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How to stand out in a competitive sponsorship environment


Create a powerful link to properties in a competitive environment

Sponsorship can be extremely effective at reaching communications and business objectives. However, building the equity of a partnership requires a lot of time, mainly because audiences need to naturally associate the brand with a property, especially if the sponsor is replacing another brand from the same category. The good news is that the positive effects will last as well.

With this in mind, why would any brand sponsor the same properties or purchase the same assets as its predecessor? It wouldn’t make sense, right? Yet we see so many sponsors do exactly that.

Here are a few rules of engagement that can help sponsors improve the chances of a strong association:

1. Disruption

Consider properties that are still under the radar. Such a property may not be perfect, and it may require more involvement from the sponsor; however, over time, if it’s well-chosen, the partnership will benefit the sponsor and the property. Sometimes, the association may appear at odds, but if the objectives and expectations are crystal clear from the get-go, it can produce significant results. One good example is the association between Dela and Dutch volleyball.

Dela is in the funeral business (insurance and arrangements). Back in the mid-2000s, they decided to sponsor the Dutch national woman’s volleyball team. Weird, right? Dela had two sets of objectives: improve brand image and educate and change perceptions about the funeral business. The results were immediate, as demonstrated in the first year: with a massive uplift of key performance indicators by large margins of 13% to 18%.


Some might call it one single good idea; however, in 2013, Dela won a media Grand Prix at Cannes with the following campaign:

This is a company that demonstrates a clear vision of the brand’s objectives. Fast forward to 2017, when Dela pretty much now owns the volleyball category in the Netherlands and Belgium, while also having increased its footprint through the addition of other teams to its roster and major volleyball events.

Surprisingly, this is not a unique case. Kameleon, a funeral insurance business, is associated with a premier division football club called PEC Zwolle. Their activation is tailored around sponsoring the “dead ball”—which is what they call it when the ball falls out of play. Talk about disruption!

Another example is the Greek football club Voukefalas, who signed a partnership deal with the local brothel.

That partnership was based on the objective of raising awareness among a masculine clientele. This association definitely became the talk of the town.

These are obviously peculiar industries. So what if you’re a bank, an insurance company or a brewer? Instead of trying to outbid a competitor on a top property, look for fringe investments at a grassroots or community level. For example, Chevrolet propelled One World Futbols, a non-profit that distributes indestructible football (soccer) balls to children living in developing countries, with tremendous PR and visibility for the brand, in a previously uncharted territory.


2. Authenticity

Disruption can, however, be a double-edge sword. The advertising industry has eroded the meaning of “authenticity” by turning it into a buzz word. Nevertheless, this concept is truly at the core of sponsorship and has long been a key focus of professionals in our industry. It turns out that authenticity is one of the key components to ensuring a successful disruption strategy.

Take, for example, BP and its sponsorship of the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) back in 2008. BP turned to this association to improve its image, although many questioned the fit of the partnership. Then business reality kicked in. Remember the Gulf oil spill of 2010? BP’s Olympic adventure came to an end when USOC pulled the plug, as it clearly demonstrated the incompatibility between BP’s business and the Olympic spirit.

Or consider GEO, a private operator of prisons that in 2013 purchased the naming rights for the stadium hosting the Florida Atlantic University Owls in exchange for $6 million. In no time, the local community was calling the stadium “Owlcatraz” and the deal was eventually cancelled.

Finally, remember the pink bucket, born of an association between KFC and breast cancer research? Need we say more? It came from a good place, but the market didn’t accept it.

While all the examples above have the merit of being disruptive, they lacked authenticity. These associations were built purely on commercial considerations, so when fans or clients didn’t understand the fit behind the partnership, it felt opportunistic instead. Gone are the days when a brand could simply associate itself with a property to simply offset an image issue. For example, in recent Olympics, the public and stakeholders openly voiced concern about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s association, even though both had made significant contributions to the Olympic movement over the years.

Today, consumers are more sophisticated: they have expectations towards brands and we, as professionals, need to be mindful of that reality.

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Olympic committees strike unusual sponsorship deals



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