MCDERMOTT COLUMN: Charleston offices of Gildan, Levelwing team up for Super Bowl promo
Not all the action in tonight's Super Bowl will be played out on the field in New Orleans. Businesses seeking to pick up some yardage will be locked in a turf battle of their own by plunking down big sums to promote their products or services during the widely watched sports-media spectacle.
A couple of neighboring Charleston employers are square in the thick of it.
Gildan at a glance
What: Gildan Activewear Inc.Founded: 1984Headquarters: MontrealBusiness: Sells T-shirts, fleeces, sport shirts and other apparel under its own name. It also markets its socks under the various brands, including Gold Toe, PowerSox, SilverToe, Auro, All Pro and GT. It also has licensing relationships for Under Armour and New Balance for socks, and it makes and distributes activewear products under the Anvil brand.Employees: 30,000 worldwide.Local business: Gildan handles imports at the former Mikasa distribution center on Clements Ferry Road near Wando in Berkeley County. It acquired the 850,000-square-foot structure in 2008 for $20 million and later moved warehouse work there from Alabama and Virginia. Gildan moved its branded apparel retail business to Charleston in 2010. Stock: Trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol GIL. Finances: Gildan earned $157.3 million in fiscal 2012 on revenue of $1.95 billion. Sales at the Charleston-based branded apparel segment jumped 54 percent to $614 million from the previous year. Operating income for the unit was $33 million, compared to a $16.2 million loss in fiscal 2011. Gildan releases its next earnings report Wednesday.Website: www.gildan.com
The marquee player is Gildan Activewear's locally based branded apparel division, which bought a coveted but pricey TV lot during the match between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
In a backup role, the Charleston office of marketing firm Levelwing is working with Gildan to create buzz about the 30-second spot through various digital and mobile media outlets, including Twitter and Facebook.
The two companies have worked together previously on projects.
“And this will, of course, be the most visible one,” said Steve Parker, co-founder and managing partner of Levelwing, which is located just down Clements Ferry Road from Gildan's local offices and distribution center.
Building a brand
When it comes to the Super Bowl, time isn't just money. It's big money. Kantor Media estimated that advertisers shelled out $262 million during the game last year. A 30-second spot during tonight's broadcast on CBS was selling for about $3.8 million, up 9 percent from last year, according to media reports.
Advertisers are willing to pay because an estimated 111 million viewers are expected to tune in to watch, with a fair number more interested in the commercials than the competition.
For Gildan, the end game is about name recognition as it begins to step out of the shadows to “become a true national brand for consumers,” said Rob Packard, vice president of retail marketing and merchandising.
Gildan is no two-bit upstart. It's a huge but largely unknown apparelmaker and distributor that sells T-shirts, socks, fleeces and other clothing items through all sorts of retail locations, from sporting events to Walmart stores.
Its main competitors are Fruit of the Loom, Russell and Hanesbrands.
“We are growing by leaps and bounds,” said Packard, who is based in Gildan's Charleston office.
But aside from some minor sports-related tie-ins, the Montreal-based parent company has maintained a low profile.
“We've been in the retail channel for 20 years, but we never told anybody we made the T-shirt they just bought,” Packard said.
Gildan plans to start getting its name out in front of the masses tonight. Its first foray into the Super Bowl scrum kicks off a $15 million marketing campaign the company is rolling out this year to raise its profile.
While Gildan is a newcomer to Super Bowl advertising, Levelwing isn't. Parker said his digital-marketing firm worked on the past four NFL championship games with tiremaker Bridgestone, which is on the sidelines this year.
“We certainly have the experience to be able to say, 'Here are the things you should do, here are the things you should not do,' ” Parker said. “Certainly, I think we have all of our ducks in a row for an event of this scale and magnitude.”
Packard said that experience helped Levelwing win the job with Gildan, Also, he liked that the firm's local office is about a mile away from his.
“And I really like them as a company,” he said.
Packard summed up the process of buying, creating and promoting a Super Bowl TV spot as an “eye-opening experience,” and that Gildan so far is pleased with its decision. As of Thursday, the company's 10-second teaser ad had been viewed about 200,000 times on its YouTube channel. Most of the feedback has been positive, Packard said.
“So we can't complain,” he added.
Come game time, a team of Gildan executives will be huddling inside the Superdome entertaining customers, but Packard won't be among them. He'll be “happily ensconced” at a neighborhood Super Bowl party,
True to his marketing job, he'll also be working, “watching everybody's reactions to the commercials.” Especially the Gildan commercial.
Brendan Kearney of The Post and Courier contributed to this column. Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.