Why Sponsorships Need Social to Survive

For many marketers the word ‘sponsorship’ can strike fear. Big budgets, lack of control, indifferent or un-trackable return. Then there’s the omnipresent human risk. Ryan Lochte, US Olympic gold medal swimmer, recently did little to alleviate those kind of sponsorship fears, but also strengthen the argument that traditional sponsorship needs social engagement to survive.

Lochte had, until last week, major sponsors including Speedo, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gentle Hair Removal and mattress makers Airweave. He won gold in the 2016 Olympics—great news for sponsors. But then he took matters into his own hands by, in his own words, “over-exaggerating” circumstances during an incident at a Rio gas station.

Sponsors acted swiftly, pulling their ties with him and, in the case of Speedo, donating $50,000 to charity.

This story elevates the challenges that sponsorship can place on marketing departments. Releasing brand control should be a primary concern for any marketer.

Lochtes’ sponsors had invested huge sums in associating themselves with his profile. But with success can come failure, and the impact of human risk can be seen across various sponsor tactics.

Even corporate sponsorship like investing in basic booths at tradeshows mean you are somewhat reliant on event managers and third party organisations promoting your brand in a manner you wish to be perceived. You have control over your activity but you pass brand elements to organisers in the hope they manage this correctly.

High Stakes of Sponsorship

But celebrity or sports sponsorship is no straight-forward trade show—it is a multi-million dollar business. Having these advocates endorsing your brand can significantly extend its reach to new audiences. But at a time when organisations are using their brand to story-tell, and establish closer connections with their audiences, it begs the question: is handing your brand to someone outside your business smart?

From a media perspective good likely outweighs the bad in terms of sponsorships. For every Lochte story, there is a Brand Beckham success (a brand reportedly pulling in $100,000 a day!). For every solitary logo on a golfer’s cap, there is a successful event sponsor. But the traditional elements of sponsorships need to be questioned.

We know that social provides us with a platform that gets us closer to our audiences than ever before. Therefore, aligning our social activity with that of our sponsorship plays gives us the data, content and engagement that we now require.

Social engagement is now vital for brand success. For example, brands looking to raise awareness through TV commercials are now faced with 80% of people skipping through commercials. Can social give us the engagement that our commercials in isolation could be lacking? Quite simply, yes, because often people love to talk on social about these programs. Sponsored social experiences give brands an easy platform to connect with their audience or consumer, which can affect your bottom line.

Social engagement also has the added benefit of brands being able to show relevance to their audience. Brands can place themselves in the right conversations, with the right audience, at the right time. This isn’t a case of just paying Kim Kardashian $10,000 to promote your tweet to the 47.5 million followers on her Twitter channel.

At this year’s Olympics in Rio, we saw this digital shift. Traditional TV was replaced by live streaming, with second screening also on the rise, highlighting the possible social engagement happening during events. NBC reported that it saw a 21% decline in the prime-time TV viewership of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games compared to the 2012 London Games. Yet they also reported reach of almost 50 million viewers in the streaming options.

The Power of Social Audience Voice

But there is also a flip side to this story. While brands continue to push their message via their sponsorship tactics, their audience has a bigger voice too.

Social media poured out their criticism of Lochte – and it was hard for the sponsors to ignore. Looking back a few years, you have to wonder if the same action would have been taken without social as a platform to air audience views. For certain sponsor activity there is a human element that simply cannot always be controlled, but the same social audiences can be critics of your TV commercials, event presences, and advertising placements, if they have a reason to raise their grievances.

The human element can excel sponsor programs or, in the case of Adidas and Manchester United, it may end up being "not exactly what we want to see."

But by aligning social activity against your sponsorship program, you have elements of content and engagement which are within your brand’s control to get closer to your audience. If your sponsorship if plunged into jeopardy, then social is a platform to take quick and measurable step to manage brand risk.

62% say they are more likely to stay engaged with brands that integrate social media, which is proof that traditional sponsorship needs social to survive.

For more information take a look at Spredfast’s whitepaper, “Welcome to the next level in sponsorships”.

Graham Forsyth's picture

Graham Forsyth

@GrahamForsyth
Graham leads Spredfast marketing efforts across EMEA and APAC to help organisations understand how to create social campaigns that resonate, curate relevant social content across every major social network to create incredible social experiences and access real-time insights, and historical data, to plan campaigns and develop content strategies.