Media: Double Standards - 'It can unite an audience with a common interest'

Sponsorship can help brands make an emotional connection with customers. But, as Jayne Stephens and David Peters note, care must be taken to find a suitable match.

JAYNE STEPHENS - SPONSORSHIP DIRECTOR, STARCOM

- What advantage does sponsorship have over other forms of advertising?

Sponsorship is near enough the only vehicle that can bring all other media platforms together around a common theme. It can unite an audience that has a common passion or interest and use this association to build a deeper conversation. It not only has the opportunity to cut through commercial clutter but accelerate a brand's perception among the property's loyal audience.

- What does it tell us that a brand such as Tombola is sponsoring Emmerdale rather than an established blue-chip brand?

It tells us that Tombola had a large enough marketing spend, when budgets have been tight, and that ITV was happy to accept its offer. Gaming brands, in particular, have taken advantage of the current economic climate to build their audience volumes and brand awareness through use of sponsorship. At the end of the day, Emmerdale is an everyday show for everyday people. The types of brands that have the money to spend in media are changing and so should our thinking.

- How much is sponsorship old hat in this age of user-generated content and ad-funded programming?

Not at all. Whilst UGC and AFP are on the rise, audiences are still drawn in their millions to quality programming and the growing number of platform extensions associated with the programme property. Thus, brands associated with these programmes will continue to reap the benefit. Certainly in relation to AFP, until we understand the extent of the changes to product placement regulations in 2010, AFPs are still reliant on sponsorship bumpers as the brands' commercial linkage to the content created.

- What does Microsoft pulling out of its sponsorship of Family Guy say about the dangers of sponsorship?

Sponsorship association is about shared values, so understanding that the content of the property is aligned with those values is essential. Given the background of the personalities involved in the proposed variety show production (not known for political correctness - more their irreverence), I'm not surprised Microsoft pulled out. The question is why it agreed in the first place given Microsoft's broad targeting. It doesn't mean this property isn't right for sponsorship - just not right for Microsoft. What it says about sponsorship is that you need to do your homework.

- How do you measure the effect of a campaign?

We recommend all our campaigns are measured through either qualitative or quantitative bespoke research, depending on the campaign objectives. Given that most sponsorships now also incorporate some digital extensions, these also allow us to build some further understanding of how our audience is interacting with the property and importantly our brand.

- With media budgets tightening, have you seen a reduction in spend in this area?

No, not really. In the main, sponsorship has fared better than its traditional counterparts over the past year. Quality programming has remained in demand and advertisers that have used sponsorship before and understand its value have continued to use it. Sponsorship will continue to flourish as marketing budgets start to grow in 2010.

- What would be your alternative career?

Don't have a fall-back plan as I'm hoping to win the lottery ... or maybe the bingo?

DAVID PETERS - HEAD OF SPONSORSHIP, CARAT

- What advantage does sponsorship have over other forms of advertising?

Sponsorship isn't, strictly speaking, advertising - it's a marketing platform in its own right. It's very flexible and can achieve a variety of marketing objectives from raising brand awareness to driving sales. However, where it has a clear advantage over advertising is in changing consumers' perceptions of brands; for example, building trust, credibility and warmth.

- What does it tell us that a brand such as Tombola is sponsoring Emmerdale rather than an established blue-chip brand?

It tells me that there's money in bingo! Tombola hasn't been around very long so it clearly saw Emmerdale as a great way to raise awareness with its target audience through the huge reach the programme delivers. It also recognised that the programme values of warmth, trust and community would reflect well on its brand.

- How much is sponsorship old hat in this age of user-generated content and ad-funded programming?

There's an increasing appetite from brands to associate themselves with content, whether it's UGC, ad-funded or sponsored content. Consumers don't really make a distinction; what they want is good content. And if a brand is associating itself empathetically to the content that consumers have a passion and interest for, then the brand has got something which is incredibly powerful.

- What does Microsoft pulling out of its sponsorship of Family Guy say about the dangers of sponsorship?

There are some risks associated with sponsorship because brands don't have editorial control over the content so caveat emptor applies. Brands must do the due diligence regarding the suitability of the content they intend to associate themselves with before they sign. In Microsoft's case, the due diligence appears to have been done a little too late when it discovered at a preview screening of the spin-off comedy show that "the content wasn't fit for the Windows brand". Given the reputation of Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein for their "edgy" and occasionally tasteless humour, it seems odd Microsoft was surprised by the content of this show.

- How do you measure the effect of a campaign?

We use a variety of research techniques depending on the objectives that we're measuring, but one of our preferred approaches is a proprietary technique called ICE that evaluates the outcomes of brand contacts and communications on brand equity by looking at the impact that different consumer touchpoints can have on key business performance metrics such as brand disposition, brand consideration, brand advocacy and intention to purchase.

- With media budgets tightening, have you seen a reduction in spend in this area?

Sponsorship has not been immune to the economic recession but it has weathered the storm better than advertising. The sponsorship market is only down about 4 per cent this year. So, compared with the double-digit declines of advertising, that looks like a good performance!

- What would be your alternative career?

I'd be a wine merchant.

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