Beyond signage

Signage alone doesn't cut it anymore. Thanks to the recent dramatic growth in sponsorship activities all around the globe, there's just too much clutter out there to compete with....

Signage alone doesn’t cut it anymore. Thanks to the recent dramatic growth in sponsorship activities all around the globe, there’s just too much clutter out there to compete with.

According to IEG Consulting, a Chicago-based sponsorship measurement firm, the global sponsorship industry is expected to reach US$24.6 billion in 2001. This represents an increase of 12% over 2000. Close to 40% of that amount (US$9.5 billion) is expected to be spent by North American companies.

Sports events and properties dominate the North American sponsorship landscape, attracting 69% of all funding. Entertainment, festivals, cause-related marketing and the arts attract between 6% and 9%. This growth has been driven by the fact that sponsorship has long been regarded as a lower-cost, more targeted alternative to traditional advertising.

Given this level of spending, spectators are bombarded by signage of all sorts. Between the signage, the logos on the equipment, the advertising and the promotional gimmicks, it’s not unusual for a fan or viewer to be exposed to literally hundreds of brand names during a single event or telecast.

More prominent signage might help, but exposure alone will not attract customers to your products. You have to make sure your involvement covers all four elements of brand equity: awareness, acceptability, preference, and loyalty.

The best bet for moving beyond awareness to acceptability – where the customer decides whether he or she would be willing to purchase your product – is ensuring a strong and positive emotional association for consumers between a brand and an event.

A positive experience at an event leads the customer to form a favourable emotional link between the sponsored event and sponsoring brands. This link helps influence the customer’s determination of the acceptability of your product.

Examples of this include Team Player’s, which fields cars in the C.A.R.T. car racing series and actively participates in festivities leading up to race weekends in Toronto and Montreal. (Such sponsored activities have recently been restricted by new anti-tobacco legislation). To help create an emotional connection, Player’s used race simulators and a rock-climbing platform to heighten interactivity with fans. To boost their impact, such events took place downtown, outside of the race circuit, enabling the company to reach a market beyond die-hard race fans.

Similarly Palm, a maker of hand-held electronic organizers, will be leveraging its sponsorship of the Professional Golfers Association to showcase its products. At 18 to 20 upcoming PGA events, the company will install Palm Pavilions to loan out several hundred devices to tournament attendees. The hand-held devices will be loaded with software that will allow users to monitor updated leaderboards via the Palm’s link to the Web. They will also be able to locate individual players and track live scoring.

During National Hockey League games, sponsors such as Bell Canada and several packaged goods companies run promotions giving fans the opportunity to win prizes. One such promotion involves randomly choosing a seat and upgrading that fan and a friend to prime seats right behind the home team’s bench, where they are showered with T-shirts and product gift baskets. Again, the impact on those involved is an emotional one, far stronger than awareness alone.

Going one step further, some companies are buying into various properties to gain more control of marketing and communication strategies. Valvoline, for example, recently became part owner of a NASCAR team. The car is emblazoned with the Valvoline logo and the company has a say in how the team is run.

Integrating your sponsorship activities into corporate marketing and communication plans can help maximize the return on your sponsorship dollars. By leveraging the use of your Web site, incorporating the sponsorship into your advertising and PR campaigns, and running thematic promotions, you’re more likely to generate solid results.

Signage is only the first step; going that extra mile to effectively get your message across is what sponsorship today is all about.

Mark Donnison ( is currently completing an executive MBA at Montreal’s Concordia University. This article stems from research he completed as part of his studies.

Also in this report:

- Sponsors mix in grassroots to offset shooting stars p.B1

- The right match: Sponsors reveal the strategy behind the sponsorship p.B4

- Milking it: Sponsors pump ROI with ‘experiential’ approach p.B7

- Edgy SnowJob helps sponsors reach youth: MuchMusic’s venerable mountain-top concerts take sponsorship to new heights p.B8