Edgy SnowJob helps sponsors reach youth

Teens and young adults probably make up the toughest market to reach in Canada. Luckily MuchMusic, arguably Canada's on-air king of the youth demo, will literally climb mountains to help sponsors connect....

Teens and young adults probably make up the toughest market to reach in Canada. Luckily MuchMusic, arguably Canada’s on-air king of the youth demo, will literally climb mountains to help sponsors connect.

MuchMusic’s SnowJob live music event was originally conceived way back in 1993 as a response to spring break escapades in the southern U.S. This month’s version, featuring such groups as Shaggy and Our Lady Peace, along with guest hosts Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina The Teenage Witch) and Canadian Brendan Fehr (Roswell), kicked off March 6 at the Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, B.C.

The concept is simple. Anyone with a ski pass can travel up the mountain to watch the music and other activities over the six days the event takes place. Around 15,000 skiers and snowboarders – including 25 contest winners – are expected to check out the antics overseen by the 100 MuchMusic staffers in attendance.

The whole event is filmed, and the resulting footage will fill hours of time on the specialty music service during the week of March 12. Almost half of SnowJob’s TV audience will be in the 12 to 17 age group, but older-skewing sponsors are hoping this group of wannabes will also associate itself with products aimed at the 18 to 29 group.

This year’s sponsors include Nike, Pantene, Sprite, Beer.com and Ford Motor Company of Canada, some of which seem like more natural partners than others. But according to CHUM Specialty TV’s senior marketing manager Randy Mauskopf, ‘You cannot limit yourself to snowboards, skiers and music on a mountain. The event really defines an attitude.’

For all five sponsors, the relationship with Much lasts for almost four months. It starts with the promotional hype in January, includes the event itself and ends with a highlight package that runs for six hours in April. All of the sponsors pay the same undisclosed fee for a media package that centres on TV ad time. It’s estimated that the event costs around $300,000 to produce.

Of the sponsors, Sprite is the most obvious fit. The Coca-Cola brand has been leveraging the edginess of the snowboarding scene for some time now, and is currently mounting an on-air and transit campaign featuring a naked ‘boarder.

Sprite is in for the long-term, confirms Tim Goudie, Sprite’s senior youth brands leader, noting that if you don’t make a commitment, ‘teens will smell a rat’ and all credibility will be lost.

On site, the brand is building a Sprite Big Air Jam demonstration area to showcase some of Canada’s top snowboarders. While Sprite will have some signage surrounding the construction, MuchMusic tries to keep this to a minimum, both to avoid over-commercializing the event and to stem conflicts between event sponsors and existing musician sponsors.

Pantene is a less obvious partner for SnowJob, but the Procter & Gamble shampoo brand is keen on maximizing exposure for its recent youth-skewing facelift. ‘When you target teenagers, you want to make it interesting and exciting, and this certainly is a platform that allows us to do this,’ says Stefani Valkonen, public affairs manager for Pantene.

P&G is attempting to build awareness among young adults and teens for Pantene shampoos, conditioners and styling products by showing off unique and individualistic hairstyles the products can enhance. The company has had a long association with Much and believes there’s a ‘natural fit’ with SnowJob for the Pantene relaunch.

Along with buying up advertising space during the event’s broadcast, the company also plans to mobilize the heads of those attending the event by providing shampoo samples to most of the hotels at the resort. Still, Pantene is not committing itself at this stage to returning for SnowJob 2002 – for now the sponsorship is a one-off to mark the packaging redesign.

Given the age of MuchMusic’s TV audience, Ford may seem like a stretch, but Kevin Zimic, Ford of Canada’s manager of sponsorships and national marketing programs, says it doesn’t hurt to get ‘em while they’re young – especially when you’re showcasing a ‘first buy’ car like the Ford Focus, or a youthful all-terrain SUV.

To that end, Ford is trying to stand out from the sponsor crowd with a competition that will see five couples from across Canada taking part in a road rally around Southern B.C. that winds up at Sun Peaks. While not in the Survivor class, the event will award the winner a brand new Ford Escape SUV.

Zimic believes that those in the 18 to 29 age group understand that sponsorship is necessary for events to take place, but warns that marketers risk being resented if they push too hard with large signage or aggressive promotions.

He says Ford’s SnowJob effort is about creating a little brand awareness and getting recognition for bringing some added value to the event. Zimic says he knows that Ford is usually seen as a big, conservative carmaker, and the link to SnowJob is part of the ‘gradual youthification’ of both the Escape and Focus brands.

Beer.com, the ‘everything about beer’ Web site owned by Labatt parent company Interbrew, is another sponsor looking to reach the older end of MuchMusic’s viewing audience. Like Pantene, Beer.com is celebrating a relaunch, this one a March 5 overhaul that saw the end of outsourced content.

Group media manager Ron Christie, who handles the account for Toronto’s Palmer Jarvis DDB Downtown, says SnowJob has a ‘strong demographic fit’ with the people the lifestyle Internet site is designed to attract. He describes Beer.com’s audience as ‘males, ages 18 to 24, who are interested in beer, women, music, sports and cyber-gadgets.’

Along with on-air ads promoting the site, Beer.com will tie in with a number of giveaways and post information on the ‘best beer events’ taking place in the subscriber’s area.

As with all live events, the spontaneity that helps give SnowJob its edge can also lead to hiccups for sponsors.

This year’s biggest glitch was the threat of protests by several local First Nations groups eager to heighten awareness of ongoing land claims against the federal and provincial governments in the Sun Peaks area. While there was some concern that the event was at risk, all the sponsors were kept informed about the ongoing negotiations. One, speaking confidentially, says that while there were a few anxious moments, sponsors were generally confident that MuchMusic would ‘do the right thing.’

At press time, it looked like MuchMusic’s damage control was on track. In return for public statements, such as one from the channel’s vice-president and general manager David Kines saying that ‘MuchMusic respects the Secwepemc land claims process, and urges the federal and B.C governments to resolve this outstanding issue,’ local First Nation leaders recently endorsed the event. And that may have just been the most important endorsement Much brokered all year.

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

- Beyond signage: Using equity to make your sponsorship soar p.B9