Your product's ready for launch. As the countdown descends the excitement grows. Will it go into orbit or will it sparkle and fade? Will it take off at all?
One thing is for sure; if it is to be a success, the momentum will have to be strong not just at the launch, but throughout its voyage.
To keep this momentum, the fuel to propel it on its journey has to be right and, often, although the product has been well designed, it will be lost in the thick atmosphere.
A fuel that is rapidly taking pole position as the premium commercial four-star injection for many product launches is sponsorship.
Sponsorship is a growing area yet, for many marketeers, it still remains a relative black hole.
Television, however, is leading the way. Caroline Reik, sponsorship manager at Channel 4, says that sponsorship is often the best way for a new brand to create a wave of excitement bubbling into the atmosphere: “BT Cellnet relaunched as O2 three weeks before the Big Brother series started and they had a lot of work to do. They had to convince existing customers to stay, whilst building the brand and finding new customers at the same time.
“The sponsorship allowed them to hit their target market from all angles – on C4, E4 and Online. Big Brother had also introduced text voting for the first time this year and millions of votes have already been cast through text SMS – an ideal marketing platform for a new phone brand.
“Point of sale, marketing and PR are all important aspects too. Being able to bring the brand indoors, into the shop, is key for a new brand. Why should a shop back your product? Well, you have guaranteed exposure and a tie-in to the country’s most popular shows. For that reason it might be reasonable to deduce that the brand will sell well.
“Get it right and creditable links create more than just awareness, they create empathy.
For these reasons sponsorship of a television programme is an effective way not just to launch a brand, but to consolidate or shift a brand’s identity too.”
Martin Lowde, commercial director, Granada Media, agrees: “I don’t like to refer to it as sponsorship. That reminds me of sponsored walks and raising money for charity – ITV’s not a charity, although sometimes, just now, it feels like it.
I like to refer to this “commercialisation” as programme-led marketing. I remember, from my first-year university marketing books, a rule of thumb: Awareness – Affinity – Action. Well, that is exactly what programme-led marketing does. It creates an awareness, this awareness turns to empathy and affinity, and, with the various promotions and offshoots that can spawn from the programme as well as the branding tie-in itself, the call to action is strong.
“If the creative is right and the positioning is good, then instead of a 30-second advert, what you get is an hour-long programme that people will link to your brand.
“Take Popstars and its link to T&T. That gave the drink more than just ratings and audience, it helped to create an image – an affinity, if you like. As well as being instantly recognisable as a brand, it made it instantly recognisable as an ‘in’, young and fashionable brand. Ideal for the market it was aiming at.”
T&T’s marketing director said that the tie-in to Popstars had given him the ability to integrate a media idea across all activity and for that reason, says Lowde, T&T sold more cans in Tesco that January than they had the whole year before. While the programme was on air they sold over 10 million cans, a 3000 per cent sales increase: “But that is not the only brand that we’ve done it for,” continues Lowde. “Coca-Cola – yes, we still have football on ITV. Also Tizer for ‘SM:TV’ and Vanish for Home on Their Own, the ideal sponsor really for a show that lets the kids loose on the family house to redesign it without any input from the parents: ‘Oh my god, someone’s done something wrong. Get rid of it ...’ Perfect.
“Rennies’ sponsorship of ITV over Christmas saw their sales go up by 20 per cent – the highest sales in the company’s long history. And that was the only marketing activity that they did.”
Sponsorship v’s TV spots, however, is often referred to by media planners as the big debate. But they cannot be compared like for like. Both play to their own strengths, says Reik: “A TV advert is all about a 40-second space to sell your own story while sponsorship is brand building in an environment that is comfortable.”
The London Business School recently conducted research into the behaviour of people watching television. It revealed the same recurring pattern across all households: a programme concludes, the body language of the whole family changes instantly, and social discourse begins at exactly the same moment as the ads start. However, with sponsorship the brand is actually seen as part of the show. The study showed that when the sponsorship music begins, it had even replaced the title theme as a signal for the start of the programme.
“Sponsorship, if done well, is seen as part of a show,” continues Reik. “We all know how important it is to be first or last in the break. It creates a sense of ownership.
“Sex and the City was sponsored by Baileys in an attempt to get it out of old ladies’ drinks bureaus and into the trendy pubs and clubs of the young. The audience became warmer to the brand as the association grew.
“Sponsorship guarantees an association to the drama. That is very hard to do in a spot.
The audience is more likely to remember the sponsorship than the spot advert. Look at Coronation Street and Cadbury’s, Stella and Films on Four and, more recently, Big Brother and O2.
“Sponsorship has the ability to make brands famous ... fast. Again, look at the O2 example with Big Brother. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Sponsorship can ensure this.
“ITV’s T&T tie-in with Popstars is another great example. It allowed the brand to hit the target audience week in, week out. The awareness of the brand and perceptions towards the drink changed dramatically.
“Brands can spend months and millions of pounds researching a shift in identity or a launch, sponsorship can do it in one or two series.”
Leading brands often define their strategy through sponsorship. They can create a genre ownership for the brand. Ford and football on Sky is one good example of this ownership.
The UK sponsorship market is valued at over £900m. Over fifty per cent of that is sports sponsorship. Of the £120m that is ploughed into broadcast sponsorship this year, over sixty per cent of that (on Sky) is sport. So, obviously, for Sky, sponsorship is important, says David Shore, sports marketing controller at Sky Sports: “Sponsorship is less one-dimensional than spot advertising. It isn’t simply about the brand awareness. It takes what people already know about a brand that little bit further. It can forge a relationship.
“Ford has sponsored our football programming, amongst other things, for the last eleven years. They have just signed on for a further two years. They are a good example of how we have progressed. Now we have people contacting us to ask how to get their brands near that coverage because Ford has taken such ownership of it.”
However, there is one problem; Ford does not sponsor any major sporting events.
“This year’s World Cup was sponsored by Coca-cola, McDonalds and Adidas, but when we approached them to sponsor our World Cup coverage they refused,” continues Shore. “Travelex eventually took the sponsorship up and, as a result, the viewers thought that Travelex was a sponsor of the Cup, not just the coverage.
“However, you have to approach the event’s sponsors first. Sometimes we will even have to wait until the event’s sponsors have actually turned it down before we can take it to other parties. They always have to have the option. Travelex managed to secure the deal for under £3m. And, to be linked – in the minds of the audience – as a sponsor of the World Cup for that amount of money is a bargain in anyone’s books.”
But sponsorship is not just about advertising on the box, nor is it just about brand or name awareness, says Shore. Sponsorship is about forging relationships. It’s about being accountable for your media spend and a whole new choice for viewers and advertisers alike: “Sponsorship says ‘don’t just buy me, but be aware of me and understand me too.’ It allows you to align yourself to something that people are passionate about. And there are very few things that people get more passionate about than sport.”
Television itself, however, is something that people are passionate about. In a recent survey it was found that 58 per cent of the UK will utilise their down time by reading a newspaper and 62 per cent will listen to commercial radio, while over 99 per cent of people will watch the TV. And what do they talk about with their family and friends? Well, 36 per cent of people will talk about the cost of living, 30 per cent will talk about sport, 34 per cent will talk about family and, get this, 46 per cent will talk about television programmes.
“Television is the most invasive medium ever to be devised for delivering an advertising message,” says Paul Chard, ex-commercial director at Granada, who now heads up Sponsorcom, Mediacom’s sponsorship arm in London. “Without a doubt, television advertising is second only to word of mouth as the most effective form of advertising there is.
“Consumers see over 500 brand messages a day. Sponsorship offers a clear opportunity to communicate via a platform that an audience is emotionally involved with.”
But if you think that it’s just about putting your name on the front of a show, it isn’t, says Chard: “I’m not going to say that sponsorship is the easy option. It’s not. There are many questions that you have to ask yourself. Who owns the rights? Who do you buy it from? How many people have to sit around the table? How do you get all these people to agree? It’s tricky, but it is worth it.”
Popstars: The Rivals is planned for release later this year and a sponsor is signed up. Who? “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
However, one thing that is for sure is that with good creative and careful planning, the sponsorship of a television programme could help your product reach the stars, and create a little Hearsay of your own.