Brand sponsorship of global events: new challenges for brands

An interesting discussion with Lakshmanan Narayan, CEO and co-founder of Unmetric in this week’s Storybard, touched upon the topic of brands sponsoring global events. Specifically, the issue was about how with global events like FIFA World Cup, brands not associated with the event in an official capacity as sponsors are gaining mileage through through brand content in social media. So it begs the question, ‘do brands have to be sponsors anymore?’

Brands stealing thunder from a competing brand who is an official sponsor of an event is not new. In India, many still talk about the ‘Nothing official about it‘ campaign of Pepsi when its rival Coke was the sponsor of the cricket world cup in 1996. I guess every brand will try and hijack or at least limits the advantage a rival brand is likely to have by becoming an official sponsor of a global sports event. The official sponsor brand, on the other hand will try to extract maximum mileage by way of share of mind, clear association with the event and of course, sales.

The problem faced by brands who pay millions of dollars for sponsoring global sports events in the hope of benefiting from that association is of two kinds: (a) a competing brand creating more buzz during the event on the strength of a superior creative product, and (b) competing brands in the category and even obscure brands in unrelated categories  creating branded content and populating them mainly in their own social media pages. As examples of the first kind, what Nike and Beats did during the recent FIFA World Cup come to mind. Nike (with Last Game) and Beats gained superior traction relative to Adidas and Sony, who were official sponsors.

The second kind is when brands simply ride on the consumer interest for a global event like the FIFA World Cup and create Facebook posts & tweets around the event. A wide variety of brands do this – anyone from a sports shoe brand to a laxative brand. Since the consumer is in the mood to accept such content, brands naturally capitalise on it.

So should brands stop sponsoring global sporting events? I think not. In my view, brands can still leverage the association, despite competing brands creating noise around the event. The challenge will be to associate the official sponsor brand unambiguously with the sporting event and winning mind shares, ‘likeability’ and preference scores despite a competing brands’ guerrilla activities. One way of doing this is to perhaps not promote an umbrella brand or corporate brand but try and associate a sub-brand or a unique feature of a lead brand with the event. The attempt could be to associate a unique feature or sub-brand which can then build a unambiguous association with the brand. It would have to be then followed up in ground events. It is almost like Sony pushing Walkman for such sports associations rather than the umbrella brand of Sony. It would then increase the chance of unambiguous association with the official sponsor brand. Sort of like Walkman being the sponsor rather than the umbrella brand.

Your views?

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4 thoughts on “Brand sponsorship of global events: new challenges for brands”

  1. Hmmm…but even when an individual brand partners with FIFA for ex, Coke…things still get pretty muddy with rival brands also doing work around football. This year’s Coke campaign arguably is one of the weakest ever, leaving room for the likes of Pepsi to capitalize. I think the best way to leverage a global event is to first have a good fit with the property (Powerade partnership is much better than Coke for FiFa) and then to do great content around that. This year’s Coke copies were too macabre to celebrate the sentiment of the event. Which is where Pepsi scored higher.

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