By definition sponsorship is "a form of marketing in which a company pays for the right to be associated with a project or programme", but we know that sponsorship, like most marketing activities, should derive commercial value to the sponsor.
The misconception we have seen over the years has been how sponsorship is seen as a nice to have, a chairman's foley and when times get tough it is inevitably the first casualty in the cost cutting exercise. The fact remains, when executed correctly, sponsorship has proven to deliver the best on business objectives out of any other marketing activity.
The definition quoted above refers to paying for rights, when in fact sponsorship is all about 'buying the privilege of a receptive audience' according to seasoned sponsorship consultant Rob Fleming. Fleming believes that sponsorships provide the opportunity for a brand to both communicate and engage with its consumers in an environment that they care about - an environment they have already decided is important enough to invest their time, their money and their heart. This, as opposed to one, where their message runs the risk of being filtered out.
This is a view that has proven to be the successful approach for many a brand, none more so than Vodacom, which always seeks to make fans a big part of its campaigns. Some of those successes include the Bafana Bafana campaign leading up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup where fans shared their goal celebrations with the team, Push iPassion and Player 23 are some that stand out. AB InBev through Castle Lager's Superfan campaigns, the recent One Jersey One Nation and, of course, the Carling Black Label Cup, which all put fans (and ultimately the target consumer) at the heart of their campaigns and some even at the core of the entire brand strategy.
The ultimate takeout, however, from these campaigns is how they successfully delivered on assisting the business in meeting their goals. Using sponsorship for brand awareness will always exist, but it is a wasted expense if that is all one uses it for.
Key to unlocking true value with sponsorships can be explained through famous quotes:
- "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" - The sponsorship has to work for the goals of the brand
- "It's not you, it's me" - Sponsors and rights-holders need to understand that it is not about them, but the consumer
- "Life is like a box of chocolates" - The truth is, you do know what is inside the box of chocolates and if you do your strategy correctly, your creativity will allow you to achieve your targets
Sponsorships, whether sport, art, lifestyle, or any other form has evolved to offering brands full marketing mix exposure when done correctly. Successful brand campaigns, like the ones mentioned above, have been able to, in some instances, turn brands around almost single-handedly. Sponsorships deliver unique value and reach in a world where media is fragmented, customer attention is scarce and differentiation is hard to come by.