Please, Academics… Give Us Some Sponsorship Research that’s Actually Useful!

University HallI was doing some research today and stumbled across an academic paper published just two months ago in Europe entitled, “Turning Good Ideas into Bad News: The Effect of Negative and Positive Sponsorship Information on Sponsors’ Brand Image”.

I saw the title and had to look, much as it’s hard not to look at a car crash. The “rub-off” or “halo” effect of sponsorship has been roundly debunked. A property certainly can be a platform to amplify lesser-known attributes, but can’t provide a brand with an attribute it doesn’t already have – in much the same way that “greenwashing” doesn’t change consumer perceptions, if there’s no evidence of genuine environmental credentials.

When I read the paper, it all became clear.

The paper looks like it was very rigorously researched and analysed. The problem is that the premises, assumptions of what sponsors are trying to achieve, and definitions used to drive the research went back as far as the early 90s and were all pre-Global Financial Crisis (and who knows how old the research was that drove those cited papers). With the GFC inciting the biggest growth spurt in sponsor sophistication… well… ever, this new report tells the world absolutely nothing useful.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on the authors of this paper. I read a lot of academic papers, and they nearly all suffer from the same propensity to use an outdated model of the approach, drivers, uses, and expected outcomes of sponsorship. I am the first to say that there are a few exceptions around, but those are buried in a morass of academic embarrassments.

Who, exactly, benefits from this type of research? Certainly not our industry. Not the other marketing academics, who are getting a terribly flawed view of how sponsorship fits into a brand plan. Not the uni students, who are referencing this alarmingly outdated material and then walking into our industry unprepared. (Note, there are some excellent uni programs around sponsorship, but those are concentrating mainly on current practice.)

But while we fight for best practice and the credibility of what we do as a powerful, accountable, multi-faceted marketing media, those papers are out there, purporting to reflect what our industry is about and what sponsorship can achieve – and they are so incredibly wrong.

To be fair, the sponsorship industry could really use more relevant research, but to be relevant, it needs to analyse current best practice – ideally against old-school sponsorship that still exists in the marketplace. The alternative is that our industry and working marketers will continue to ignore academia, and all of that research and analytic muscle will be a total waste.


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