As interest ramps up at the peak of the 4-year Olympic cycle, as well as the UEFA European championships year, there’s going to be a lot said and written about major global platforms; and with our new Olympic publication we’ll probably be as responsible as anyone. With all that going on, I’m keen to maintain a balance and address some of the broader issues facing sponsors beyond the major global flagship properties, and for that matter beyond sport.
One of the key issues that these global properties raise is around the balance between global and local objectives. Much is made of the flexibility of the Olympic brand and how it serves to mirror very specific national feelings, and a global partnership of that sort puts you in pretty rarefied company. Achieving the desired balance between global presence and local relevance is traditionally the ambition behind having a portfolio of assets: it allows a brand to deliver different objectives through different partnerships; a global platform demonstrates international stature and awareness, the local platforms demonstrate an understanding of and engagement with the local audience. Think Orange’s use of film and local sports initiatives, or Coca-Cola’s dalliances in local music activities.
Crucially I want to differentiate between a portfolio approach, which implies an element of central control over at least the direction that local sponsorship will take (be that music, arts, etc.), and a devolved strategy where there is much greater local autonomy, and decision-making takes place almost entirely at a local level. For us, a portfolio approach will still have a strong element of control from the global brand or sponsorship team.
The inherent simplicity of the principle (global property for awareness and stature; local property for engagement with target audience) can make that kind of portfolio appear universally applicable but it’s worth emphasising that a portfolio approach is not right for every brand. It works very well with global brands that exhibit either a very internationalist perspective, or that no longer have a very strong national heritage: classically brands like Visa or Mastercard where they are now clearly much more international than they are American. Similarly with brands that have an implicit acceptance of the diversity of cultures, as with many professional and financial services brands.
Where it doesn’t work is where the desire to be relevant to strong local interests has to compete against the existing identity of the brand. Budweiser has made great strides in the way they use soccer globally, and they’ve built a credible identity in some parts of the world, but within Europe they’re still resolving the tension between a quintessentially American brand and a sport that Americans notoriously don’t understand (though that’s now more myth than reality as I’m sure Clint Dempsey and Robert Green will attest).
Done well a global-local portfolio provides balance to allow for global ambitions and local marketing teams to meet specific objectives. Properties can serve to either complement each other (local NOC deals to support an Olympic roll-out, or endorsements that provide local flavour to a global sports platform) or they can equally well contrast by providing markedly different points of relevance to audiences whilst maintaining the same attitude and brand proposition (like the sports + culture portfolios common for financial services, or Mercedes-Benz blend of tennis and fashion). What both of those approaches have in common is clear direction from a global team that fully understands that the brand proposition must lead sponsorship decisions, not solely a desire to reach the largest possible audience. It’s yet another example where good sponsorship has to be designed based on an understanding of brand, not sold based on the number of eyeballs.