Big bang branding

Should your brand sponsor a big event?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some events, like the Olympics, Formula One and the FIFA World Cup, attract huge audiences. If you’re a smaller brand looking to change how you are perceived, is it a responsible action to bet everything you have on being a brand sponsor?

Ever since Apple rocked the Superbowl with their ‘1984’ spot, marketers have been trying to emulate the success of the one-time ad that assumes legendary status. Lured by access to so many people in one sitting, they’ve been prepared to shell out most if not all of their historic advertising budget to gain unprecedented attention. (Personally, I think basing a strategy on that 1984 spot is flawed, because although the commercial only played once, Apple itself was a well established brand and its marketing stretched far beyond that commercial.)

But is “big bang branding” ever worth the price of admission? And here I’m not just talking about the one-time ad spot, I’m also referring to an all-in sponsorship or any other marketing activity where you focus everything you have in one place in order to achieve monumental effect for your brand. I’m not qualified to give a media perspective on such a decision, but it’s an interesting question from a positioning point of view.

Talking to millions in a moment

Let’s start with the advantages. They revolve around two things: audience; and association. First of all, you have a catchment that will probably not be available to you at any other time of the year. Many millions of people. One place. One time. That’s a tempting prospect for marketers struggling to get cut-through and to be taken seriously as competitors in the swirling waters of the middle tiers of some markets. Secondly, the association with the big league has the potential to change how people see you because of where they have seen you – and it gives your brand a significant ‘talking point’ to potentially build on in social media and mainstream media channels. That’s important if you are being muscled out by high-profile brands that have captured public attention and won’t let you get a word in edgeways.

How powerful is being there for you as a brand? Which strategic box does it tick?

Is that enough though? Because it doesn’t take long to compile a pretty powerful list of reasons why such an investment is foolhardy: attention is fleeting (and you’ll never be the centre of that attention anyway); the sales case in terms of monies generated from that much spend probably won’t stack; the accusation of ego-advertising is never far away; once is never, ever enough; and the contrast between being suddenly seen and then not seen at all could prove very confusing for your consumers.

While it can be argued that there are good reasons for big brands to be associated with big events, I’d love to see the success statistics for smaller brands that have tried this approach. How many of them I wonder have found themselves catapulted into a new league and were able to take their businesses forward at that new level? And how many failed to fire, lost the confidence of their senior decision makers and went back to fighting for market share in the same ways as they used to, only minus the CMO that proposed the step-up in the first place? I’d find those stories helpful in terms of making a case one way or another.

5 questions to ask before you go all-in

But faced with the question ‘should we?’ or ‘shouldn’t we?’ and in the absence of those stories to help rationalise the decision, I would ask five questions:

  1. How dependent is the brand on its current marketing strategy for revenue? Because if continual marketing presence correlates directly with continuing sales, then interrupting that flow could have serious repercussions.
  2. How does the brand fit with the proposed event? Is the context right? As Rob Siltanen observes, “The Super Bowl is not for everybody or every brand. If you have a serious message you need to convey, you might think twice about delivering it in front of an audience that is wired to party.”
  3. What shift in perception are you looking to achieve through your one-off appearance and are you geared up to deliver on that new perception once you have established it? This is about seeing past the audience numbers, and really honing in on the associative advantages and the inclination of the audience associated with that event to act on, or at least endorse, that shift in perception. Then, having changed expectations, are the other aspects of your business aligned with that change?
  4. Is there a larger agenda at play? For example, if the business is looking at a merger/acquisition or wishing to deflect unwanted attention, then lifting the profile of one of the brands could help that process in a range of ways.
  5. What new conversations can you open up that would not have been possible otherwise? For example, people love the idea of getting access to something or someone that would otherwise be denied to them. How can you use your participation in the event to get people to ‘lean in’ to learn more? Could you make a documentary that you share with clients and prospects? Could you get someone to speak at your conference that you would otherwise never be able to attract? Can you spin out a limited-edition of one of your product lines to honour the event?

In a marketplace that increasingly associates profile with success, it’s tempting to believe that attention is all your brand needs to hit the big time. You may be right – but first you need to be extremely clear on what constitutes success for your brand and how, where and why it requires such an exponential investment. Fortune may favour the brave, but not always the reckless.

Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title 5 Conditions For Big Brand Sponsorships.


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