Earlier this week, the Eagles unveiled a #Andre44Heisman on Twitter for a hashtag, started a Twitter and Facebook page devoted solely to Williams for Heisman, and began releasing and emailing stats and facts about him. That type of attention, which originally was only really spoken of in short segments by Kirk Herbstreit on Saturday monrings around 9:20 AM (for five minutes) has now led way to a full-blown campaign (Herbstreit, to me, is a lot like Mick in Rocky III watching Clubber Lang. Sure, he might have his pick of stories, but he's always still in the dark recesses of the game watching it and scouting it for what makes it tick. Herbstreit keeps tabs on pretty much everything).

I've had some experience with the marketing campaigns around awards. I've actively worked with several FCS programs, and the marketing strategies surrounding their players are usually quick to develop for awards. It usually leads with a meeting asking if this is something they should seriously take (normally the answer is yes), and then it's a quick brainstorm to start getting ideas out. By Wednesday, stories used to filter out to newspapers and news outlets. In the old days, though, if you didn't have the right connection or newsmen didn't take you seriously, they didn't pay attention.

This is where social media's changed everything. It's negated the need for the connection. By opening up a Twitter or Facebook campaign, the thousands of fans have now replaced the one newsman. The information about the player can go viral from underneath and force a thunderclap that gets the nation to take notice. And once that happens, the national media has to notice because its feed starts getting flooded with more people calling for something. In the end, social media's changed everything because instead of national media telling us what to pay attention to, we're telling them what they should be covering.

Given the short turnaround, if Andre Williams wins the Heisman Trophy, it's because the national media was ultimately forced to look at everything new media was telling them to look at. So get out on Twitter, on Facebook, on Vine, and on Instagram. Get out in the way that Steve Addazio and Brad Bates have this year. #Andre44Heisman