Just a few years ago, standard, and often rigid, sponsorship structures set most sponsors on the same level. But as brands get better at crafting their own narrative, generic platforms with properties are no longer working to create goodwill. Brands need to find a clear positioning for their sponsorship portfolio as well as within each property.
In the early 2010’s, the industry understood the need to contribute to the audience or fan experience. But now we need to go further than first-level relevance or a simple value-added experience. The desire to contribute to the consumer experience often led to on-site brand activation with a thin link to the overall communication strategy. Yes, giving goodies or providing a coveted service will generate positive attitudes—but then again, so would handing out cash on a street corner. What’s more brand attribution and any lasting impact with such promotions is almost always low.
The sponsorship program needs to be an extension of the overall brand marcom platform. Creating a specific activation to fit the property’s environment is key, but you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, craft a clever extension of the existing brand positioning. Too often, brands create a stand-alone communication platform with a property, which then takes on a life of its own and requires constant funding and resources.
The role that the brand plays
The next step is to determine the role that the brand can play within the property. What specific role is relevant to your brand, to your communication strategy, and to the property that you’ve partnered with? How can you stand out from other sponsors? What unique element can your brand contribute?
Heineken answers these questions year after year in their attempt to be relevant in what they offer Coachella participants. In 2012 they created the first beer cold storage that you could access with your fingerprints. In 2014 they served beer infused with lemon grass, mint and chilli pepper in their exclusive World Fusion Bar, which was also a way to test these products in the American market. In 2015 the Snapchat account HeinekenSnapWho provided participants with exclusive information on guest artists at the festival.
Unfortunately, contractual agreements have not followed suit in adapting to this new context where brands need to find and craft their own space. Generic assets and packages no longer do the trick. Properties need to support sponsors by creating a flexible set of assets, unique sub-properties and open-ended sponsorship agreements. Communication and openness becomes paramount in such a context—something that is often lacking in a purely transactional relationship.
What’s more, beyond visibility, there is a lack of engagement assets offered by properties, like the possibility for brands to own a sub-property, a service, a communication campaign or an audience database. These could be paired with visibility assets to achieve both brand recognition as a sponsor and goodwill and affinity with the brand.
Some brands have created unique activation platforms fused to their communication objectives and are simply looking more or less to purchase an audience, like the Perrier Greenhouse activation at music festivals.
The Greenhouse is exclusive to Perrier and offers an ideal environment for consumers to immerse themselves in the brand. The program goals: to engage with new audiences, create content and facilitate product trials. The space featured Perrier-infused cocktails, air conditioning (a rare luxury at music festivals) and DJ sets.
There is a strong need for properties to create custom assets and activations that are linked to brands objectives. Though there has been progress on that front, there is still a ways to go. Working early to involve the property in the planning period, and in the crafting of both the sponsorship assets and the activation itself, is a good first step.