A Platform for fresh thinking

First published in Platform magazine August 2010

The change of name from Sponsorship News to Platform was inspired.

One of the discussions we manage, in trying to help brands understand exactly how much freedom they have to interpret the concept of sponsorship, is around platform, precisely because sponsorship is just one of many.

For some brands, such as Apple, product is platform: from a marketing perspective, this is absolutely the sweet spot, because you’re already a part of their lives. In Apple’s case, and a number of typically artisan products, where development and production remain labours of love, the integrity of the product commands its own fascination and respect: Ferrari also sits here.
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Media. Value. Cabbage.

I recently received (anonymously) a ‘sponsorship valuation’ commissioned from a specialist agency by a brand: the sender was a little incredulous at what he’d been persuaded to pay for. Arguably sponsorship ‘valuation’ has a role to play in instilling rights-holders with a greater sense of confidence in the commercial value of their sponsorship offering – but these reports, when commissioned by brands, assume a far greater significance, as the organisation is left to assume the sponsorship industry actually defines its own value in this way. Although tone of voice and language both suggest rigour, objectivity, expertise and science, the truth is far from the case.

The valuation, for anyone who hasn’t seen one, is based on two measures – ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ – and two corresponding fictions. The tangible component is calculated by assigning a value to every conceivable touch-point with the brand. Calculating the ‘tangible value’ is based on the fiction that an accurate commercial value can be assigned to the consumer touch-points offered by the sponsorship.
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They seemed smart enough…

First published in Platform magazine

Everyone loves a fall from grace. It’s human nature. A mixture of relief – for those of you who never have; reassurance – that we’re all human, regardless of endorsement value; and fascination – at how far our emotions can betray our rational selves.

The non endemic media, indoctrinated in the lore of brand value transfer, always jump to the conclusion that sponsors will suffer immediate irreperable brand damage. But of course, that’s not the case.

Consumers builds relationships with brands over years, like friends – although soap characters is a better analogy. Unless we are ourselves quite strange, we don’t drop friends quite so abruptly: even when Fred West’s neighbours found out it wasn’t party games he was playing in the cellar, the quotes were, more or less: i’m really shocked, he always seemed nice enough.
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A ban on alcohol sponsorship: a double or quits

The new Lib-Con government is talking a big game on the topic of binge drinking. How this impulse manifests itself remains to be seen, but we are right to be twitchy about the recommendations contained in the Health Committee First Report on Alcohol (HC151) and the prospect of alcohol sponsors being told – you’re barred. But as we wait for news on drink, gambling is grabbing the headlines.

John Higgins’ taped conversation with Russian mobsters, has plundered snooker into a black hole of doubt and recrimination; and the longer term effect on the commercial value of the sport is now very much under question.

Meanwhile, Bodog, an American onling gaming brand, made an ‘Indecent Proposal’ to Tiger Woods, in the shape of $100million over five years, with a no moral judgement clause. This might be a stunt or a genuine offer, but either way it raises broader questions.
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Is there more to sponsorship than the rights market?

First published in Platform magazine

Does ESA wants to represent the past or the future?

Ever since Patrick Nally corralled the global TV and stadia signage rights together on Coke’s behalf for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, sponsorship has been dominated by rights. And, with the IOC’s announcing it expects to reach the mythical figure of US$1 billion for its TOP programme, rights certainly aren’t going away.

Ultimately, the contractual relationship between a ‘sponsor’ and a ‘rights-holder’ will always described in terms of rights. But to understand, to conceive of sponsorship in the same terms – as comfortable as it might be – doesn’t begin to equip us to understand how brands are beginning to think – and act. More damagingly, the emphasis on rights restricts our ability to represent the real value sponsorship can bring to business. And, ultimately, it limits the value of sponsorship for both sponsors and rights-holders.
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Convenient fiction

First published in SportBusiness

Redmandarin are great believers in definition, as a foundation for planning, creativity and accountability. It underpins the thinking we apply to the challenges facing our clients. We published Defining Sponsorship to articulate Redmandarin’s vision of sponsorship’s essence and potential.

And along the way, we had some fascinating conversations. Respected figures from the industry – Tony Ponturo, Patrick Nally, David Wheldon, Simon Lowden, Simon Thompson and many more – saying things we didn’t expect them to, showing the ‘party line’ of the sponsorship industry to be a convenient fiction.

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Own goal

First published in Platform magazine

I think historians will look back and pinpoint Sydney 2000 as the event which truly marked the beginning of sport as a dominant global belief system. I’m not talking about global appeal or commercial value, I’m talking about sport as a predominant metaphor for living.

Not disregarding the scepticism that preceded the Games, what was so remarkable was how they aligned so closely with how most people would characterise the Australian way of life: open, non-hierarchical, competitive, and good-natured. Australia’s ability to embrace the Games marked a sea change for the Olympic movement.

But although Olympian values have been around for 9,000 years, it’s only been the decade since Sydney that has embraced sport’s ability to provide a meeting place for people which transcends divides, or even embraces them.

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Sponsorship’s credibility gap

First published in SportBusiness

As the global economic crisis continues to undermine the sports business, one of the world’s most influential advertising executives has launched a blistering attack on the sponsorship industry, accusing it of lacking professionalism, creativity and failing to offer sufficient value for money for its clients.

“Every sponsorship property you see is talking about the wrong stuff,” says Kevin Roberts, global chief executive of Saatchi and Saatchi, “and some of the stories they tell are ridiculous, they’re so juvenile”.

Roberts thinks the approach taken by many sponsors and consultants is in need of a fundamental shake-up, airing his views when interviewed as part of a project called Defining Sponsorship, the results of which are to published in a new book commissioned by Redmandarin chief executive Shaun Whatling. The book consists of the views of more than forty prominent people from the spheres of sport, media and advertising in addition to contributors from the music and cultural fields.
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2010 – the year ahead

First published in SportBusiness


So what does the year ahead look like for sponsorship? Very interesting indeed.

How else would it be possible to feel from the perspective of a year which has seen Carling end one of the longest-standing brand relationships in UK sport – only to be replaced by a record-breaking £80m deal with Standard Chartered?

A year ushered in by perhaps the most explicitly negative publicity for sponsorship since the mainstream press started using the word.

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It’s all in the name

Naming rights are the perfect IP. They cost nothing to create, they need minimal servicing and there’s no benchmark for pricing. No wonder rightsholders love ’em – they’re like a real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the rainbow ends in your backyard. Or stadium.

Arsenal is the inspiration for the Premier League, with Chelsea,Liverpool and Spurs openly linked to aspirations to follow their lead. It’s hard to argue with the potential when sellers can point to the O2. Not only did the easy and universal adoption of the name provide a brilliant example of brand integration, the assets secured gave O2 a clear leg up in the race towards customer reward, which is one logical way forward for that industry. And, as with all the best examples, it feels so effortless and natural that failure was never an option.

But for every Emirates and every O2, there’s a Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium, or Sportsdirect.com@StJames’Park and probably two Ricoh Arenas: the question is, what makes the difference?

We’ve just concluded due diligence for a major naming rights proposal on behalf of a multi-national client and our study helps explain exactly why the O2 was such a success – and exactly what to look out for.

Of all the challenges facing a naming rights deal, user acceptance is the most critical: even the notion of some naming rights deals has been met with rejection. The story of Candlestick Park, in the US, where money often talks more persuasively than common-sense, is salutory.

Tellingly, many of the most successful deals have stuck with new builds, where the opportunity existed to create a new identity, rather than overprint an old one. In the case of the O2, although an existing venue, there was no existing user franchise, no emotional ownership, and hence no integral resistance.

The other advantage of a new build, beyond allowing fans’ memories to rest in peace, rests upon a familiar principle of sponsorship: the brand’s contribution, in this case generally financial, is obvious and appreciated. Again, the O2 was exemplary: when it opened, the new venue had been entirely transformed for the better; the vast space of the Millennium Dome had been tamed. And O2, somehow, took the credit.

All of this is analogous to traditional sponsorship, of course: how does any new sponsor overprint its presence? But with naming rights, it’s that much more critical, as name usage is an integral and obvious measure of success. Surprising then, that absurd constructions like Sportsdirect.com@StJames’Park are ever conceived. Our linguistics expert was fairly categoric: if you want to get into the vernacular, you have to think vernacular. You, me and the groundsman all know that Sportsdirect.com@StJames’Park will remain St James’ Park except in those all important client meetings.Syntactically, because it actually embeds the separation between sponsor name and venue, is about as bad as it can get. But even constructions such as Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium fly against our natural tendency to abbreviate. So, once again, the O2 was spot on: shorter, cooler and more memorable than Millennium Dome. And easier to spell.

There is still value in the ubiquity that naming rights can give a brand: for Mike Ashley, the media exposure for Sportsdirect.com was probably fairly compelling – and he probably didn’t pay much for it. But I can’t help believing that putting your brand in a position where consumers’ entirely predictable linguistic behaviour will resist the association, is not a good place to start.