How Bojangles Uses Sports to Amplify its Marketing Power

Bojangles has been a tailgate brand for decades, and there’s a reason for that reputation, says CMO Jackie Woodard.

First, the customers love sports, and typically restaurants in the Southeast love college football. Woodard calls it “the king of the weekend” in the fall. Second, Bojangles’ menu is perfect for tailgating crowds, with eight, 12, and 20 chicken and fixing wraps. In the last couple of years, COVID has taken that power away, but now people want to communicate face-to-face.

The outlook for the consumer base is starting to look similar to 2019, Woodard said.

“I’d say people are ready to be with each other again, so we’ve been bombarded with every backdoor activation, and it’s not just the number of people,” the CMO said. “The most interesting thing for us is how happy people are. How much it means to them to be with their friends, to eat, have fun, play games and dance to music. So there is only the level of enthusiasm, energy and happiness to be with each other again. Humans are a race that needs each other, and that happens right at our back door.”

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Sensing the building Bojangles wanted to socialize, the company stepped up its efforts with a multi-pronged plan. It started with the first Tailgate Tour, featuring parties filled with games, celebrities and giveaways at the biggest college football games of the season. Notable games include NC State vs. Clemson, Auburn vs. Georgia, and Alabama vs. Tennessee. Along with this tour, Bojangles has brought back their college and NFL-themed Bo Boxes in honor of a long-standing tradition. The teams with their own Bo Box this year were Clemson, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, James Madison, NC A&T, Georgia, South Carolina, Western Carolina and Tennessee.

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Woodard said choosing which games to play was more of an art than a science. Bojangles has chosen universities with existing partnerships so it can use more activation touch points. Woodard said the school’s ability to expand NIL-athlete partnerships was more logical than a free tailgate. The next measuring stick was based on the popularity of the game. Bojangles’ final tailgate was on Nov. 19 when South Carolina’s top-ranked Tennessee traveled to Columbia against South Carolina. About 80,000 people watched the game. And NC A&T’s game against Campbell was even more significant because it took place at what the university calls “The Greatest Country on Earth.”

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There was room for maneuver within this strategy. Bojangles had no plans to visit Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina at the start of the season, but then the football team surprised Texas A&M. The following week, ESPN’s heavily watched pregame show, College Game Day, decided to visit the campus in September. After hearing the news, Bojangles switched gears within four days and took advantage of the excitement to travel to Boone.

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