Sports sponsorship is so much more than the ‘chairman’s folly’. Done well, it is one of the most powerful platforms a brand can use. Glenda Nevill reports.
Rob Fleming, now chief marketing officer of Blue Label Telecoms and former sponsorship manager at South African Breweries (SAB), delivered a thought-provoking talk to media agencies and media stakeholders at a breakfast hosted by DStv Media Sales ahead of the Loeries hosted in Cape Town last week.
Fleming said his knowledge on the subject is founded on what he’s observed over the years because there’s “no textbook” on how to make sports sponsorship work for a brand. Landing the rights to certain events or teams only gets you so far, he says. The rest is built on relationships. Then, of course, there’s the ‘relationship’ with social media, which has completely changed the game, and increased the level of information or advertising out there that could lead to consumers “filtering out” what they don’t have the time or inclination or absorb.
“Sports sponsorship is a way for communicators to start talking to people with their ears open,” Fleming says. It also allows a brand to reflect the values of sport and to build its status. And, of course, there are multiple stakeholders in sport because “everyone is a fan”. But how to talk to them all… that’s the trick.
Still, even with all these good associations, there are traps sports sponsors can fall into. Like “slapping” logos absolutely everywhere. Fleming tells an anecdote about Vodacom, a well known rugby sponsor. A member of the cellular service’s marketing team once phoned to complain there weren’t enough logos behind Darren Scott when the broadcaster used to present a rugby show. “That’s not what it’s about,” Fleming says. “You can’t just says, ‘Proud sponsor of’. It has to go further.
Sometimes the sport can overtake the sponsorship. Standard Bank, a long time sponsor of cricket, did a brilliant job of growing the game, but not necessarily the brand.
Then there’s ambush marketing for the sake of ambush marketing. Fleming uses as an example the famous story of the young Dutch woman who were arrested in Cape Town during the Soccer World Cup for changing into a beer brands colours once inside the stadium. “What does that say about the brand?” Fleming asks.
The thing with sport is that it is a “passion point” for many people. Consumers are interested, and the audience gives “heart, money and time”. But sports sponsorship can be too broad: there are simply too many properties. “You have to find a unique angle,” Fleming says. “You can sponsor an existing event, or create your own. Or you can create your own ambush event.”
Fleming uses as an example the extraordinary P&G Olympics ad. It used as its payoff line, ‘Proud sponsor of Moms’. “It was a most effective ad,” Fleming says.
“Less effective was Kia’s latest campaign, costing $100 million, for the most recent world cup in Brazil. Brand sponsor of what,” Fleming asks. “They just created a very expensive TV ad.”
Compare this to the recent ‘Run London’ campaign by Nike. It used the tradition north vs south rivalry in the big city to spur entrants t run on one side or the other to finally settle which was best – 35 000 runners signed up. “Ambush, if accurately done, can be hugely effective. The rights owner can’t own everything,” he says.
Another example was the excellent Castle Lager ad during the Soccer World Cup in South Africa, the ‘Welcome to our home ‘bru’ ad. The local brand wasn’t a sponsor, but it certainly tapped into the hearts and minds of South Africans.
Holding the rights is one thing, says Fleming, but activating the brand in the sports arena is a whole new game. “This is was where the rubber hits the road,” says Fleming. “This is where sponsorship comes to life. It’s the whole package: TV, digital, in store, social media, an event…”
And what better example to illustrate the very best in activating the brand proposition and property than the award-winning Carling Black Label ‘Be the Coach’ campaign.
“This campaign allowed fans to become the thing they were most interested in. It gave them the chance to express themselves, to be heard. It enhanced, empowered and expanded the brand. Over 20.9 million votes were received. It showed great understanding of consumers and what they wanted.”
Of course, one of the ultimate experiences sports fans want is to meet the team. To be allowed into change rooms, “This remains a privilege few in enjoy. For the man in the street, he would give his teeth for the experience,” Flemings says.
One of the most powerful ways to bring fans into the world of their heroes is by producing “engaging and persuasive content” that isn’t just logo-slapping. Castle Lager’s Castle Captain’s Diary is an example of what Fleming calls “mutually beneficial content”.
“Castle is about South African pride and what an inspiration pride is. Our resilience is something we take pride in,” Fleming explains. So when Proteas captain Graeme Smith strode to the wicket with a broken hand in the third test against Australia, he personified that spirit we so admire.
And the video produced of the moment, taken from his autobiography, is one that brings tears to the eyes.
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