Fighting the Wrong Fight: Corporate Ego vs Sponsorship Strategy

TantrumI’m on a plane, flying into a speaking gig in Minnesota. Just before getting on the plane, someone sent me a tweet referencing a stoush between the Minnesota Vikings and Wells Fargo, principal tenant of two nearby office towers. US Bank is naming rights sponsor of the new stadium and there is an agreement in place limiting the types of signage that Wells Fargo can put on the buildings. This hasn’t stopped them wanting to have offices in the building, so that would appear to be the end of that.

Except that it isn’t. In addition to several 18m long, illuminated logos at the top of the 17-storey buildings, which are already allowed as part of the agreement, Wells Fargo has decided to put their name in raised, illuminated, horizontal letters on the roof of the office tower. Yes, that’s right… pointed at the sky. Maybe they have a niche market of helicopter pilots, or they’re getting a jump on our future of flying cars. Or maybe they’re just trying to be a pain in US Bank’s arse.

Well, the Vikings have filed suit, alleging that this additional, yet far less visible, signage equates to a logo “photo bomb”. Wells Fargo is doing the legal equivalent of “nya nya”. And they both look like petulant children, with US Bank looking ridiculous by proxy. These are people we’re supposed to trust with our money.

The parties involved have decided that lawyers are the way to solve this, when any sponsorship professional worth their salt would know that what they’re arguing about isn’t worth anything like the damage being done. This is the perfect sponsorship case study of pennywise, but pound foolish, as they’re bickering over something that doesn’t matter on any level, aside from corporate ego, while taking their eyes off the far bigger prize.

What should US Bank do?

Drop it. Seriously, just ask the Vikings to stop. This is hurting you. A sign pointing toward the sky on the top of a building isn’t going to do your brand a blind bit of damage – it doesn’t diminish the marketing platform, nor will it diminish the bump in market capitalisation enjoyed by many stadium naming rights sponsors. Just because you think there’s a case to be made doesn’t mean you have to make it, so you and the Vikings just need to put it away.

What you should really be doing right now is working out how you are going to add consistent, powerful value to your relationship with football fans, when there are only eight regular season games a year in that stadium. You need to figure out how to add that value to the Vikings fans who are lucky enough to have tickets AND the millions of fans across the region who don’t. You also need to work out how you can add value to fans of other events that may come into that venue, even though you won’t have sponsor relationships with most of those events.

This is all 100% doable, but it requires your full concentration and it requires that concentration right now. If US Bank continues to be this concerned about a logo on a roof – when logo exposure has been debunked as contributing to achieving genuine marketing objectives for 25 years – I have grave concerns for the sophistication level of the leverage plans around this investment.

Which brings me to…

What should Wells Fargo do?

Lose the logos. You know you’re only doing it to be jerks, so just stop.

The strategic benefit of doing what you’re doing is nil. Your only actual benefit is that you get to do a few high fives around the office. Oh, and spend a lot of legal fees. But then again, you could win, so you can do some more high fives. Yay for you.

If you really think that stadium and those fans are so important to your brand, this is not the way to benefit. Look at how preoccupied US Bank appears to be with your stupid logo. If they’re stuck in that extremely old school mindset and backing the Vikings in this battle, there is every chance their leverage plan is going to be just as unsophisticated. What that creates for you is the opportunity to mount a highly strategic ambush marketing campaign. Real ambush – the kind that achieves objectives for your brand – not the aren’t-we-clever, cosmetic ambush you’re trying to do now.

Not sure how to do that? We should talk.

The upshot

Sponsorship disputes like this miss the entire point of the investments. It puts the focal point on the lowest value marketing commodity on offer, taking the focus off everything about sponsorship that will bring real value to the brand. Putting it in terms of a football fan, it’s like spending so much time finding the perfect parking spot that you miss the entire game.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not soft on contracts, but I know when a battle is worth fighting, and this one isn’t.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about best practice sponsorship selection, leverage, measurement, management, ambush marketing, and more, you may want to get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consultingsponsorship training, and strategy sessions. Please drop me a line to discuss.

Kim Skildum-Reid
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265


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