The Origins of Sponsorship: Financing Scott's Expedition 27th June, 2012

For those of you who don’t know the history of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ expedition of 1910 to the South Pole, it is a fascinating story of exploration and the endurance of the human spirit. The expedition was so groundbreaking for its day the only recent comparison to be drawn of what his team overcame would be that of the space race to the moon. The objectives of this expedition were to charter new territory and to pioneer scientific research in polar wildlife and in doing so hoping to answer polemical questions surrounding evolution. Captain Scott, a former naval officer gathered together a team of leading scientists and explorers to accompany him. However, the major obstacle to this expedition was finance. To make this expedition possible, the ever resourceful Scott understood that the power of sponsorship was the key.

In order to reach the South Pole, Scott needed a ship, men and resources for the round trip past Australia and New Zealand which took them a total of eight months each way. This privately funded expedition cost an estimated amount of £40,000 or the equivalent of over £3 million of today’s value. Scott didn’t have the luxury of time either to raise the money, with competition from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen striving to reach the South Pole first. Scott recognised that the booming newspaper industry of 1910 could be his opportunity and a powerful tool to raise the capital required for the expedition. Scott needed supplies from a range of different brands and suppliers from Heinz to Burberry. He knew that photography on the expedition would not only serve to catalogue the team’s journey and discoveries, however allow for brands to finance and endorse the trip and feature in the burgeoning newspaper industry in support of the mission.

Scott understood the theory of sponsorship, and the opportunities for brand association. Brands such as Bovril, Oxo and Shell petrol not only gained large amounts of exposure in newspaper advertising; however they are credited for making this unprecedented expedition possible.  Sponsorship of the expedition supported key messages for the brands, such as patriotism, advances in scientific research, the importance of home comforts, adventure and survival. Furthermore, what better brand ambassadors than the brave team of explorers of Scott and his team.

Lessons from the past

Although these photos now appear at such odds to present day expeditions of its kind and current marketing messages, the theory and the ingenuity of Scott’s use of sponsorship is still very pertinent in the 21st century. Using an innovative platform to capture the attention of the public with the most engaging medium at your disposal is exactly what Scott achieved. The emergence of the press in Scott’s day has many parallels to the emergence of the digital age in which we live in, and those able to utilise this resource to the best of its ability have been able to reap the rewards.

In this sense the theory of sponsorship at its essence remains very much frozen in time, much like Scott’s hut which has been near perfectly preserved due to the extreme temperatures of the South Pole and which serves as a reminder of the incredible feat Scott and his team achieved.