Five Ways Sponsors Abuse the Privilege

ToughIn my recent run of workshops, keynotes, and in-house training, I have started using a new word around sponsorship – “privilege”. At one point, I was trying to convey the critical importance of putting your target markets first when developing a leverage plan, when I blurted out something like this:

Sponsorship provides you with the privilege to connect with people in a meaningful way through something they already care about. Your choice, as a sponsor, is whether you are going to respect or abuse that privilege.

Now, I’m not usually someone that struggles for words, but when the word “privilege” came out, I couldn’t help but be surprised that I hadn’t thought of it before. Sponsorship is a privilege. (Smack self on forehead.) Obviously.

Framing sponsorship as a privilege – and leverage as a choice between respect and abuse – brings an additional degree of clarity about what does and does not constitute best practice sponsorship. With that in mind, here are my top five ways that sponsors abuse the privilege.

1. Blah, blah, blah…

Okay, don’t get me wrong here, but sometimes sponsors just need to shut the heck up.

In any given sponsorship, the target market is the most important party, their main concern is whatever it is that you’re sponsoring, and your brand is the third wheel. That’s your starting place: Interloper.

If you want to shift your brand into the position of being a welcome part of that experience, being a pest is not the way to do it. Instead, sacrifice some of the volume and add meaningful value to the experience. Sacrifice repetition ad infinitum and focus on sharing the fan experience. Sacrifice visibility and create collaborative fan experiences. Show the fans that you are in this with them, don’t yell at them and expect them to listen.

2. Hey, over here! Look at me! LOOK AT ME!

I believe interruption signage should be banned.

There is all this debate in America about whether athletes should wear logos on their playing jerseys or not and how that diminishes the game. Honestly, I think that outrage is misplaced. Whether there are logos on a jersey or not is unlikely to diminish the fan experience. The strategic worth of those logos is up for debate, but they don’t make it harder to follow the progress of a play anymore than having a big team logo or design does.

What does diminish the fan experience is interruption signage – moving, flashing, or electronically-inserted signage, particularly signage in the line of sight of the field or court, that is specifically created to divert the audience’s attention from the experience they’re trying to have and onto a sponsor’s logo or message.

If you’ve ever been at a basketball game or been watching a rugby game and you’re trying to follow a crucial play on the other side, but the signage in the background is also moving, you know what I mean.

Put yourself in the audience’s shoes… would you really rather watch a game where the background was lit up and moving? Does that make your experience better or worse? Then ask yourself, is diminishing my target markets’ experience good for my brand? Will it make them love my brand more? You know the answer is “no”.

3. Be part of our “brand story”

Sponsors have learned a lot from experiential marketing, but this little phrase is one I wish we hadn’t. Here’s the thing, unless you are Apple or Harley Davidson, nobody wants to be part of your “brand story”. Your target markets have their own stories. Your goal is to make your brand the natural choice for that target market – to be part of their story.

Creating experiential events, installations, road shows, etc, as part of your leverage program, can be a good thing, but more often than not, they are built on a premise of “come meet our brand”, not “here’s something for you”.

If you’re going down this track, make it primarily about the fans, not your brand. You want to engage with the fans in a meaningful way, not have them wandering around your “experience” just to kill time until something interesting happens.

4. You could win this fabulous prize

SMS your details and go into a draw to win…

Collect three proofs of purchase and go into a draw to win…

Register on our website and go into a draw to win…

We’ve all seen this type of leverage. Heck, we’ve probably all run them at one time or another. I have.

The problem is, they don’t tend to work very well. Breaking down the mechanics, you are basically asking someone to do some work on your behalf, provide contact details to you, and possibly buy your product, in order to go into a draw to win one big prize that they really don’t think they have a chance of winning. It’s true that some prizes are more compelling than others, and it is possible to get big participant numbers, but my experience is that is not the norm. Whether you intend it to be or not, this approach is inherently selfish, and your increasingly cynical consumers can see that.

Best practice sponsors subscribe to the idea that sponsorship should be win-win-win. That is, the sponsor wins, the property wins, and the target market wins, with small meaningful wins for all or most of a target market, not the chance to win one thing for one person. Those “wins” can be functional, emotional, or a combination of both. Do this, and your target markets will see that you do understand the experience and are taking steps to amplify the good stuff or fix the bad stuff. That is the ultimate in respecting the event experience.

5. It’s complicated

Leverage programs should definitely be multi-faceted. What they should not be is complicated.

Following on from point 4, your interaction with target markets should be as simple as possible. Don’t make people go through more steps or jump through more hoops than absolutely necessary to get their third “win”. Don’t make them part with personal information unless absolutely necessary. Your goal is to change people’s perceptions and change their behaviours. Email addresses are not generally requisite for that.

Keep it clean. Keep it streamlined. Make it easy.

Without doubt, some of these things abuse the privilege more than others, simply because they are more invasive, but the undercurrent is the same for all of them. That undercurrent is brand selfishness. Brand needs are not most important, when it comes to sponsorship, target market needs are. I’m not saying brand needs are unimportant, but if you don’t understand, respect, and meet the needs of your target markets, they won’t help you meet your brand needs. It’s as simple as that.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about best practice sponsorship selection, leverage, measurement, management, 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 consulting, sponsorship 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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