It’s hard work to fill a prior sponsor’s shoes

HSBC’s decision to stop sponsoring ITV Drama Premieres leaves a tempting gap. But while the slot could be lucrative, replacing an established partner will not be easy. By Amanda Wilkinson

The challenge facing many brands contemplating taking over a sponsorship property that has a long association with another product is: “How do we make it our own?”

When HSBC comes to the end of its long-running sponsorship of ITV Drama Premieres in December (MW last week), this question will be taxing the minds of potential new sponsors. The bank began sponsoring ITV Drama Premieres back in 1996, when it was known as Midland Bank. Later, the deal was used to introduce the HSBC name.

Carat head of sponsorship David Peters says: “It will take time for the new sponsor to establish its message. But it can be done relatively successfully: viewers forget the sponsor of programmes.”

And some observers maintain it will be an easier task now that ITV has a number of other sponsors (including Lindemans, Leerdammer cheese and Standard Life) signed up to different drama packages than if HSBC had been solely associated with the genre. However, the more drama sponsors there are, the more difficult it could be for a new sponsor to stand out.

Sponsorvision planning director Sarah Armitage suggests that any new sponsor will have to develop creative work that captures viewers’ attention, as well as trying to connect with them off air, for instance through sales promotions.

She adds: “If you make an effort to build a relationship with a viewer, it shouldn’t take long to start building awareness levels and changing brand perceptions.”

Pizza Hut will hope it has met the challenge when it unveils sponsorship bumpers for The Simpsons on Channel 4 this week. Although it is not taking over from another brand – terrestrial rights for The Simpsons were previously held by BBC 2 – it will still have its work cut out, as rival Domino’s Pizza is the long-running sponsor of the show on Sky One.

The satellite and cable channel has the rights to the first runs of The Simpsons in the UK and is about to start showing series 16. It also repeats episodes before they appear on terrestrial TV, sometimes several years later. Domino’s began sponsoring The Simpsons in 1998 and this year extended its association until 2006. It is understood that the company pays about &£1.3m a year, and it has an interactive TV pizza ordering service indirectly linked to the show using red-button technology.

Pizza Hut is thought to have spent &£4m on its one-year deal with C4, which includes screening back-catalogue episodes from Sunday to Friday at 6pm and the latest series to be shown on terrestrial TV on Fridays at 9pm, starting with episodes from series 12.

Peters says: “It will be very confusing. In multi-channel homes, Domino’s is established as the sponsor of The Simpsons. So there is a creative challenge for Pizza Hut.”

BSkyB commercial director Mark Wood says: “Domino’s is synonymous with The Simpsons and the relatively small spend has turned it into the brand leader.”

Awareness levels for the takeaway pizza company increased from 65 per cent before the sponsorship began to 81 per cent a year later.

Although Pizza Hut is paying more than Domino’s for its deal, the chain may feel that its deal represents good value for money, taking into account the larger audiences expected on Channel 4 and the cost of spot advertising on the channel.

But the days when brands see sponsorship as a cheap way to get airtime could be coming to a close. Competition for broadcast sponsorships has increased significantly this year, according to Peters, who believes this is partly due to reports about the potential impact of personal video recorders, which allow viewers to skip ads.

And with a limit to the number of opportunities available, he warns, “The gap between sponsorship price and the cost of advertising is going to shrink quickly.”

Carat estimates that the TV sponsorship market, which has been flat for the past three years, was worth &£105m in 2003. It expects that figure to increase by 20 per cent this year.

To make any long-term sponsorship work, says ITV Sales head of sponsorship and branded content Gary Knight, “You need to keep refreshing the sponsorship bumpers to give it a new lease of life. And you also have to consider whether you are working it through other initiatives, such as SMS messages and promotions.”

Domino’s introduced new creative executions in August. It could also take advantage of the soon-to-be-launched remote booking service on Sky Plus, whereby users can text or e-mail instructions to record a particular programme and sponsors can send a branded message in return as confirmation.

The UK’s longest-running TV sponsorship is Powergen’s link with ITV1’s national weather, which has run since 1989. Other long-running sponsorships include Cadbury’s deal with Coronation Street and Ford’s sponsorship of Sky Sports’ Premier League football coverage.

There seem to be fewer long-running radio sponsorships, but most observers expect the tie-up between 95.8 Capital FM’s breakfast show and Kellogg, which is in its second year, to continue for some time. Pepsi, the longstanding sponsor of the commercial radio Hit40UK chart, has been replaced by Woolworths. Woolworths has extended its association with the show in store and on TV, with an advertiser-funded show on C4.

Connexus managing director Alastair Macdonald says: “While an association with previous sponsor does endure, you will be surprised by how quickly a new sponsor replaces them in terms of name-recognition.”

But there are some brands whose association with a particular property is so strong that it is hard for any new sponsor to achieve greater awareness. Outside broadcast sponsorship, Carling – according to data from the Sports Marketing Surveys/NOP sponsorship brand impact study for the start of the 2004/5 season – still retains a high level of unprompted association with football’s Premiership, at 16 per cent compared with current sponsor Barclays’ 13 per cent and previous sponsor Barclaycard’s 15 per cent. However, after prompting, Barclays’ association rises to 60 per cent.

But for most brands, Macdonald says: “Once you stop, the impact decays. You either accept that, or you replace the impact.”

The right time to stop a sponsorship depends on what a brand is trying to achieve, claims Alliance managing director Tim Brady. In the case of Toyota’s sponsorship of ITV1’s Formula One coverage, the major objective was to establish a link with the event, in which the car manufacturer had a team. “We achieved that very quickly, within two years. We could have carried but what was the point?” says Brady.

Other brands may just use a sponsorship deal to change perceptions – Baileys’ link with Sex and the City being one example – or to raise awareness levels or achieve stand out from competitors, such as Motorola’s association with ITV1 movies. Here, there is little reason to stop unless the sponsorship is no longer working or the marketing strategy changes.

The picture emerging of sponsorship, then, is of a medium suited to long-term commitments and brand-building, and one which – if used properly – can keep working for a brand even after the deal has ended. It may be difficult to supplant an established sponsor, but it can be well worth the effort.

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