Digital sponsorship – Best Practices

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By Samantha Phelan, Manager, Sales and Service, St. John’s IceCaps.

Two years ago, in the lead-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Beats by Dre—a popular headphones brand—took to the internet with a uniquely crafted “Game Before the Game” video featuring famous soccer athletes, Neymar and Sturridge, emulating what their pre-game rituals looked like. The Apple-owned company also brought in key influencers such as LeBron James, Serena Williams, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne to secure their success in capturing the attention of their target audience. Through an intelligently crafted combination of rich media and PR advertising, Beats by Dre made themselves a headlining act across all online channels, targeting their content specifically toward the average soccer fan, and quickly positioning themselves as the leading brand of the FIFA World Cup. The video went viral its first day on YouTube, inciting fans to become even more engaged by sharing their own pre-game rituals on their social media channels.

The results

$50m in PR value. 26m+ views on YouTube. 1,502,265,009 global impressions. 33% growth in YouTube subscribers. 130% growth in online headphone sales.

The problem?

Beats by Dre wasn’t an official sponsor. In fact, once FIFA caught onto their tactics, they banned the headphones from every stadium to stem the brand’s infiltration into the event. Apex competitor Sony had all the licensing rights and exclusivity in the electronics category for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. While Beats by Dre didn’t have the rights to advertise in any host facility, to purchase earned media, or to use the FIFA branding in any shape or form, their targeted digital strategy and authentic storytelling campaign convinced soccer fans around the world that they were a top supporter of this global event.

What does this mean for sponsorship?

The point of this story is not to encourage brands to do without partnerships. In fact, had Sony been as creative as Beats By Dre, they could have used the elements at their disposal as part of the partnership to far surpass Beats By Dre’s resulting metrics. Complementary signage, social media mentions from FIFA, concourse activation space, access to players over the course of the event, commercial inventory to run the videos in the host buildings: these are all elements that would add significant value in elevating an already amazing digital media campaign. And we certainly see activations of this calibre during premier entertainment events such as the Super Bowl or the Oscars.

Gone are the days when placing traditional signage around an arena is the optimal way to activate a partnership. Signage is a great asset to have in arenas that drive significant crowds, and even more important in arenas that have broadcast exposure, but digital media offers a more-than-compelling argument as to why it should be considered as a necessary enhancement tool to all of your sponsorship activations.

Targeted

If your audience are males aged 35 to 50, and you choose to sponsor an activation inside the arena for a soccer event, chances are that you will reach your audience. But how many of the 40,000 fans in that stadium fit your desired demographics? Traditionally, sponsors had to cut their losses, knowing that it was highly probable that their messaging would reach an audience outside of their target market when activating on-site activations. On digital platforms, we have the ability to target our messaging to such a precise degree that when properties promise brands 40,000 impressions, they can curate a campaign that will reach 40,000 people from the exact target market in question, thereby delivering a higher quality ROI.

More engagement opportunities

With the exception of on-site, face-to-face activations, most traditional sponsorship assets provide little to no opportunity to directly interact with your customers. Digital assets in your partnership allow you not only to see who is engaged with your content, but to engage with them in return, building relationships that expand far beyond a single interaction. From lead generation to replying via tweets to hosting contests to analyzing their online behaviour, brands now have significant sales and marketing opportunities to get more out of their partnerships than ever before.

Larger audience

You may be asking, “What if my objective isn’t brand engagement but brand awareness?” My answer to that would be to look at your reach and who your audience is.  Most properties have an ability to reach far more people through their online channels than at a specific event or venue.

Attention

The best sponsors activate their partnerships in ways that engage the target audience on their own terms and on channels that already have their attention. There’s no point being romantic about the idea of banner bugs and static signage if people are walking by them with their eyes on their phones. For the most part, the number one place to capture someone’s attention in our day and age is via the screen in their hands. Digital solutions (like beacons that provide opt-in push notifications), social media initiatives (creative hashtags, contests or snapchat geofilters) and enhanced fan experiences (using new augmented or virtual reality technology) are all excellent ways to cut through the clutter and draw attention to your brand.

The key here is to not put all of your eggs in the digital space basket, but rather to integrate digital media into the fabric of your current activations.

If you’re already activating through signage at your property, then perhaps you need to build in a social media contest encouraging fans to take a picture in front of it for their chance to win a prize.

If you’re already sponsoring a section of a building or event, why not provide a customized, brag-worthy, snapchat geo-filter for those individuals that visit your activation site, or use bacon technology to drive messaging to their phones when they enter your area.

If you’re given the opportunity to do giveaway items for an event, why not make it something like Google Cardboard, where you can enhance your customers’ experience, and deliver an activation that encourages continued engagement with your brand beyond that one event.

There are a lot of opportunities to leverage, and there’s no question that the eyes are on the digital space. What is your brand doing to place itself front and centre by means of innovative partnerships?

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