The debate on sponsorship effectiveness, entertaining though it may have been, has not been illuminated by recent correspondence from the gurus, as Malcolm Stuart rightly notes in his letter (MW June 10).
Sponsorship is a relatively simple form of commercial communication that can achieve a limited number of objectives extremely well. When asked to perform more complex tasks on its own, it almost always fails.
This is not the fault of sponsorship per se, but of management seeking a quick-fix, relatively cheap solution to marketing problems that need to be addressed in a more holistic fashion. Blame may also be laid at the door of sponsorship executives – both in-house and agency – who seek to promote the discipline that provides their livelihood beyond its competence.
Good sponsorship is like an iceberg: the visible portion can be awe-inspiring but the real mass and strength is in the nine-tenths that lie below the water. All too often sponsorship is asked to perform a task without sufficient supporting investment, and it sinks without trace.
Recent coverage in Marketing Week has reported that, without such support, some 80 per cent of sponsorship investment is wasted because it lacks extensive exploitation and research (the M&C Saatchi sponsorship, for example) and that the support costs for sponsorship can easily total eight times the rights fee expenditure (The Australian Sweeney Report).
Unfortunately for sponsorship as a whole, there is a handful of international brands capable of supporting massive investment of a few sports and personalities, and which has created an aura of omnipotence for the discipline. Lacking the brand, budget or single-mindedness of this select few, mere mortals in the sponsorship business seek to live and peddle the dream of total marketing solutions through sponsorship. They do not exist.
The reality of sponsorship is similar to that of branding, which is succinctly summarised by Al and Laura Ries in their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: “Your brand has to stand for something simple and narrow in the mind. This limitation is the essential part of the branding process.”
Substitute sponsorship for brand and you have the one immutable law of sponsorship.
Returns on sponsorship investment are thus long term. It provides the proven, but unfashionable, benefits of compound interest in a world that is more concerned with the flashy attractions of a stock market killing.
The glamour of many sponsorships should not mask the prosaic nature of the work involved in making it effective. It may also explain why no “self-proclaimed gurus” have so far joined the fray: they are too busy at the coal-face.