The Drum Awards Festival - Media

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Technology Brand Strategy Martech

Unilever, UBS and Mastercard on the future of live sponsorship events


By Amit Bapna | Editor-at-large

May 10, 2021 | 6 min read

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Whoever would have thought one of the most talked about concerts would be Justin Bieber performing on a downtown Los Angeles plush apartment terrace with an audience of neighbouring building residents on their terraces, observing social distancing? Is this the possible future of live events where fans can still enjoy any of their passion points in-person, whether it's gaming, music, culture or sport at creative spaces?

Image of a quote from David Aikman from World Economic Forum at Live! Matters Festival. "Our world changes so quickly you want to finalize things at the last minute. Anybody who tells you they have a six-month strategy is probably lying"

To watch the entire session visit

With the pandemic having impacted different markets, and the recovery being staggered to a varying degree, live events and sponsorships have taken a major hit. ‘Live Matters, an event organised by Branded, hosted a power-packed panel that delved into how some of the leading global brands are reworking their sponsorship plans and live events playbook in a post-Covid world.

The panel comprised William Dinger, Unilever's global head of sponsorship, Michael Corcoran, director of brand activation, sponsorship and events, APAC at UBS, Rustom Dastoor, SVP, head of marketing and Communications, APAC at Mastercard and was moderated by Charlotte McEleny. publisher, APAC at The Drum.

The session looked at some key facets of the business and its evolution in the last year or so. For example, how can brands get past the prevailing ‘zoom fatigue’ and make the event formats more engaging? How can event-owners get people to pay for things that they were used to consuming for free and evolve them into something that's going to build a much deeper and more meaningful connection?

Here are the key takeaways from the speakers:

William Dinger, global head of sponsorship, Unilever

  • Live events have been an important part of Unilever’s overall marketing mix, especially when it comes to sponsorships and partnerships but there is much more we have been doing in this space. Ecommerce programming, for example, was already very critical and it got accelerated because of Covid-19.
  • Consumers are still expecting the same kind of brand presence and demands, as they always have done and our task as marketers is to continue to elevate their overall viewing experience. Since fans haven't been able to go to the stadium, how do we, as a brand, authentically show up, within a gaming experience, or a viewing experience, or within the different restrictions that the pandemic has imposed.
  • We want to double down on our understanding of making the brand partnerships work with the various platforms that include e-commerce environment, merchandising, licensing access etc since it's critical for the future.
  • The future would be about more personalization, more experiences, more reimagined partnership assets and revenue models.

Michael Corcoran, director - brand activation, sponsorship and events, APAC at UBS

  • He spoke of how one of their long-term sponsored properties Art Basel in Hong Kong has become a scaled-down event this year, having had to morph into more of a hybrid fair. UBS has been the title sponsor for the art event, eight years in a row, and the event fits in very well strategically since it matches the bank brand’s long heritage as a collector of contemporary art.
  • The association strategy however has had to undergo many changes this year because of the pandemic and so what used to be a plush physical UBS lounge at the venue has been replaced with a UBS digital lounge, where backed by the digital expertise there would be very bespoke content for the guests who can tune into online.
  • Interestingly having the digital lounge allows the brand to cast a wider net, for a much bigger number of clients. In this case, for clients who cannot travel there is a possibility of offering unique content and unique experiences. So that is a blessing in disguise for the virtual event format.

Rustom Dastoor, SVP, head of marketing and Communications, APAC at Mastercard

  • Mastercard has been a prolific sponsor of live events in Asia across sports, culture and technology, so much so that it had some event going on, every week of the year. All of a sudden for that to stop was quite devastating.
  • The future of live events is likely to be ‘phygital,’ which is a combination of physical and digital. For example, we had the Australian Open just a few months ago, and a large part of it was executed live, but it was also digitally executed. That helps to bring the event into people's houses as well and that balance is what brands like Mastercard will have to strike going forward.
  • It is getting clear that not every country is going to come out of the pandemic at the same time. For us, all our cardholders matter equally and if they are unable to get out to a live event, we are going to bring the live event to them.
  • No one has built a digital platform bespoke for live sponsorship events since largely what is happening is rejigging a lot of other platforms and trying to make them work for live events. There is a big business opportunity out there to build a bespoke live event, a digital virtual platform that captures the essence of a live event and brings it into your home.

To watch the entire session again or any of the Live Matters sessions including Music, Sports, Gaming and Health & Safety, visit

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