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Sponsorship of the arts or of sporting events is an increasingly popular way of generating positive feelings about firms. Sponsorship has been defined as ‘An investment, in cash or kind, in an activity in return for access to the exploitable commercial potential associated with this activity’.
Sponsorship attempts to link beliefs about the sponsoring organisation or brand and connect them to an event or organisation that is highly valued by target consumers. Sponsorship is not adequate as a stand-alone policy. Although firms can run perfectly adequate PR campaigns without advertising, sponsorship will not work effectively unless the sponsoring firm is prepared and able to publicise the link. Some researchers estimate that two to three times the cost of sponsorship needs to be spent on advertising if the exercise is to be effective.30 In most cases it is necessary to spell out the reasons for the firm’s sponsorship of the event in order to make the link clear to the audience; merely saying ‘Official snack of the Triathlon’ is insufficient. Since the audience is usually interested in anything about the event, it is quite possible to go into a brief explanation of the reasoning behind the sponsorship: for example, to say ‘Our snack gives energy – and that’s what every triathlete needs more than anything. That’s why we sponsor the Triathlon.’
The evidence is that consumers do feel at least some gratitude towards the sponsors of their favourite events; whether this is gratitude per se or whether it is affective linking is hard to say, and the answer to that question may not be of much practical importance anyway. There are certainly spin-offs for the internal
PR of the firm; most employees like to feel that they are working for a caring organisation and sponsorship money also (on occasion) leads to free tickets or price reductions for staff of the sponsoring organisation.
Sponsorship appears to work best when there is some existing link between the sponsoring company and the event itself. In other words, a company that manufactures fishing equipment would be more successful sponsoring a fishing competition than it would in sponsoring a painting competition. More subtly, a
bank would be better off sponsoring a middle-class, ‘respectable’ arts event such as an opera rather than an open-air rock concert. The following criteria apply when considering sponsorship –
- The sponsorship must be economically viable; it should be cost-effective, in other words.
- The event or organisation being sponsored should be consistent with the brand image and overall marketing communications plans.
- It should offer a strong possibility of reaching the desired target audience.
- Care should be taken if the event has been sponsored before; the audience may confuse the sponsors and you may be benefiting the earlier sponsor.
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Occasionally a competitor will try to divert the audience's attention to themselves by implying that they are sponsoring the event: this is called ambushing.
Sponsorship is likely to grow in importance in the foreseeable future. More credible than advertising, it is often cheaper and has important effects on both brand and corporate image; given the restrictions being imposed on advertising, particularly regarding tobacco, sponsorship has much to offer.
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