Sainsbury’s is the first retailer to sponsor an Olympic or Paralympic games, and is a sole sponsor of the 2012 Paralympics.
Marketing Week (MW): Why sponsor the Paralympic Games?
Jat Sahota (JS): From a commercial point of view, it is more attractive in some ways because it is a challenger brand. The venues themselves can be branded whereas the Olympic ones can’t. Channel 4 will broadcast the games, so we see a more interesting commercial opportunity around the Paralympics. It is a bit of a no-brainer.
MW: It was reported last year that Coca-Cola clashed with Sainsbury’s over sponsorship rights because of the potential for Coke to be sold next to own-brand cola with both carrying Olympic branding. Can you comment on this?
JS: I can’t comment on Coca-Cola, but there is a long and complicated history around retailers entering into this space. This is the first time a retailer has become a Paralympic or Olympic sponsor and the first time anyone has become a sponsor of the Paralympics only. We respect the rights of longstanding worldwide partners. Games organiser Locog has been able to find a way to bring something new into the mix while respecting those rights.
We are reaching out to all the brands to find ways of working together. The beauty of these agreements is that they are well-crafted. You are in your own discrete sponsorship space and therefore can work with brands you don’t bump up against. For example, we will be working with Procter & Gamble at family festival Super Saturday. We don’t see the Paralympics as an opportunity ’instead’ of the Olympics.
MW: How do the Paralympic Games fit with Sainsbury’s as a brand?
JS: The Paralympics plays strongly to three of our five values. Being best for food and health because everyone should have access to a healthy lifestyle regardless of ability; making a positive difference to our communities because many Paralympic athletes are rooted in theirs; and being a great place to work – it is very exciting for our business to be able to involve our people in the games.
The Paralympic values of determination and equality connect with our organisation. There are amazing individual stories, but it is important not to overplay the adversity angle – they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things; they are elite athletes. There is a richness to those stories that I think the British public will respond to more than some of the Olympian stories.
MW: How will you measure the return on your investment?
JS: We have a number of different metrics. We will sell merchandise, for example, and for many customers it will be the first interaction they will have with London 2012, not just the Paralympics. Along with customer awareness, Sainsbury’s also has internal measures of employee engagement.
Aside from a set of numbers, the intangibles are important, such as how the sponsorship allows us to have a dialogue with our customers that is very different to our competitors as well as our people.
Our research shows that our sponsorship particularly resonates with families, especially mums. They recognise that this is a good thing for children to experience as it broadens their view of what life is about.
MW: How will you market your involvement with the Paralympics?
JS: We recently launched a series of short films about Paralympic athletes that are being shown on Channel 4.
You have to strike a balance so that such a colossal event doesn’t take over your entire conversation with people. At the end of the day, we still want people to come to us and buy our products. How you bring those two conversations together is quite complex but we are working on it.
MW: How will you maximise your sponsorship?
JS: We almost think of the Paralympics as a turbo charger for some of the things we already do, such as our Active Kids programme. We are running a challenge to get 1 million children to have a go at a Paralympic sport in the next school year. Schools can upload how they have performed on to a website and the best entries will win a valuable prize.
We think that every child should have a fair crack of the whip when it comes to sport and physical activity and we are in a position to make that happen.