Why sponsorships have lost sight of their target

Banners obscuring a golf tournament are one example of how sponsorship has become side-tracked from its purpose – connecting with consumers. By Tim Crow

Sponsorship is recognised as a key weapon in the modern marketing armoury for two reasons. The first is that it helps brands overcome the problem of media fragmentation and clutter by focusing on one platform – such as a sporting event – rather than a media channel. A multi-channel sponsorship campaign can raise awareness, build the brand by taking on values attached to the property being sponsored, and boost sales.

The second reason is sponsorship’s ability to connect with consumers by adding value to their activities and interests. With brand cynicism growing and customer relationship management moving centre stage, you’d think this would make sponsorship the Holy Grail of marketing.

Yet how many sponsorships have really made a deep connection with consumers? If sponsorship is to avoid becoming a word synonymous with corporate interference, consumers must be at the heart of any sponsorship strategy. If not, it risks becoming yet another layer of brand clutter in consumers’ brand-saturated lives.

Most sponsorship properties aren’t built around consumers’ needs. They are assessed and bought in terms of the property’s potential market reach and how well this fits with the sponsor’s demographic. This isn’t helped by the fact that sponsorship deals are often made by rights owners who have a very limited understanding of their own target market.

Finding out how consumers would respond to a particular sponsorship should not only reveal what property a brand should sponsor, but what form that sponsorship should take.

Consider golf. Its followers tend to be affluent and are a key target for many brands. Anyone who has attended a major golf event will know that watching the golf isn’t easy. Spectators have to walk for miles; food and drink is average and expensive; similarly the merchandise. Finding a vantage point is also incredibly difficult. Yet how many golf sponsors exploit these facts?

Very little thought goes into what the spectators want. At the last Ryder Cup, for instance, the branded banner boards around the tees were so tall that they obscured the game that the 105,000 fans had paid to see. Unless you were seven feet tall, all you could see was the players’ heads and shoulders.

Just “being there” is not enough for sponsors: the fans haven’t paid their hard-earned money or taken time out just for the “privilege” of seeing sponsor messages. The better the brand encounters are, the greater the return on investment, because such sponsorships would win the hearts and not just the minds of people by adding to the overall experience.

Sponsorship, like all marketing activity, is having to prove its worth, but only when consumers become central to a sponsorship strategy will the discipline’s full potential be realised.

Tim Crow is director of Karen Earl Sponsorship

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