Achieving Marketing Objectives Through Social Sponsorships

Original authors: Carolyn J. Simmons & Karen L. Becker-Olsen

Social sponsorship is no longer a bland vehicle for corporate social responsibility or philanthropy. Brands use it more and more to achieve marketing or corporate communication objectives. In that light, the authors discovered that social sponsorship, like its traditional counterpart, is most effective when strategically planned and executed. To achieve desired results, it is paramount for a strong natural fit to exist between the brand and the selected non-profit. Managerial implications are covered below.

Firms want to be perceived as socially responsible, often to create a positive image and a differentiating effect over their competitors. In other words, they are looking to build brand equity and define a unique positioning. It was previously thought that social sponsorship endowed the brand with a socially responsible image, and would inherently be positive. However, a social sponsorship can be detrimental to the brand if chosen poorly.

Natural fit—an indicator of how relevant the association is perceived in the minds of consumers—is as important with social sponsorship as it is with commercial partnerships and will have a direct effect on sponsorship outcomes. Indeed, a high fit will result in better recall and will positively reinforce brand positioning. However, the opposite will dilute brand equity, as a poor fit tends to blur brand positioning. Like sponsorship, low fit and its negative impacts can be mitigated by communication actions (articulation) to explain the partnership between the two brands. Furthermore, in a low fit environment, it’s generally best for the sponsored organization—rather than the firm—to carry out the communications about the partnership, as it reduces the negative impact.

If done right, social sponsorship will generate better recall than traditional sponsorships, and findings have shown that the effect lasts up to a year.

In summary:

Social sponsorships can do a great job of improving a firm’s brand equity, but a bad choice can eradicate and even inverse the positive effect and be detrimental to the company.

  • Fit should be a key consideration, not familiarity with the cause
  • Low fit can dilute the brand’s positioning, create dislike for the sponsorship and lower brand equity
  • High fit will reinforce the brand positioning, create a favourable attitude toward the sponsorship and build brand equity
  • Message source: It is better to communicate through the sponsored non-profit
  • Other elements to consider: “… a well-liked cause, avoiding unattractive elements like heavy-handed promotions, and providing engaging ways for consumers to participate may all contribute to a more favourable attitude toward the sponsorship.”


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