Anticipating Rio 2016: Out of the Rut or More of the Same from Sponsors?

By Jim Andrews Jun 29, 2016

Anticipating Rio 2016: Out of the Rut or More of the Same from Sponsors?

For marketers, the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup tournaments typically represent milestones marking new developments and innovations in sponsorship.

That’s not to say that sponsors of other properties—both within the world of sports as well as outside of it—have not introduced groundbreaking activation ideas. But historically, these two global platforms and the partners who spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to acquire sponsorship rights have been responsible for a host of ideas and executions that went on to inspire sponsors and properties of all types and sizes.

Lately however—and by lately I mean the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil the same year—a-ha sponsorship moments have been in short supply. There were interesting and successful activations at both events, but nothing that could be considered truly breakthrough.

Where are the new Thank You, Mom or Move to the Beat campaigns? For that matter, where is the new “And this year, the Olympics don’t take American Express” tagline?

Chobani earned tremendous visibility as a USOC sponsor in Sochi not because of brilliant marketing, but because Russian officials blocked shipments of its product bound for U.S. athletes. The most memorable campaigns from World Cup 2014 were from ambushers Beats and Nike, not official sponsors.

This has been a trend in sponsorship outside of the largest partnerships as well. There is a sameness to much of what we see in terms of activation. Videos of fans being “surprised and delighted” with free tickets or visits from star athletes and entertainers have become ubiquitous, and ubiquity is the death knell for content intended to be discovered and shared.

Technology may be partly to blame. Many sponsors seem to be distracted by shiny new toys like VR viewers and drones. While tech advances are enabling many engaging activations, such as we’ve seen during the NBA Finals and Wimbledon in the last few weeks, they do not rise to the standard of a new way to think about sponsorship.

Given the litany of issues surrounding the Rio Games, it may be time for sponsors to think about a higher purpose for their partnerships. The idea of purpose is not a new one in marketing, but it’s been back at the forefront thanks to Unilever CMO Keith Weed’s Cannes remarks last week, in which he noted that brands in the company’s “sustainable living” portfolio—“brands with purpose, brands that matter, brands with real meaning,” in his words—grew 30 percent faster than Unilever’s other brands and account for half of the company’s total growth.

Can sponsorships, Olympic and otherwise, share the same philosophy as Unilever’s “campaigning brands” (another Weed term)? Can they have doing good as a core element, in addition to being effective promotional platforms? (The two are not mutually exclusive by any means.)

To have real purpose, brands would have to commit to doing more than producing the usual videos of how the power of sport is uplifting kids in favelas. They will have to do more than be a “proud partner” of the Paralympic Games.

Perhaps they can pledge to help address some of the negative, and headline-grabbing, aspects of sports and major events instead of concentrating solely on the celebration and the athletic achievements. Here again, it is possible to do both. Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s has long marketed the joy of eating ice cream and maintained its fun, playful image while making a sincere commitment to serious issues such as climate change.

Serious matters such as doping, security, etc. create an opportunity for sponsors to be leaders, not just followers, when it comes to engaging with fans. Putting some of their resources toward helping find solutions could help to ensure the sustainability of the sports and events that are so important to them and their consumers.

Could that be the sponsorship innovation that will result from this summer? We will shortly see.


Rio 2016 sponsorship strategy trends activation


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Jim Andrews

About the Author

A 30-year sponsorship industry veteran, Jim is responsible for developing and sharing thought-leadership content based on ESP Properties’ groundbreaking work in the areas of sponsorship strategy, valuation, measurement, digital content, data-driven marketing and fan engagement.

In addition to identifying key trends and delivering his unique insights into the critical issues facing rightsholders and their commercial partners, Jim is the chairman of the Annual Sponsorship Conference, responsible for the program and speakers, as well as hosting and delivering the event’s opening address. He also is responsible for the company’s annual report and forecast of overall sponsorship spending, as well as its compilation of biggest spending companies and annual industry surveys.

A frequent media commentator and guest, Jim has been a featured speaker at hundreds of sports, entertainment and marketing conferences around the world.



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Neill Duffy 8/11/2016 2:01 PM
Given how corporations are embracing purpose as the management philosophy of the 21st century, its surprising how few of them - if any - are activating their purpose across their sponsorship assets. Our recent work at Super Bowl 50 showed how powerful a platform sport can be in improving the lives of people and how corporate partners can activate their purpose in a meaningful way across purpose-full sports platforms . Its time for sponsors to evolve their sponsorship strategies, engage the fans around the things they really care about, actively involve them in the process and move from story telling to story doing. That's exactly what we're set up to help sponsors do.

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