Can Sponsorship Impact Brand Affinity?

The Value of Sponsorship to Financial Organisations

Sponsorship is a major element of the marketing mix, offering a chance for businesses to get their name, logo, products, and brand in front of a wide range of people interested in an event, sport, or artist.
Sponsorship Rise for the Ashes
Clearly, sponsorship is a widely-done activity, across all kinds of industries and businesses (from high street retailers to alcoholic drinks, frozen food manufacturers to investment banks).  Similarly, the types of things being sponsored range from the more traditional (sports shirts and jerseys, musical concerts) to the more unusual.
To look into the various objectives and outcomes of sponsorship in more detail, here we stick to one specific industry. We have monitored online conversations relating to four very different financial companies, to investigate what impact their sponsorship activity had on their brands online.

Investec and Cricket

Firstly, asset management company Investec sponsors England’s cricket test matches.  This association reached a peak of exposure during summer 2013’s Ashes, the highest-profile cricket matches.  Looking at social media mentions of the Investec brand throughout the summer (see image below), the vast majority of mentions were related to sponsorship, either having to do with the Ashes (58%) or Super Rugby (12%).
For a non-highstreet financial organisation, if the main objective of Investec’s sports sponsorship was to grow awareness, then this is clear, quantifiable, success.
Investec Sports Sponsorship Opinion Analyse

Barclays and the Premier League

Barclays Premier League sponsorship branding
The most high-profile sponsorship undertaken by banking giant Barclays is probably the English Premier League, but they have also broadened scope by moving into other areas as well as sport. From bike hire in London (interestingly usually known as ‘Boris Bikes’ after Mayor Boris Johnson, rather than ‘Barclays Bikes’) to literature festivals, and also music events. Barclaycard was the headline sponsor of this year’s ‘British Summer Time’ shows in London’s HydePark.
Barclay Sponsorship Opinion Analyse
By analysing posts across social media mentioning Barclaycard, Crimson Hexagon’s Forsight™ platform can see that this music sponsorship did drive increased profile for the brand (especially in the summer months when the football season is not under way), and that it had a significant ‘tail’ of mentions long after Lionel Richie had finished his encore on the last night of the concerts on July 14th.

Royal Bank of Scotland and Rugby

So, if sponsorship can create lasting brand associations, how can it work alongside a brand crisis? Well RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) has been strongly associated with the global financial crisis and ‘bankers bonuses’ scandals in the UK over recent years, so how have their sponsorship activities played out in this context?
Bank of Scotland Rugby
Looking at the pattern of online conversations from January 2012 to March 2013 (below), general chatter about dislike of the brand in the context of the banking crisis remained throughout, while we then see the ‘Libor’ scandal in February, followed quickly by spike in negative sentiment.  All of this is only partially offset by publicity around the high profile RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament throughout the same period.
RBS 6 Nations Sponsorship Opinion Analysis

Grand National Horse Race

It’s also worth mentioning here that there is risk involved in sponsorship.  What if an event gets, in some way, negative publicity which could cause a crisis for its sponsors? For example, the 2013 Grand National horse race got a larger than usual volume of conversation on social media in 2013.  Not for the sporting or social aspects of the event, or even the betting or the TV broadcast, but for animal welfare reasons, after horses had been injured or killed in previous races, and the timing coinciding with the UK’s horsemeat scandal.
Grand National Horse Race
36% of all mentions of the Grand National on social media this year focussed on horses dying, the race being cruel, or animal welfare issues in general.  How would the language used in relation to the Grand National online by consumers (see the word cluster), and featuring words like ‘boycott’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘cruel’, have affected the main sponsors of the event, beer brand John Smiths?  They had, in fact, already decided not to continue their sponsorship beyond 2013 before the race this year.

Farmers Insurance and NASCAR

One final example of how financial companies use sponsorship comes from NASCAR. Farmers Insurance sponsors the Chevrolet Impala driven by Kasey Kahne.  As well as taking on the naming rights for the team, Farmers have been highly active around this partnership.  As well as being the first sponsor to introduce a hashtag onto a racing car, they have worked to foster a community around the Farmers Racing team, with interaction such as competitions to create a ‘Social Pit Crew’.
Latterly, humorous YouTube videos  were successful in gaining positive sentiment and buzz.  The ‘community’ aspect of this sponsorship generates well over half (59%) of online mentions of Farmers Racing, even including praise for Farmers for being a great sponsor (4% of total posts): direct kudos from consumers or fans for the success of the sponsorship deal.

So what themes and conclusions can we draw from looking at online mentions of, and reactions to, different sponsorship programs?
Marketers considering a sponsorship programme should always have in mind what their objectives are.  What’s the main purpose of the sponsorship? Is the sponsorship meant to raise the profile of the brand? Enhance the brand reputation? Brand management or re-alignment? New market entry or demographic targeting?
With the above point in mind, the examples looked at here clearly considered brand association.  They knew they needed to pick the right thing to sponsor; something that matches their brand, products, strategy, values, and customers (or desired new customers).
Sponsors should work to leverage maximum value from their sponsorship: it generally doesn’t come cheap!  One successful way of doing this, best exemplified by Farmers Insurance among our examples here, is to interact directly with the community of people that the sponsorship is trying to reach in the first place.  Reach out to them online through social media, through marketing communications such as emails, or even in person at events. Today, successful sponsorship is unlikely to come through just slapping a logo on an athlete, building, vehicle, or website.
Consumers see sponsorship all the time, in the TV shows they watch, sports teams they support, events they attend. The reasons for trying to take a piece of this pie are many, as shown by our examples here from within one single industry, and the considerations and requirements needed to make a success of it are equally numerous.  Do it right, though, and consumers can truly get behind a brand in hugely impressive ways, visible and quantifiable through their words expressed online.
 

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