£40m for a t-shirt? There must be another way.

Budgets are tight. Marketing budgets even more so. “Do more for less” remains the mantra of corporate life. In this context, spending £40m on a football shirt sponsorship deal is far outside the reach of many brands. What does this sort of expenditure really achieve? Is it the best use of marketing funds? Perhaps it is time to revisit the sponsorship model and try something different.

Traditional ‘old world’ views of sponsorship are pretty simple. Write a cheque for a lot of money and then pop a logo on an athlete’s shirt or a perimeter board. Better still, spend a bit more money to tell people that your logo is on the shirt. With a bit of luck, the athlete will say nice things about you and, usually for a bit more money, will tweet about you.

The logic behind this view is simple. Exposure is valuable – it drives brand awareness and helps support the image of the brand. This can lead to consideration – the magic bullet that help drive sales. On a very superficial level, this feels correct – but there are a lot of assumptions made that are hard to prove.

For example, it may be assumed that if a celebrity wears your logo, the public who see it will perceive that they endorse your product and brand. We may also assume that the love the public have for the celebrity might rub off on your brand. It is very hard to measure and prove these connections. Media agencies will be able to tell you how many seconds your logo appeared on TV and what value that would have had if you were to buy the equivalent advertising space. But this does not tell you the real impact of the sponsorship on your brand and sales. Advertising value, awareness and recall seem weak ways to justify the significant expenditure on a sponsorship.

To many sponsors and rights holders, sponsorship means putting logos on clothing and events. It may be expensive and broad brush, but many businesses do this and seem happy. However, I think there is a change in the air. The notions of integrated campaign marketing have reached the world of sponsorship. I believe there is a stronger and better way to approach sponsorships.

First of all, let’s move away from this notion of ‘sponsorship’. They are marketing partnerships. They should be managed, treated and measured exactly as other marketing activities. They should get the same rigorous assessment before and after campaigns. However, marketing partnerships are more than other campaigns. They offer something different and exciting.

Consumer emotion is a powerful thing. Passion sells. We know that there can be a strong emotional connection between a customer and a rights holder (partner). In the world of sport, we might call this fanship. In arts and charities they are supporters or collectors. The scale of fanship varies – from a passing interest to fanatic. When this scale of emotion is recognised and maximised by brands, marketing partnerships become invaluable marketing tools.

Understanding your audience, their motivations and needs is fundamental to marketing. To get the most out of marketing partnerships, I believe we should take the same approach. Put the customer at the heart of our marketing partnership. Understand and tap into their emotional connection and involvement with the rights holder.

Supporters and followers of a sports team are much more likely to see and be interested in marking activity that involves their team. These supporters may already contribute significant time and resource into their team. As such, it is likely that they will be grateful to partnering brands for the support they offer. This can have huge power. Imagine the outpouring of love from the world’s Manchester United fans if you could tell them how your brand’s investment helped the team to win a cup. To only focus on driving awareness here would be a missed opportunity.

Different audience groups react and respond to marketing partnerships in different ways. Understanding, measuring and interpreting this is hard, but possible. The customer should be at the heart of all marketing thinking and decision making. At last, the sponsorship industry is about to catch up.