2012 was a revolutionary year for sponsorship and one that churned out some notable campaigns that have helped clarify what modern best practice sponsorship is all about (or at least what it should be about).

But there seems to be some misunderstanding about sponsorship outside of the sponsorship industry itself, so let’s begin with that and then clarify what makes sponsorship such a powerful marketing tool.

In some quarters there is a negative perception towards sponsorship. This is partly due to a lack of understanding and knowledge and partly to do with some average sponsorships currently taking place in this country and the frequent inability of them to not show any meaningful results.

The good news is that both of these perceptions can be changed. We as the sponsorship industry need to take responsibility in ensuring that the marketing and business industry at large start to understand the role we play and that in order to execute sponsorship properly and deliver results it takes specialised expertise, not self proclaimed events ‘specialists’. We also need to raise the bar a whole lot further.

The bottom line is that sponsorship allows brands access to moments that matter to people whether it be sport, music, film, fashion or art. You either enhance the touch points around those moments and are loved or act as wallpaper and intrude.

The biggest impact from 2012 was the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be seen as landmark events in the evolution of sponsorship.

Olympic sponsorships tend to be many of the best around. Why? Largely because they are clean stadia events, ensuring that brands leverage their association with the event creatively, without relying on any showpiece branding to make an impact.

The 2012 games showed that the brands that built activation around consumers and concentrated on the enhancing of the experience as opposed to brands and products are the ones that succeeded. The Games saw some exceptional sponsorship campaigns that were driven by clear objectives and executed with meaningful interactions in mind.

London 2012 must be seen as the event that really lit up the social space, both from a social media and social responsibility standpoint. The Games were coined the ‘Socialympics’ and how the social media hyperspace exploded over the period proved how integral it was to many highly effective campaigns.

So, here are some trends for 2013, taken from some best practice work in 2012, and how the South African industry needs to adapt and evolve in order to achieve success and results going forward.

The rise of unique, self created content: Red Bull Stratos.

Red Bull Stratos was exhilarating, and it was extremely exciting for the sponsorship industry. The debate on whether it’s a sponsorship, PR stunt, brand created event, content marketing or any other doesn’t actually matter.

What does matter is that we should be inspired by it and challenge ourselves to engage with target audiences in more creative and innovative ways that transcend the traditional. And you can never think too big – look to astonish audiences.

It has taught us that there are no restrictions on how we can connect with audiences and that sponsorship is not defined in a box.

Allow consumer participation and control: Marmite’s Oxford Street lights.

Again, it’s not always about paying money for conventional sports and cultural platform rights. Marmite in a way sponsored some Christmas joy for people passing through Oxford Street in London by paying for the rights to the famous lights.

Marmite’s campaign invited consumer interaction and participation and allowed participants’ control by allowing them to upload their images on to the lights for some temporary fame.

They also allowed consumers to project whether they hated or loved Marmite, with facial expressions uploaded through a facebook app, in line with their “Love it or hate it” positioning. Which brings us to brand selflessness.

 

It’s not all about you. Show how much you care about the sponsorship and prove you’re committed to the cause: British Airways Home Advantage.

British Airways went against the grain and tapped into the British spirit by, surprisingly, encouraging people to stay at home with their “Don’t fly, stay at home”, “Support Team GB” sponsorship. This unselfishness and call to patriotism resonated with the public.

Admitting in a tongue-in-cheek way that the fortune of the British team is more important than simply buying BA’s product, they were seen as genuinely contributing to the performance of the British team.

At the end of the day I suspect it didn’t even affect their sales negatively over the period, but what it did do is make the British public admire them more.

Another great example was Swedbank’s sponsorship of the new Swedish national stadium. They decided to name it ‘The Friends Arena’ in order to publicise the anti-bullying organisation, Friends, whom Swedbank supports. They’ve used the sponsorship to communicate their social commitment, not measure their media impressions. Reactions from the public, as you may have guessed, were favourable and complimentary. And I can only deduce that many perceptions of the bank were changed too.

 

Respect the fan, don’t be forceful or restrict consumer choice: VISA – proud to accept only VISA (how not to do it).

Today’s consumers are not passive observers. They are more informed, and network with the world on levels never seen before. Simply put, they are not stupid or naïve. They are brand literate, savvy and expect respect, interaction and meaningful experiences. More than that, they demand to have a rewarding relationship with their chosen brand. Especially when that brand is taking ownership of something they have chosen to pay money for.

The key is not to intrude by interrupting their experience or by forcing anything upon participants. Doing this will only cause resentment by those affected.

VISA’s ‘We proudly only accept VISA’ London 2012 decision was an example of restricting consumer choice. They insisted that all Olympic tickets and merchandise be bought with VISA, which didn’t benefit anyone but themselves, and alienated non-VISA holders. They should have rewarded loyal customers without punishing others.

 

Relate to the average Joe and encourage participation: Nike find your greatness and Sky Cycling.

Nike acted on the insight that everyone wants to do better and improve. They encouraged you, the athlete, at any level, to “Find Your Greatness” and in so doing, connected with the millions of amateur sportsmen and women’s desire to win and be the best. This was truly awesome.

Sky’s sponsorship of cycling in the UK is a good example of building a brand by building the sport at large. Sky partnered with British cycling five years ago. They sat down together and put targets in place from both a professional and a recreational perspective. Sky pledged to get one million people regularly riding bikes through the Sky Ride Programme in the UK and this has been the ultimate success story.

Something to take out of this – remember that only a minute percentage of the population is elite sportsmen and another, much larger percentage, needs to, or enjoys exercising to stay healthy. You can’t forget about them and what sport is really all about.

Authenticity, relevance and true contributions will be applauded and rewarded: Lloyds TSB London 2012 for the journey.

Consumers can tell whether you’re in it for the right reasons (to benefit the property/athlete and their experience around it) and they will increasingly expect the sponsor to genuinely do good.

The winners will be those brands that truly partner with sports and athletes to make a real contribution and tell the story along the way, not the broadcast sponsors who don’t actually contribute to the sport.

Sponsors that authentically connect a sponsorship to a strong brand proposition will make an impact. The most important consideration in identifying and activating any sponsorship should be to establish an authentic role for your brand.

Lloyds TSB for example focused on bringing the inspiration and excitement of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to the heart of communities through a number of initiatives across the UK over a three-year period.

Use sponsorship as a communication platform to amplify your CSR initiatives: BP Target neutral.

Doing good is good for business. Do good and tell people about it.

London 2012 saw brands showcase their social responsibility programmes like never before. Brands recognised the value in using sport for social good. And they soon realised how much more effective it was than the outdated “We’re official approach”, as consumers responded to their goodwill.

London 2012 saw the platform utilised to communicate sponsor CSR strategies with several partners, such as BP, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, driving home a ‘zero emissions’ policy.

BP’s Olympic campaign mainly revolved around the brand’s sustainable/eco commitment to the event, with messaging built around lasting contributions and sustainability, plus fuelling the Olympic car fleet with sustainable bio fuels, as well as carbon offsetting spectator and athlete journeys.

Coca-Cola used 100% recyclable materials at the Games and McDonald’s Olympic Park restaurants were entirely sustainable and reusable.

There are many companies in South Africa making impressive contributions to communities, but they struggle to make the public aware of it. Are sponsorship platforms the answer to achieve greater affinity from the good work done?

Moving forward, a company’s commitment to societal change and its ecological and economical footprint will become increasingly important. Sport is a powerful platform to either communicate existing CSR initiatives or to create new programmes.

Use social media to complement experiential and add additional layers of interactivity and value: Kellogg’s Special K.

We’ve got a long way to go with social media in sponsorships as brands have begun to communicate with sports audiences through them. The potential is massive as the level of interest and the possible engagement with consumers is second to none within the sporting arena.

But thus far, brands in our market have largely pushed messages towards fans instead of stimulating conversations and including desirable content. Often, those implementing social media campaigns don’t have the required understanding or knowledge of sports properties and, as a result, fail to engage sports communities with conversation content that truly resonates with them.

Social media works best when it is combined with PR and complements experiential marketing. The key is to use social media to enhance the live or remote viewing experience and to enhance all the activities around the sponsorship in a relevant manner. Don’t forget the ‘second screen’ will only grow in importance to fans.

Not specifically from a sponsorship point of view, but this example illustrates experiential which has been well integrated with digital:

Back your teams and athletes from the outset and tell a story: BT Ambassadors’ campaign and Adidas take the stage.

BT began leveraging paralympic athletes back in 2008. When 2012 rolled around, no one thought they were just jumping on the Olympic bandwagon because they had put their sponsorship money where their mouth is by proving a long-term commitment and showing true support.

For some reason, the rest of the world seemed to leverage Oscar Pistorius in the build up to London 2012 more than we did. BT and Nike in particular utilised Oscar’s professionalism, likeability and importance to paralympic sport and the story around it to drive affinity towards their brands.

Why didn’t we? Why did we first hear of Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos once they had medals around their necks? Why did brands only look to associate with them then? Missed opportunities. Watch and learn from Adidas.

Sponsorship of grassroots sport is the next big step in South Africa. Watch this space.

Use sponsorship as a vehicle to engage with your audience/tell strong, authentic brand stories/propositions through your sponsorship: P&G – proud sponsors of moms.

P&G were one of the first Olympic sponsors to push a commercial message. Theirs was one that all parents could relate to, as potential Olympians or not – the stresses and anxieties that accompany raising children are universal. The story was viral gold and the results were awesome. The campaign pushed raw emotion to the max.

Be lighthearted, have fun and show the personal side: Vodafone’s getting away with it vBook and Adidas don’t stop me now.

Vodafone leveraged its sponsorship of test cricket series in Australia with books that help fans pretend that they’re doing something other than watching cricket.

It was a fun campaign using their sponsorship rights in an effective way, for fans to enjoy. Vodafone sided with the cricket fan by recognising that this person’s biggest problem is getting the chance to watch the game where they can’t.

As TeamGB started to win numerous medals and head up the medals table, Adidas’ focused on the emotions that accompany winning with a lip-synced rendition of Queen’s ‘ Don’t stop me now’. The video highlighted the joy of winning and showed the medal winning athletes as normal, funny people, acting like kids. It felt like you were hanging out with them! This would have resonated with people and driven sales more effectively than the usual jargon riddled apparel campaign.

Let’s not always be too serious, people like to see their stars ‘out of the office’ having fun.

Make people work for valuable prizes and create content from it: Coca-Cola Zero Skyfall

Locally, we’re generally not very good at making people work for valuable prizes. You see some outrageous prized competition (possibly the greatest in the world) demanding a simple SMS from a consumer to win. Push people to do interesting and inspiring things and create content from it. They’ll be willing to.

London 2012 helped sponsorships’ global reputation ten-fold. With an array of positive case studies and positive media reactions, things are looking very positive. Brands looking in from the outside will have taken note of what sponsorship can do for them and many will be looking for assets in 2013 if they haven’t already secured them.

And there are some great properties available locally that can be utilised as amazing catalysts to deliver marketing and business results.

Sponsorship gained massive credibility in the UK as a marketing asset and brands there are confident to do big things. Developments in social media and mobile are helping to create further value in sponsorships. At the same time sponsorship assets are becoming more integral to creative, multi channel campaigns.

One thing is for sure, there’s no more powerful and effective marketing tool than sponsorship when the sponsor is welcomed into peoples’ interests and passions. Here’s to great sponsorship in 2013, I look forward to the creativity and results!