The Games – Evidence of Sponsorship Evolution

Bill Cooper
Chief Operating Partner, TwentyTen Group


The value of sponsorship is widely recognized. Associate and activate with a story that engages consumers – an athlete, a sports event, a major cultural production – and propel corporate objectives.

The question is how to leverage your sponsorship so that your message resonates with the consumer enough to last well beyond the event and deliver on objectives. A good sponsorship partnership should allow you to deepen the engagement with consumers and build relevance and loyalty to your brand.

Because of their scale and sphere of consumer influence, the Olympic Games often serve as a bellwether for sponsorship success. Take P&G’s Olympic activation campaign centred on the mothers of athletes. Media spots showing the efforts and love invested by mothers of Olympians brought the P&G association with the Olympic Games home in a meaningful way for their core demographic of consumers – the world’s mothers. They didn’t simply boast about how dry their diapers are and how clean their soap makes your clothes and attached five rings to it, they dug deep into a powerful chapter of the Olympic story to which their products and brands are relevant.

Another example is how sporting goods manufacturing companies like Adidas and Nike use social and main stream media to demonstrate their commitment to athletes. Athletes are not only seen wearing their equipment on the field of play, but the athletes have gone on to participate in media spots explaining how the partnerships with these companies have helped fuel their drive to the top. This is the ultimate endorsement of product in a storytelling environment wherein the consumer is pre-disposed to be influenced by how the athletes achieve peak performance.

This is all part of how sponsorship activation is changing. A decade or so ago, it was fine to just hang your logo at an event, be seen with the ‘cool people and hope some of the cool transposed onto your brand.

Then sometime in the last five years or so there was a realization that to be credible your brand had to be part of the event, and the viewing experience of the fan. You had to weave your brand into the story being told.

Now, to truly stand out and resonate enough such that fans build loyalty to your brand, you must find ways to elevate the experience for the consumer.

Everyone talks about storytelling in sponsorship. But with the world of social media and on-demand content, consumers are no longer satisfied to be just told a story through advertising; now the advertising story should build around them. Their fan experience should be enhanced and their participatory connection to the sponsorship property should be made better. Witnessing an extraordinary person do an extraordinary thing is great, but if a sponsor can make a fan feel in some way connected to that moment in time, an indelible impression is made. Brands need to think about how they can get into people’s living rooms and make their brand intrinsic to the viewing experience.

Story building moments are most easily created in public spaces. For example, almost any Canadian you talk to can remember where they were when Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal winning goal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. But for people watching at home, they have no direct brand impression from that moment. For those who were at public viewing parties, they have a host of brand impressions, from the venue, to the outfit purchased for the event, to the food and drink on the table. The question is, can we as sponsors create and/or participate in those environments so that our brands are authentically linked to that euphoric moment. Why is Budweiser trying to install flashing red lights into living rooms? They are because they want to be inextricably linked to the ritual of raising a cold one when a consumer’s jersey of choice puts one top corner.

Being a part an enthusiast’s experience, whether in their living room or at a live viewing party, allows those sponsors to intertwine their brands with the memory of the event, while still letting the consumer dictate their personal experience.

Another illustration of the potential value that story building can layer on to storytelling is a focus on the participatory element or consumer ritual that can most often be attributed to sponsorship properties. Inevitably the two hours at the stadium is a microscopic piece of the consumer rituals and activity that surround supporting a team and attending a game. Similarly the consumer interest and enthusiasm for athletes’ achievements at the Olympic Games can often culminate in a mindset that if harnessed can propel consumer purchasing decisions. What shoes did they wear? What wax do they use on their skis? What do they eat on race day?

Only sponsorship, and effective harnessing of the authentic stories that can come with the commercial IP secured through marketing rights, can enable a brand to authentically intersect with those rich consumer moments.

Story building is the future of sponsorship activation. If corporations want to take their sponsorships to the next level, they need to activate well-planned campaigns that engage consumers on many levels and create brand impressions that consumers take home with them long after the event is over.

Advertise close to a cool story and you put your brand in high traffic but lack relevance. Secure some sponsorship rights and embed your brand and you become relevant to the attending/viewing consumers’ experience. Add to the story through authentic activation and you resonate with the attending/viewing consumers. But build a story by enhancing the attending/viewing consumers’ experience and you create a ambassadors to your brand on a substantial scale.

Storytelling is hugely valuable and vital to sponsorship success, but build a story around the consumer and you go from a solid base hit to a home run. I look forward to watching which sponsors tell and which sponsors build with their sponsorship rights during the Sochi Olympic Games window