Sponsorship is dead, long live sponsorship
Those of you who are regular readers of Synopsis may have spotted a pattern. The lead articles are not Synergy’s random musings but rather the building blocks of a bigger story about the new rules of sponsorship.
But before we get to the rules, a little bit of context. Like all marketing disciplines, sponsorship has evolved over time…but every now and then, there is a paradigm shift which generates an explosion of innovation and introduces a completely new way of acting. Excitingly, we have entered one of these new eras – the 4th Era of Sponsorship.
Below is a rough timeline of how the Sponsorship Industry has evolved. There is never a clear line in the sand to separate the various eras (and of course there are always sponsorship programmes that are ahead of their time), but to keep things simple, they can be broadly separated into decades.
1970s: The Dark Art
The very beginnings of the sponsorship industry were characterised by informal deals done on a handshake in smoke-filled rooms — often literally smoke-filled, as much of the early days of sponsorship were driven by cigarette brands putting their brand on the side of fast cars to circumvent advertising restrictions.
1980s – 1990s: Off-the-Peg
Patrick Nally is credited as being the founding father of modern sponsorship. His ground-breaking partnership deal with Coca-Cola for the 1978 FIFA World Cup effectively ‘invented’ the concept of a rights package. This has set the template for how sponsorships have been packaged and sold by rightsholders ever since.
Brands started to become much more sophisticated and proactive in terms of how they approached sponsorship. No longer was it thought of as a collection of off-the-shelf rights or as a separate marketing channel, but rather as an asset that could be integrated into the overall marketing mix and used to increase the effectiveness of the brand’s marketing activity.
The 4th Era is the “Social Era” for two reasons. Firstly, it has been enabled by social media which has allowed people (and brands) with shared interests to engage with each other at a scale and depth that has never before been possible. Social also refers to a sense of ‘Higher Purpose’ – the ability of a sponsorship programme to connect with its audience by delivering something that really matters.
The Rules of the Social Era
Moving to the Social Era has changed the game of sponsorship and everyone can benefit from knowing the new rules. We have analysed hundreds of best practice case studies from the world of sponsorship and beyond to identify and codify the keys to success in the Social Era.
We have been examining these new rules one by one over the past 5 months but now it is time to bring them all together.
It’s as easy as ABCDE…
Rule 1: Authenticity
Endorses for Courses by Jon Izzard
The best sponsorship programmes, the ones that really resonate with the audience, feel completely natural. The brand simply feels at home in the space. Think of Red Bull and extreme sports, Cartier and Polo, Robinsons and Wimbledon, Unicef and FC Barcelona, Coca-Cola and the Olympic Games, Moët & Chandon and F1. There are loads of sources of authenticity: products, geography, heritage, brand message and simple longevity.
Some brands have to work hard to establish authenticity in a given space, but it is imperative that they do because the very audience that a sponsor is trying to connect with can see through an imposter straight away. Skoda’s sponsorship of the Tour de France provides a great example of a brand working hard to establish credibility in a space where its source of credibility may not be immediately obvious. Brilliant:
Rule 2: Beyond your Brand
What Can Sponsorship Learn from Farmville by Liz Brown
Sponsorship is about a brand becoming a natural part of their customers’ lives — but the audience needs a reason to invite a brand into their lives. Brands that view the relationship with their audience as a one-way value exchange and think only in terms of “what will we get out of it”, have no chance of forming the kind of relationship they want. Again, there are a number of ways that brands can demonstrate “Beyond your Brand” thinking, focusing on delivering benefits to their customers (O2 Priority), the property (Converse and London’s 100 Club) and society as a whole (RBS RugbyForce).
Rule 3: Content
Is Content Really King by Ben Wilkinson
Consumers want to learn, laugh, discover, share, be entertained and be inspired. And they want to do all these things around topics that are of specific interest to them. That is what sponsorship allows you to do: create relevant content around your audience’s passion points. But brands have to be creative to capture attention — posting a video of “talking heads” on YouTube and hoping for the best is not enough. Great content is about innovation. It’s about finding something that connects and resonates with your audience and providing it how they want it, when they want it and where they want it.
Our favourite example of this is Converse Domaination — a campaign that not only puts great content at its heart but also shows a perfect understanding of its audience. Enjoy.
Rule 4: Dialogue
D is for Dialogue by Carsten Thode
Talking to each other, sharing ideas, working together, creating things, discovering new stuff, having fun, laughing, crying, flirting, arguing – everything that makes life worth living is built on our ability to actively engage with each other. Why should that be different from the relationships we build with the brands in our lives?
Yet for most of its history, marketing has been pretty much a one-way conversation where brands tell you what they want you to know and the customer has no way of talking back. However, the digital age, and particularly the social media age, has smashed through the barrier separating brands from their consumers.
Now it is possible to source brilliant ideas from your customers such as Pepsi Refresh and GE Ecomagination, or to tailor your marketing in real-time to reflect input from your customers. The Old Spice Man is a classic case in point of how much more engaging the conversation becomes if you give your customers a voice.
Rule 5: Entertainment
Passion Pointers by Tom Gladstone
Sport has a particular ability to evoke strong emotions through its personal stories of courage, inspiration and determination; through its inherent unpredictability, excitement and drama. Those emotions are an essential component of successful sponsorship – and are as relevant across other sponsorship platforms (music, film, fashion, art) as they are in sport. Harness the emotions correctly, and your consumers will add the catalyst of conversation.
But while simply being visible within a passion point might increase the chances of getting noticed, it doesn’t win a place in consumers’ hearts. There has to be active emotional involvement, not just proximity or presence — engagement not impressions. Whether brands capitalise on moments of high emotion or they tap into the core emotional sensibility of the passion point, anchored in anticipation, pride, patriotism, celebration, or even pain, they all need to exhibit genuine empathy and understanding.
This rule is articulated nicely by Mark Harrison, Chair of the Canadian Sponsorship Forum: ‘You can’t manufacture emotion. It’s already there. When you find it – just find a way to trigger it; tap into it; fuel it; and watch it grow into something remarkable.’
ABCDE is not a menu, where you can choose one or two elements to focus on. Rather, a great sponsorship programme will deliver against all the rules of the 4th Era.
Obviously, this framework isn’t rocket science, but at Synergy, we have found it to be incredibly useful as we advise our clients at every point of the sponsorship process. We use it not only as a kind of checklist to diagnose where we are strong and where we need to work harder but also to ensure that all elements of the sponsorship programme - from creating the strategy and identifying the right assets right through to the activation – deliver the ABCDE. So, before signing off, here are a few ways that it can be used to make your sponsorship programmes even more powerful:
1. Articulate specifically how you are using sponsorship to deliver all elements of ABCDE. Sponsorship strategies should use deep audience insight and a clear understanding of the business and brand to ensure that you are using sponsorship as effectively as possible in the 4th Era
2. When making the decision to acquire a new sponsorship asset, make sure that there is a concrete plan in place to deliver the ABCDE. Use it as part of the screening process and answer questions like: “What gives my brand authenticity in this space? How can I build or acquire authenticity?” “What is the higher purpose of the sponsorship? How are we adding value?”
3. When creating activation plans, be specific about which elements of ABCDE you need to focus on and how you will be able to deliver them. For example: “How can we stimulate dialogue amongst our audience? What role should our brand play in that conversation”
4. Factor ABCDE into your measurement. Create specific targets around each element and evaluate your success at achieving them. Where do you have to work harder?
© Synergy Sponsorship a trading division of Engine Partners UK LLP 2011. All rights reserved
By Carsten Thode on September 1st, 2011
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