Sponsorship Success Depends on Activation

By Lesa Ukman Jul 25, 2011

Sponsorship can build brand equity, sales and shareholder value, but it is mostly the activation of sponsorship that does those things.

IEG client experience and an increasing body of research reveal that sponsorship cannot stand alone. It requires articulation through sales and marketing overlays, which we call activation.

Our contention that success is directly related to the degree to which sponsors leverage their investment with additional marketing activities is now widely accepted, and activation spending trends upwards every year, as documented in the IEG/Performance Research Sponsorship Decision-makers Survey).

Although the need for activation is now understood, most sponsors and agencies take an intuitive approach to it. Big mistake.

From our work measuring sponsorships of all types for sponsors of all sizes, we know when a sponsorship falls short it is rarely because the rightsholder failed to deliver or the activation budget was too low. Rather, poor results are most often a function of vague objectives combined with an ad-hoc approach to activation. The two are entwined.

Strategically selecting from the infinite landscape of access points, social networks and communities from which to engage—both live and virtually—across devices and screens is impossible when objectives lack specificity. And, specificity is useless unless linked to business outcomes. Getting 100,000 new followers is not the same as 100,000 qualified prospects.

Strategic activation also must account for the sponsor’s competitive landscape and be designed as a balanced portfolio with say four programs, each built to best accomplish one or two objectives, rather than one program trying to deliver against eight objectives.

Take adidas UK, partner of London 2012, the British Olympic Team and the British Paralympic Team and its comprehensive and strategic activation plan:

  1. Knowing that Nike will activate around the Games, albeit in an unofficial capacity, adidas launched its program in 2008. Reach and efficiency are achieved by tagging existing advertising with the London 2012 mark, including its massive “all in” campaign. Interest is built with athlete, musician and community partnerships, while engagement is accomplished through adidas-branded fitness venues, touring events and social media.
  2. Its new adiStars program——is aimed at students, aged 13 and up. Broad objectives appear to be increasing sports participation and the audience for its products; building brand equity; growing brand preference; garnering a marketing database; and generating entertaining content for its YouTube channel.

    Tactics for increasing brand equity include co-branding with LOCOG. Tactics for building brand preference are designed to maximize engagement via participation.

    Here’s how it works: Users register and create teams consisting of their own friends to complete a series of sporting challenges or missions. Teams practice, including viewing videos with tips from adidas-sponsored UK athletes. When ready, the team performs and records a mash-up video of their effort, using the editing tools on the site.

    Teams that finish tasks and missions are rewarded with personal messages from athletes; top teams get live coaching from an adidas brand ambassador. Other rewards include badges for display on personal Web pages and the chance to be a VIP on an adidas commercial shoot.

    While teams are not required to wear adidas in the videos, we’d guess that a Nike-festooned team will not make it to the Gallery.
  3. adiStars aligns with earlier London 2012 efforts, including AdiZones, the free outdoor multi-purpose, youth fitness areas that adidas built in each of the five Olympic boroughs and additional sites across the UK. AdiZones have huge public approval ratings and are now backed by the government’s Department of Children, Schools and Families.
  4. The brand is also activating its sponsorship through adiTour roadshow. Housed in an inflatable, visitors can learn the best training methods, participate in a series of challenges and get feedback (and gear and footwear advice) from coaches.
  5. To reach young adults not interested in sport and borrow the cool of music, adidas designed “About to Blow” featuring emerging musicians and Olympic athletes. It was promoted with posters and a YouTube documentary in 2009.
  6. Reaching an even broader audience and connecting its brand to civic pride were the objectives for the brand’s November 2010 “We are London” campaign celebrating London’s creative talent and featuring UK rap artists.
  7. adidas’ official outfitter category includes licensing, and with Team GB’s uniforms designed by superstar Stella McCartney, adidas is targeting fashionistas as well as sports fans. It promoted its kit in the Sunday Times’ “Style” magazine and posted a stylish video on its homepage and on Facebook.

There is a clear strategy and measurable objectives connected to each adidas effort. The only off-note we see is the draconian terms on the adiStars site, which I will address in another blog post.


international London 2012 olympics activation



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