DHL x Formula E: sponsorship case study

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Sometimes it pays to make the first move.

Formula E was launched in 2014 as the world’s first electric street racing series, attracting attention from traditional manufacturers like Audi, Renault and Jaguar, as well as curiosity from many former Formula 1 drivers. With the overall aging of motorsports audiences, Formula E provided a fresh opportunity to gain new audiences for the sport as a whole, and as with the launch of any new series, there was tremendous potential for innovation without any red tape, pre-existing agreements or politics. Formula E’s sustainability narrative is definitely catering to a younger, more eco-sensitive audience, and apart from the environmentally-friendly philosophy, the series also boasts a range of interesting features that mark a clean break from traditional motorsports.

Of course, it can be perilous for a brand to associate with a new property or entity; there is always the risk of it remaining a fringe property that never gets off the ground, as we saw with the very short-lived (and now defunct) XFL, which was backed by pro wrestling titan Vince McMahon. But in the case of Formula E, that risk was mitigated by the backing of the FIA (Fédération Internationale Automobile), and further still alleviated by the support of numerous renowned manufacturers and drivers.

Formula E is also refreshingly disruptive, redefining the boundaries of what a sport can be by fusing entertainment, sustainability, technology and innovation, not unlike e-sport. One example is the Fanboost feature, an avenue designed to get fans directly involved with the events on the track. Clearly drawing inspiration from the engagement success of reality TV, Fanboost lets fans vote for the driver of their choice, giving the three drivers with the most votes a boost they can use for extra power on the track. Another fixture of Formula E race weekend is the eVillage, an entertainment destination that gives fans the chance to get up close and personal with teams and drivers. Fans can also enjoy exclusive music tracks from the resident DJ, which are broadcast on TV and available online.

As one of the founding partners of the series, DHL’s role is the official logistics partner of Formula E. As such, DHL is responsible for all logistical moves of the 10 competing teams, as well as Formula E’s travelling infrastructure. Basically, DHL’s mandate is to deliver Formula E around the world as efficiently as possible, minimizing the Championship’s carbon footprint.

The partnership falls squarely into DHL’s wheelhouse—their mission statement is “Delivering Sustainable Innovation. Fast.” Driving progress in sustainability and e-mobility is similarly at the core of Formula E, which acts as a testing ground for new tech in the environment and e-mobility sector, making the series an excellent match with DHL’s brand DNA. The global logistics company was the first of its kind to set ambitious sustainability goals, looking to optimize carbon efficiency by 30% by the year 2020 and reduce all logistics-related emissions to net zero by the year 2050. As the transport sector currently accounts for nearly a quarter (23%) of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it’s an industry-changing commitment that is relevant and well perceived by the brand’s core audience.

The partnership, mostly driven by B2B objectives, makes a lot of sense for DHL. It sends a strong message to stakeholders regarding energy reduction costs, which will one day become an advantageous edge in an undifferentiated and competitive environment, both from an operational and an image standpoint. Furthermore, there is likely business income from the partnership to offset the spend on rights fee.

When a brand mostly caters to a business audience, or has commodified products or services, it can be tough to capture consumers’ attention. The partnership with Formula E lets DHL tell stories that are more engaging, humanizing their brand and creating a more meaningful consumer connection through various content.

While DHL doesn’t necessarily have a very broad and public activation campaign, the PR, content and opportunities on the business side make for a solid sponsorship program. Plus, being the first movers to so boldly partner with the environmentally-friendly series gives them a legitimacy and associated brand attribution that will be hard for competitors to replicate or beat.

B2B-based partnerships are often overlooked because they may own fewer visibility assets, making them more discreet, but they can bring tremendous value to a brand. While B2B companies should consider using sponsorship as a communication tool more often, consumer-based businesses may want to look at adding a business dimension to their programs. It can be as simple as creating a unique experience for clients, engaging the people involved in the distribution network, developing a contest for sales teams, conveying a message to investors, and so on—the possibilities are endless.

Sources:

Deutsche Post DHL Group (2017). “Our GoGreen environmental protection program”

http://www.dpdhl.com/en/responsibility/environmental-protection/gogreen_program.html

FIA Formula E (2017). “DHL commits to zero-emissions logistics by 2050”

http://www.fiaformulae.com/en/news/2017/march/dhl-commits-to-zero-emissions-logistics-by-2050/

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