As our TV screens, radio airwaves and, heck, even our football matches become more and more cluttered with advertisers looking to broadcast marketing messages, sponsorship can be an effective solution to many communications problems as it can encompass so many strands of contact. However, as this market reaches saturation point too, is sponsorship still as relevant and effective as it once was?
It can be integrated, long-lasting, diverse, evolving and engaging. But at the same time it can also be uncomfortable, inappropriate, bland and shallow. If you get it right, it is fantastic, but if you get it wrong it can be a disaster. There's not a huge amount of middle ground.
“We've got to the point where sponsorship is sometimes conspicuous by its absence, and the sheer number of sponsorships that consumers are exposed to has made it harder to stand out,” says Gary Wise, head of strategy at Feather Brooksbank. “However, that certainly doesn't mean that sponsorship has had its day. What it really means is that it is now more crucial than ever for advertisers to go beyond traditional bumper credits and be clever.”
A good example of this is the deal between You Are What You Eat which Feather Brooksbank devised for Julian Graves. By finding out which products were going to be mentioned on the programme every week, Julian Graves could stock up on that product – delivering a point of advantage beyond the traditional benefits of TV sponsorship.
““The key to success is to ensure that sponsorship associations fit target consumer passions,” says George Kyle, head of sponsorship at Tennent’s Lager.
“The brand role must be communicated to consumers in a relevant, credible and engaging manner. Real standout is gained where a brand delivers benefit through their involvement in the sponsorship or event.”
Standout is something which Tennent’s has done to great effect with its flagship T in the Park event.
“Successful sponsorships,” says Kyle, “deliver more meaningful connections with consumers through direct experience of brand personality. As a relatively new discipline within marketing, there have been many instances over the years where sponsorships have been entered into without relevant insight and research.”
“A good sponsorship can keep a brand relevant to new consumers on an ongoing basis – that's the genius of T in the Park,” says Fife Hyland, director of sponsorship and events at 1576. “By associating the lager with the hottest and hippest bands and DJs, it gains instant credibility with a new market every year. In the age of media fragmentation, sponsorship can also unify and underpin entire through-the-line brand campaigns. But it's not just the deal you do, it's what you do with that deal. The wallpaper benefit of any sponsorship only has meaning if enhanced with activity that actually engages with the target consumers cleverly via different media.”
Stuart Duncan, marketing director at X-FM Scotland agrees. “Where success is achieved a sponsor maximises the opportunity to deliver its brand,” he says. “Far more budget must be allocated to ensure cut through. Ultimately the sponsorship fee becomes an opportunity that, unless expertly delivered to the audience it accesses, can be wasted.”
The last month has seen sponsorship deals make front-page news. First Morrisons announced that it was severing its ties with the Scottish national football team, then Bank of Scotland and Bell’s, likewise, declared that they were halting their long-term sponsorship of the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Leagues respectively.
However, despite the usual sensationalisms of the daily red-tops, those in the know believe that there is not a crisis about to hit the football (and its sponsorship) in Scotland.
“We are currently talking to several brands who have expressed an interest in both the Scottish team and the current Bell’s football league,” says Mark Maclean, head of Frameâ„¢, the agency’s sponsorship and events division. “In the case of the Scottish football team, Morrisons inherited a sponsorship that they recently decided not to renew – nothing sinister about this, just a different strategic approach to Safeway. Not being a regular qualifier for European championships and World Cups does not increase the value of the sponsorship but when that does start to happen, then it will deliver excellent value. Nonetheless, it is still a massively impactful sponsorship and well targeted at ABC1 males.
“The Scottish Premier League is a different case. I negotiated the first sponsorship of the newly formed SPL on behalf of the sponsoring company and at that time it boasted 36 live matches on Sky Sports (including six additional live BBC matches). That delivered excellent viewing figures including UK-wide coverage for Old Firm matches on terrestrial TV. The current exclusive live broadcast arrangements with Setanta, and limited and non-prime highlights coverage has severely restricted the viewing audience and the value of the sponsorship reduces as a result. Rights holders do have the choice of taking the lower broadcast fees traditionally offered by terrestrial broadcasters and trying to maximise sponsorship fees via the increased equivalent media values derived from this.”
Kyle, who oversees Tennent’s sponsorship of the Scottish Cup, adds: “Football is an overwhelming passion in Scottish consumers’ lives. It might also be suggested that the last deals secured were at the height of football values in Scotland and, given a recent shake out in values, rights-holders in Scottish football may have to re-asses the prices being asked.”
“We should not confuse the ending of sponsorship with a wider lack of interest in football or football sponsorship,” says Wise. “The above parties have been involved with football for many years and this would suggest that the sponsorships have worked well for them. Also, before these announcements, Tennent’s (Scottish Cup), CIS (League Cup) and Carling (Old Firm) had all announced extensions to their existing deals.”
With the World Cup almost upon us and with it comes a host of exclusive tie-in deals for official sponsors rich enough to bid for such rights. But with such rights come dangers... hijackers.
“Ambush marketing is part and parcel of the marketing around the major events,” says Maclean. “We've already seen the Nike Cantona TV ads and the fun has just begun with Adidas filling the official position of World Cup partner. Most events will try to offer their sponsors the maximum amount of protection and opportunities to maximise their official status but it can never be 100 percent and can end up in court.”
“A key objective for sponsor is "exclusivity" in terms of rights that can be exploited around an event,” maintains Kyle. “Obviously, guerrilla brands do not enjoy these rights but can deliver tone, attitude and reward that can be even more relevant to fans and consumers.”
However, it’s not only football which enjoys successful sponsorship campaigns. Lloyds TSB Scotland has struck a prosperous relationship with the national cricket team, despite the team’s relative obscurity.
Lisa Stephenson, customer, wealth management and marketing director at Lloyds TSB Scotland explains: “I absolutely believe in the role sponsorship plays in the wider marketing arena. Since 2001, we’ve seen a significant uplift in brand awareness and consideration and sponsorship has played a significant role in this.
“It’s never easy to make a brand synonymous with an event or team. However, having the brand or product name integrated into the title is a good start. Within our sponsorship of Scottish Cricket for instance, we get a very good return on the Lloyds TSB Scottish National Club League and our newly announced partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival will give us title credit too – Lloyds TSB Scotland Concerts. However, it is the creativity which is added which will begin to establish the relationship and ‘ownership’ for a brand.”
The increased measurability of sponsorship as a brand’s communications vehicle has also led to the area’s recent rise to prominence – especially on TV.
“Accountability is an interesting area,” says Wise. “A development with the TV measurement system, BARB, means that sponsorship bumper credits are now monitored in the same way as normal TV airtime. Advertisers can, therefore, be more confident in the accountability of sponsorship as a valid way of building audience coverage.”
Debbie Tully, client services director at SMG agrees: “Sponsorship is becoming more appealing as it becomes more accountable. It is madness for anyone to just badge themselves, a massive opportunity lost. Agencies need to be not only more creative in their credit production but in their overall approach ensuring they leverage sponsorship across all promotional activity.
“As sponsorship rules and regulations have been relaxed, there is now far more creative opportunity and marketers now see sponsorship not just as a branding exercise but as a means to shift product or brand perception.
“To ensure stand-out the advertiser needs to secure a quality proposition and this can be the difficult bit. This is one reason why ad-funded programming has taken off, as the advertiser, straight off, has a competitive edge. They get the quality they are looking for, the brand values or synergies transferred in to editorial and, potentially, can have broadcast activity to suit their marketing cycle.“
Another interesting issue regarding sponsorship, which has caused much debate, is whether the second, third or fourth sponsor of a particular programme or event can ever enjoy the same benefits and credibility as the original sponsor.
“The number one 'law' in the book, 'The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing', is The Law of Leadership – the idea that you have to be first to be best,” says Wise.
“Sponsorship of The Simpsons is a prime example of this. Dominos began their sponsorship of The Simpsons on Sky One many years ago – they made the brave step of sponsoring the programme and their product became intrinsically linked with it. Pizza Hut then came along some years later and decided to try and steal Dominos' thunder by sponsoring The Simpsons on Channel 4. The question is, have Pizza Hut managed to benefit from the sponsorship in the same way that Dominos have, or are they throwing their money at an impenetrable wall? The latest development in this particular war is Dominos' use of Simpsons characters in their spot advertising in order to further cement their 'ownership' of the programme.”
Still, not every tie-in has the same impact as Dominos’ sponsorship of The Simpsons. Perhaps the most famous case in Scotland was Rangers’ high-profile deal with McEwan’s Lager. Although successful in its own right, the deal also managed to alienate half of Glasgow – the green and white hooped half.
“The example of McEwans’ sponsoship of Glasgow Rangers is a classic,” says Maclean. “However, my understanding in this case was that McEwans Lager did want to sponsor Celtic but were unable to secure the deal. However in proceeding with one half of the Old Firm, perhaps the fierce loyalty of Celtic football fans was underestimated. JJB sports might also be about to test this loyalty once again with their recent tie up with Rangers FC for exclusive merchandise rights.
“The other risk with team or individual sponsorship is that they either under-perform or perform in a manner that may not be appropriate. If the link with the sponsoring is strong then this is likely to have a negative impact on the sponsoring company or brand. Not that success is a prerequisite for a successful sponsorship. However, it will probably be the icing on the cake for any sponsorship as the positive imagery and in all likelihood heightened impact and media coverage that success brings will hugely increase the value of the sponsorship. Most sponsorship contracts will include clauses that enable the sponsoring company to terminate or reduce fees for poor performance. Kate Moss witnessed first hand some of the pitfalls of this but nevertheless seemed to bounce back with a new group of sponsors.”
Stuart Randall, conceptual planner at BD-Ntwk, comments: “A majority of disadvantages also occur because you either do not fully understanding the characteristics of the property or the relationship consumers have with that property.
“Over the years, sponsorship has matured from a tactical to a strategic brand-building tool. Many sponsorship opportunities arrived late in the day and could not be completely integrated into the brand planning and budgeting process.”
For instance, Carling’s sponsorship of the Old Firm – leveraged through the licensed trade by BD-Ntwk – allowed them to connect immediately and strengthen their communication to target consumers in pubs as they could credibly engage in a dialogue with the consumer on a topic of interest to them, it also provided assets that could be used in a number of supporting channels in off-licences.
“Things are moving away from traditional sponsorship buyer/media owner and moving towards more of a partnership,” says Randall. “Brand funding is becoming increasingly important in all activity to make events commercially viable. However media owners should be laser targeting potential sponsors so that the sponsorship is a perfect fit to generate usable assets for the brand and drive connection between brand and target consumer.”
However, the very face of sponsorship could be changing with legislation reform, which is currently being monitored by brands and their owners. One of the areas most likely to be effected is the sponsorship of sporting events by alcoholic brands.
“As a brand, and an industry, we are working closely with Scottish Exec and all relevant authorities to understand the questions around alcohol and sports sponsorship that have been raised,” says Kyle.
“We continue to monitor this situation constantly and will develop plans and communications accordingly. From a Tennent's Lager perspective all brand communications are aimed at influencing consumers to select the brand as part of their drinks repertoire rather than consume more alcohol.”
However, Maclean concludes, “I don't believe that things will remain the same. The drinks industry has traditionally been very active in the sponsorship market. Legislation will eventually restrict the number of opportunities available to that. But drinks brands are sophisticated marketeers and will always find ways to align themselves with strong lifestyle sponsorship programmes either overtly or in more subtle ways.”