Bad Idea #98: Needlessly Increasing Your Sponsorship Level

While reviewing my news feeds a week or so ago, I came across an announcement that Qantas had taken up naming rights sponsorship of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix. It was a short announcement, but the implications are much bigger.

The first consideration is that Qantas is already the official airline partner of the Australian Grand Prix, giving them a credible and appropriate platform around this event. In 2001, they actually downgraded from naming rights to that level.

I believe they’ve got this wrong and should have stayed at the official partner level, as they were in the perfect position to do what is referred to as “ambushing up”. The thinking is similar to ambush marketing, but not the mechanics. In an ambushing-up situation, a sponsor takes their perfectly legitimate sponsorship and leverages it so effectively – creating so much target market connection and meaning – that they get the marketing results you would expect from a much bigger sponsor.

While there are plenty of good reasons to take up naming rights sponsorship, in most situations, it is unnecessary. Being thorough and creative and focusing on the connection with the target market, not the property, can create huge results – much bigger than your typical naming rights sponsor, who concentrates on visibility, not creating real returns for the brand.

Every sponsor can benefit from ambushing up, and the airline category is in the ideal position to do it. They have planes full of bored people reading their magazines and watching their videos. They have lounges, terminals, and gates. They have ongoing relationships with millions of frequent flyers to nurture. They have travel agents and corporate accounts who need fostering. They send millions of emails to their customers and frequent flyers. Their online experience is heavily used, but virtually commoditised, and could do with some interesting, relevant content.

Airlines have so many customer touchpoints – and most of them provide a comparatively lengthy and captive opportunity to enhance the customer experience. They have countless opportunities to create real, meaningful wins for all or most of their target markets, so why aren’t they doing it? Why does Qantas they think having a bigger sponsorship is a better approach than actually… you know… using the one they’ve got?

As a Qantas customer who both flew with them and bought tickets online just last week, I can tell you firsthand that what they are doing is pretty standard, old school stuff. Case in point, if you go to their website – – you’ll notice a that you could “win a trip to the Grand Prix”. Hoo-wee, now there’s some innovation! I get to give them my details for the slim chance of being the one person who wins two economy class tickets to Melbourne to watch the racing for the weekend!! Yawn.

Oh, and any frequent flyer can pay almost $2000 to use the Qantas Skydeck at the race. Any frequent flyer – you don’t have to be loyal or important to Qantas, you don’t have to be invited to participate, and it’s not in any way exclusive. You just have to have $2000 and a frequent flyer number. Their most frequent flyers can’t even cash in any of their millions of points to get a spot.

Seriously, it’s two weeks before a huge international event they’re sponsoring – now at an even higher level – and that’s the best they can do? They should be embarrassed.

Naming rights of an event of this size is a huge financial commitment and provides a commensurately huge platform to leverage. If a sponsor is prepared to fully leverage the opportunity – investing the time, creativity, and resources required – then naming rights is a viable option. On the other hand, if a sponsor can’t be bothered getting a lower level sponsorship right, stepping up is an opportunity wasted.

There is also the issue of timing. The announcement was dated 24 February. The race weekend is 25-28 March. Even if Qantas is justified in spending up for this bigger platform – and I’m not at all convinced that they are – all they’ve done is bought a larger opportunity. Leverage is what turns that opportunity into results for a brand. What kind of leverage program will create a result from a platform of that scope? One that takes a lot longer than a month to plan and implement!

As canvassed in my recent blog, Bad Idea #77: Sponsor the Olympics Three Weeks Before the Games, strong leverage planning takes time to build buy-in and go though the creative process. It also takes time to implement. Does Qantas have time to create in-flight content? A new ad? Create and launch a loyalty promotion? Anything of meaning that is above and beyond what they could have done with the lower level sponsorship, and do it in the space of four weeks? Doubtful.

This leaves the question of why they bumped up the investment, when it was both unnecessary and unworkable, from a marketing point of view. Without being a mind-reader, experience tells me there are three main options:

  1. They have let their corporate ego get the best of them
  2. They are under the impression that potential inbound passengers (people coming to Australia) are unaware that Qantas exists and that simply seeing the name Qantas ad infinitum during the telecast will somehow magically make people understand why they should choose Qantas for their travels. (It would have to be magic, because reams of research have proven that visibility does not change the perceptions or behaviours around a brand.)
  3. They are trying to position themselves in a positive light with state and local government by stepping in with major, white knight funding at the last minute.

I’m very interested in your take on this. Why do you think they’ve done it? Do you think this major sponsorship increase is justifiable and why? Please post your answers below. Comments are moderated, but only because there are some real creeps in this world. Go ahead and fire away!

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.

3 responses to “Bad Idea #98: Needlessly Increasing Your Sponsorship Level”

  1. LP says:

    Sometimes political considerations may enter the sponsorship fray…I think this might be one of them?

  2. Kim Skildum-Reid says:

    I do. That was my point with the third option. If the state or city was looking at a big bill because the Grand Prix couldn’t find a naming rights sponsor, they may see an opportunity to be the hero with government.

  3. Hi Kim I enjoy your article very much, it shed so much light on the subject on hand…. Something I am struggling very much to understand and use in my space.
    I appreciate what you are doing and look forward to reading more of your stuff and implementing some of them.