Sponsorship: Giving Brands a Story to Tell 9th May, 2013

I recently attended the ESA Summit: a gathering to discuss the state of the sponsorship industry against the backdrop of the ever-changing digital landscape. A number of the Slingshot team made it down to the British Film Institute for the proceedings. An action packed day ensued, full of great keynote speakers and some incredibly insightful panelists, discussing everything from how technology is blurring the traditional sponsorship model, to the future for sponsorship agencies.

While a number of attendees have already summed up the major take-homes from the day (Ben Wells’ blog for example) there was one comment in particular that, to me, illustrated why sponsorship is such a unique marketing tool.  When asked to respond to the nth brand manager’s call to tell the consumer <insert brand name here>’s story, one panelist piped up with ‘no-one cares about your brand story’.

Now while, I must admit, it did get slightly tedious hearing the nth brand manager (from Coca Cola, Virgin Media, Monster, Diageo etc) talk about the importance of storytelling, it struck me just how integral  sponsorship is in  giving brands something to talk about.

The vast majority of products or services that a company offers often blur into the wider competitive market, leaving them indistinguishable and in many cases lacking the essence through which a story can be created. This is where sponsorship comes in.  Sponsorship gives brands the chance to align themselves with a personality, a movement or a cause that they can weave their brand into and construct a narrative that allows their target audience to directly engage with.

In order to illustrate how effective story-telling can be in granting personality to a brand, I’ve outlined three campaigns, which I think do it well.

1.  Bing & Jay Z – The Decoded Campaign

With Jay-Z’s autobiography ‘Decoded’ due to be launched, Microsoft saw an opportunity to increase the relevance of its search engine, Bing, and showcase its new mapping software.

Each of Decoded’s 320 pages were printed and placed in a different position across 13 major cities.  Locations were selected based on the contents of each page – for example, a reference to Jay Z’s youth in Brooklyn could be placed on a Cadillac on Montgomery Street; with other pages being imprinted onto a restaurant plate, a basketball backboard and even on the bottom of a swimming pool!

Utilising multiple online social platforms, clues were released, revealing the location of the secret pages in a draw to compete to be the first to unlock each one of the 320 pages.  Users were driven to Bing.com/Jay Z where they were directed to specific locations, while the first people on the scene texted a code to reveal the page to the whole community.  Within a month of the campaign going live, users had unlocked every single page of the book before it was even available for sale.

Bing received an 11.7% increase of visitors while the campaign was live with an average player engagement of 11 minutes.  Jay Z’s Facebook page received 1 million ‘likes’ in under a month and his autobiography reached 3rd in the New York Times Best Seller list.

All sections of media were used giving the individual a rich and unique understanding of Jay Z’s life, while educating the brand about Bing and its capabilities. If that isn’t a brand telling a story, I don’t know what is.

2. Converse & Patrick Downey – The 5k Run

Converse’s sponsorship of the Patrick Downey 5k Run is a great example of how brand’s can weave themselves into someone else’s story and become part of the overall narrative.

Patrick Downey was the embodiment of the Converse brand. He was an artist who had developed his own unique, personal style — the crown jewel of which was his uniform of dark pants, flannel tops and Chuck Taylors (Converse’s flagship shoe design). He tragically died in 2007 from a rare form esophageal cancer, which prompted his sister (Shannon Downey) to set-up a 5km run to raise awareness for this rare disease.  Runners were encouraged to run in Chuck Taylors, while the race logo (as seen on the left) featured a trainer reminiscent of a Chuck Taylor shoe also.

Converse found out about the race and the affection with which Patrick Downey held their brand,  and decided to sponsor the event. They now provide:

– All of the prize-winning money for the race

– Converse marshalls situated along the route to help runners get to the finish line

– Supply of Chucks to racers and attendees alike

– Additional consultation alongside Shannon to discuss how they can contribute long-term to her important work of educating people about esophageal cancer.

Patrick and Shannon’s initially personal story moved a brand to act. Converse  have now become a part of that story and will continue to help write the remaining pages.

3. P&G and The Olympic – ‘Mums’ Campaign

Undoubtedly my favourite Olympic sponsorship and a great example of how storytelling can give personality to a brand that many people previously have never held any real affection towards.

P&G’s “Thank You Mum” Olympic marketing program harnessed a universal human emotion to create a program that spanned brands, countries and consumer alike. It showcased its commitment to their core audience, mums, through a range of different media formats via a compelling and touching narrative.

One of the central themes to the campaign was a P&G created video series called ‘Raising an Olympian’. It celebrated the role of Olympic mums in supporting their children to reach the pinnacle of their sporting lives.

The individual series generated over 25 million views online, with more than 10 million views on the Yahoo! network alone. To date, the global campaign has generated more than 65 billion impressions from broadcast and print coverage (650% over target), 72.5 million views of P&G videos, an 45% increase in Facebook fans for  P&G brands, and 370 million Twitter engagements.

The mums campaign is the perfect illustration that the consumer does care about your brand story; as long as it’s a story that means something to them.

Michael Jordan: The Original Brand Ambassador! 25th February, 2013

On February 17th 2013 Michael Jordan, one of sport’s great personalities, turned 50. Not only is ‘Mike’ a sports legend but also the face of arguably the most successful brand endorsement deal of all time. Due to the recent headlines involving sports stars such as Oscar Pistorius and Lance Armstrong the value of brand ambassadors is being questioned more than ever (see Mark Mylam’s blog). Michael Jordan’s sponsorship deal with Nike however, proves what kind of positive impact such an agreement can have for both the brand and the celebrity. Let’s recap this incomparable success story:

“The 1984 Olympics was Michael Jordan’s coming out party” describes his agent David Falk. Up until this point Michael Jordan had not even played a single game in the NBA and yet at the time top three major basketball shoe brands Adidas, Converse and Nike were after him. Before his NBA career even started Jordan already knew who he wanted to partner with – Adidas. The German sports brand and Converse were the leading shoe suppliers for the NBA stars in the mid and late 80’s. Michael Jordan himself had never worn any Nike basketball shoes before and was convinced by the quality of Adidas’ products but the first brand that Michael Jordan met with was Converse. During this pitch Jordan mentioned his worries about the endorsement deals that Converse already had in place with superstars like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird and asked: “With all these stars, where do I fit into the conversation?” John O’Neil, the president of Converse, took that question and replied: “We’ll treat you like all our other superstars.” This is obviously not the answer that the upcoming star wanted to hear and the $100,000 per year that Converse offered him could not change his mind either.

The next invitation that Michael Jordan received was from Nike, however he was not interested in what they had to tell him and declined this invitation at first. In the end it was Jordan’s mother who convinced him to at least listen to what Nike had to offer so he took the plane and the rest, as they say, is history. Nike  decided to spend all of its marketing budget on Jordan and offered him a five-year deal worth $500,000 annually plus royalties; five times as much as any other NBA superstar was receiving at the time. It wasn’t only the sound of the money that made Nike suddenly attractive to Jordan: Nike offered Jordan his own signature shoe line. This is the kind of special treatment that Converse didn’t offer Michael and as a result they were out of the running.

However Adidas was still in the race – Jordan’s “favourite shoe”. If Adidas could have matched what Nike put on the table then Michael would have teamed up with the German brand. However Adidas missed out on this opportunity and this mistake became known as one of the worst business decisions in the last 50 years. “They didn’t feel it was worth it,” said Jordan. “Which in hindsight is perfect for me, because it made my decision much easier. And I ended up with Nike, and it became a great relationship.”

The Jordan brand was born (with the jumpman logo appearing in 1987). Since 1984 Nike’s subsidiary coproduced 27 basketball shoes with Michael Jordan. Last year, the U.S. Jordan Brand sneaker business alone had $1.25 billion in wholesale revenue. Although Michael Jordan himself isn’t playing anymore there are still active NBA players (Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul etc.) acting as Air Jordan ambassadors and supporting the brand’s huge success within the basketball industry. Whereas in the mid and late 80’s Converse and adidas were dominating the U.S. basketball shoe market, 30 years later it is the Jordan brand that is controlling 58% of it, followed by its parent company Nike (34%), adidas (5.5%), Reebok (1.6%) and Under Armour (0.6%).

Michael Jordan himself is still earning more than $80 million per year through corporate sponsorship deals and the majority of this income is related to his partnership with Nike. The current details of this deal are a well kept secret but royalties now generate more than $60 million annually for MJ, according to a Forbes article.

You can buy yourself a lot of nice Birthday presents with that amount of money – Congratulations Michael! But also, congratulations Nike!