Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Corporate Heaven Or Corporate Hospitality?

Reading today that ITV, the main British commercial broadcaster, is targeting a 20% increase in sponsorship income as part of an attempt to offset declining advertising revenues, has prompted me to opine on/rant about this mystifying practice.

Perhaps the only thing in No Logo with which I immediately agreed was Naomi Klein's assertion that sponsorship could only work for both sponsor and sponsee if the sponsor was embodied in the host rather than appear to be a parasite sucking blood from it. When the sponsor owns or is the infrastructure, the relationship is symbiotic and reflects and reinforces the existing lifestyle of the target audience that has thereby implicitly given permission for the marketing to occur. Think skateboard, snowboard and surfing companies.

By contrast, I could never understand why Ellen MacArthur's earlier remarkable exploits were sponsored by Kingfisher - a parent company of a number of retail brands, but not an existing brand in its own right. I think the fact that the chairman was a sailing enthusiast may have had something to do with it, but since you cannot buy a Kingfisher product so what was the point of emblazoning that name across the mainsail? The penny eventually dropped and later voyages were at least sponsored by their DIY chain B & Q. This resulted in unprompted awareness figures of the sponsorship at 57% though the benefit still seems tenuous to me.

There really has to be a visceral innate connection between the sponsor and the sponsee rather than merely an opportunity for corporate hospitality. I just don't buy all this waffle about shared values (inevitably accompanied by a list of aspirational adjectives). "Media return was unprecedented, but what also makes it a real success for us is the empathy between Ellen and B&Q: she represents our philosophy of team work, motivation and goal setting":David Roth, Marketing Director B&Q. So what?

Indeed, the topping and tailing of a TV shows seems to me to be interruptive marketing of the worst kind and with less, if not a potentially negative impact, because the sponsorship connection is so contrived. Why for example was the blood and gore of ER sponsored by a car company a few seasons back?

On reading of ITV's proposal, I switched on ITV and there, like manna from heaven, I find the British equivalent of the Jerry Springer show being sponsored by Learn Direct a government organisation tasked with increasing literacy and adult education by reaching 'those with few or no skills and qualifications who are unlikely to participate in traditional forms of learning". Some bright spark no doubt suggested that the audience for this freak show might be the under-educated (though the time slot shouts sleepy students to me) but, even if they are the target audience, they're not going to be in a self-improvement frame of mind while watching "My Mum's teenage lovers embarass me!"

Is that really a sponsorhip model that chimes with the key parameters of involvement, emotion and shared values?


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