World Cup shows more is less in sponsorship

The one thing we can all thank David Beckham for is keeping us amused. This joke arrived on my e-mail last week: David Beckham is visiting a school. In one class, he asks the students for an example of a tragedy.

A boy stands up and says: “If my best friend was playing in the street and a car killed him, that would be a tragedy.” “No,” Beckham replies, “that would be an accident.”

Next a girl raises her hand: “A school bus carrying 50 children drives off a cliff and kills everyone. That would be a tragedy.” “I’m afraid not,” explains Beckham. “That would be a great loss.”

The room is silent. “Can no-one give me an example of a tragedy?” asks Beckham.

Finally, a boy raises his hand and timidly says: “If an aeroplane carrying David Beckham were blown up by a bomb, that would be a tragedy.”

“Wonderful!” Beckham beams. “Can you tell me why?”

“Because it wouldn’t be an accident and it certainly wouldn’t be a great loss,” says the boy.

Now read the joke again and substitute the name of any of the myriad of advertisers which climbed on the World Cup bandwagon for David Beckham. With just one or two exceptions, their absence would have been a blessing and certainly no great loss.

Sponsorship is supposed to be different. It is based on the concept that consumers perceive sponsors as sharing their interests, rather than just touting their wares. This way consumers form a closer affinity with those brands.

But for the majority of World Cup sponsors, the event has been a tragedy of Beckham proportions. So what lessons need to be learned?

The more sponsors there are, the fewer will shine through and the greater the gulf between winners and losers. Compare McDonald’s success with Braun’s relative obscurity.

Category exclusivity is meaningless when the audience and the media options are finite – leading to a multitude of PR stunts. Adidas using the White Cliffs of Dover as a giant screen made it into The Sun. Thousands of other ideas didn’t.

Strong brands outperform weak ones, particularly if they have already earned their sponsorship stripes. Coca-Cola is regularly associated with sponsorships in which it has absolutely no involvement.

Ambush and guerrilla marketing is a legitimate and effective form of sponsorship. The absence of an official logo doesn’t prevent brands from forming a strong association with an activity or lifestyle. Nike just does it.

Be creative and use local trading partners. NatWest played a great game in helping to promote MasterCard’s World Cup sponsorship in the UK.

Lastly, brands do sponsorship for different reasons. Cementing a trade relationship over a glass of champagne in hospitality is as valuable for some as a 20 per cent increase in awareness.

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