To exploit something is to make it happen. Dynamic businesspeople and athletes the world over like to make stuff happen. And we in the business of brand and sponsorship design are no different.
We exploit situations, relationships, brands. When we do it well (which we like to think is most of the time), we deliver value to our clients.
They like this so much, they come back to us for more. And so we have become arch-exploiters, über-exploiters, exploiters supreme.
There are three basic parties to a sponsorship: the sponsoring brand; the sponsored property; and the punter.
Their inter-relationship is supposed to work like this: the punter loves his or her team/sport/event/art and wants to consume it on an ongoing basis live
and through various media. The punter is smart enough to realise that without money, sometimes in large quantities, this may not be possible and his consumption may be limited.
He recognises that the sponsoring brand is a valuable source of money for his team/sport/band/artist and is grateful to the sponsoring brand for investing. He consciously rewards the brand by buying its products and services whenever they can and recommending it to friends and colleagues.
This results in: a constant supply of high quality sports, events and arts; value growth for sponsoring brands and media, with all the wider social commercial benefits this engenders; and a happy punter.
It all seems so simple, but it’s not. Relationships are complex phenomena and part of their beauty and endless fascination is their unpredictability. Sponsorship relationships are no different.
In the United Kingdom and other established European markets our sports hold special cultural significance. We used to go to war with each other on a regular basis; these days we play football instead.
Like war, football is an outpouring of national sentiment that turns violent. It’s about bragging rights and the supremacy of one nation over another; it’s not about money.
Sponsorship is a distraction, and it makes our team kit look ugly and our stadia sound trivial.
The historical significance of sport in our culture undermines the smooth working of the holy trinity: punters resent brands intruding in their conflict and fail to accept their presence as necessary. Football is a thousand years old: why does it need to be branded NOW?
Across the water, the United States invented its own sports (not, as popular myth would have it, so it could hold the World Series without having to invite other nations to compete) but because it has always seen sports and entertainment as “the same thing” and it didn’t find football very entertaining. Stoke City fans may agree they had a point.
American punters have always paid to see baseball, basketball and American football. Generations of punters knew from the get-go that their entry fees and commercial tie-ins were essential to funding their entertainment, just as they knew that they couldn’t get into the movies for free.
American sports were born into a commercial reality that European sports were not. This makes the holy trinity in the US much more predictable and therefore easier to exploit for brands and teams alike.
Whilst we acknowledge the inexorable evolution of UK attitudes towards a more American model, we also observe the effect described above and the heavy-handed application of brands to sporting properties.
We hate this, but we believe that we can fix it through sound strategy and good design. If the brand has a reason to be there, it can be relevant to punters in a way that makes sense beyond the grubby need to be commercial. AT&T Williams made sense. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes makes sense. NEC Harlequins does not.
More than this, the way the brand is integrated into the team’s livery is also critical. Sports teams guard their colours and badges jealously and we applaud this; teams are brands in their own right and the best sponsorships are partnerships between two brands who just seem to fit. Carlsberg always seemed a natural for Liverpool, but Standard Chartered looks like a marriage of convenience.
Successful relationships need to be worked on like everything else. Sometimes, we admit, they can be hard to understand. But when they work, they really work, and we’ve been lucky to have been involved in some truly great partnerships which have delivered genuine value to brand, property and punter alike.