CMO of the Week: DraftKings' Stephanie Sherman - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: DraftKings’ Stephanie Sherman

Sports betting has come a long way since Stephanie Sherman joined DraftKings as chief marketing officer in 2013.

She has seen the brand go from daily fantasy to sports betting being legal in many states. This year, sports betting is now legal in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Maine and Vermont. The Super Bowl is the largest sporting betting event of the year and DraftKings has been gearing up to promote its tools for the game.

The brand ran their first Super Bowl ad in 2021 and has been running ads in or around the game ever since. This year, the company has created a marquee ad for the NFL season, running in the playoffs and airing on game day before the game, but not during the game. The spot features Kevin Hart and features the company’s new tagline, “The Crown is Yours.

“We created this tagline really in service of putting the customer first,” says Sherman. “As we think about our offering, our product and really focusing on how seamless of an experience it is, this is an invitation to customers to be able to participate in our products.”

Prior to joining DraftKings, Sherman held leadership marketing positions at Vistaprint. Brand Innovators caught up with Sherman from her office in Cambridge, Massachusetts to talk Kevin Hart NFL ad, brand partnerships and 2024 sports betting trends.

What is the strategy behind the new campaign with Kevin Hart?

We are very excited about our campaign with Kevin Hart. We know that having a consistent brand voice is very important in our marketing efforts. As we’ve looked back as a data-driven marketing organization, looking back at our season performance and really seeing the success from what we saw last year in our Super Bowl playoff efforts and really throughout the season, it was an easy decision to keep that momentum going. What you’ve seen come to life from a playoff standpoint and continue to see is really a similar look and feel centered around Kevin and his humor while talking about the different offerings that we have as we think about in the case of sports heading into the Super Bowl.

Why did you decide to buy a spot in the NFL playoffs but not a game day buy?

This year we don’t have an in-game spot, but we do have spots that are in and around before kickoff, over the playoffs and leading up to the Super Bowl, which is the single biggest sporting event for us in the calendar year. We’ll be activating in a lot of different ways. We really look to test and understand how we can best activate, how we can best engage, especially during something like the Super Bowl. 

This year we’ll be activating in and around a holistic marketing campaign around and leading up to the Super Bowl. And also we are really excited that we have Massachusetts, Kentucky, Maine and Vermont, where for the first time in those states, you will be legally able to bet on the Super Bowl. 

What is your approach to storytelling in this new campaign?

It’s really with that focus for the customer to keep our competitive offerings top of mind. As we think about some of the promotions and the offers, leaning into that comedic tone that Kevin has, as well as a nostalgic nod to legendary NFL coaches. In some of our latest commercials, we’ll see NFL coach Jimmy Johnson. We are really looking at ways how we can engage fans with a twist with that Kevin Hart humor and talking about some exciting ways folks can engage with our products. 

How are partnerships like the one with Tums helping you to get the brand out there around the big game? 

We have worked with many brands over the course of this year and others. As sports betting continues to legalize in more and more of the country, there’s really so many creative ways we can partner with different companies like Tums to get incremental exposure and engage with different audiences in a way that is endemic and natural. As you think about the football season and our partnership with Amazon and Thursday Night, we’re always looking to connect with our audience in authentic and relevant ways to help showcase and tell the story of wide rankings and what you can do with our products.

What are the big NFL betting trends this year and how do you use this in your marketing?

There are a lot of exciting ways to bet on a game, certainly through our app. We have Same Game, Cross Sport Parlays, In-Game Betting, Prop Bets, and more. We see that our Parlay offerings are the most popular with our customers and in general within the industry. We recently launched a new feature, Progressive Parlays, that gives folks the opportunity to win parlays based around player props, so you’ll see us start to integrate some of these new features in our marketing.

How does your background in direct marketing at VistaPrint help in this role?

I would point to three things. Data-driven, hypotheses-oriented focus doesn’t mean inaction with too much data, but really making the best decisions with the data that you do have. That’s really the foundation for our decision, whether it’s marketing and beyond. We have robust test-and-learn agendas and we’re always looking to continuously optimize. 

The second thing is focusing on the customer in context of that data. It’s not always through the hard performance marketing data, but it’s also making sure we’re listening and understanding the customer through trends, research and also through data. The third thing is the power of brand and performance marketing together to really triangulate to understand the short-term value of marketing from that core performance marketing, but also longer term. So how do we think about those frameworks? How do we think about brand building, particularly around efforts that may have a long-term payoff? 

What predictions do you have for the big game?

Pay close attention to the ads. Last year, we saw a lot of top talent. We saw a lot of nostalgia. We’ll continue to lean into some of that and maybe even see some of the connections with Vegas. Being in Vegas, it’s going to be a huge moment for betting. It’s one of the biggest moments. We have hundreds of markets from betting on the outcome of the game to the color of the Gatorade and everything in between. This is going to be an exciting Super Bowl from a fan standpoint, from an ad standpoint and from a betting standpoint.