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The lost treasures of sponsorship

A McDonald's World Cup promotion almost transformed the company into an unwitting benefactor to thousands of consumers. Unfortunately for the fast food giant, this was due to a miscalculation rather than the innovative mechanic of its promotion, writes Ben Stobart.

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The giveaway was in fact a greater success due to a mistake that glaringly underestimated the chances of hosts South Korea. Redemption of the mechanic was based on whether the team consumers received printed on a red card (received when buying a portion of large fries) won the World Cup. McDonald's calculated the odds and, after reviewing pre-tournament results and media coverage, printed a large amount of South Korea red cards compared with those for other teams.

Unfortunately for McDonald's, and against all odds, South Korea had amazing success in the tournament, only narrowly losing out to Germany in the semi-finals. They had been reasonably expected to make the second round at best.

Although McDonald's could not have predicted this run of events, and probably insured the promotion, many consumers were licking their lips at the prospect of winning a £50 prize or even a luxury holiday as the Far Eastern underdogs snapped at the heels of every top team that stood in their way. Coach Guus Hiddink's heroes fell at the final stages, and McDonald's, predictably, eventually ended up succeeding where many marketing promotions failed during the World Cup.

Why do global marketing behemoths pay such large amounts of marketing spend but subsequently deliver a very ordinary promotion that fails to differentiate from the competition?

Coca-Cola attempted to cash in on World Cup 2002 by offering consumers an opportunity to collect a £4.99 mini football with the purchase of a set amount of ring pulls. But it's hard to see the insightful connection that would motivate a 15-year-old to take up Coke's offer, when he or she could choose a football from the high street for the same price and less fuss.

Recent research by Arc into sports sponsorship found that the majority of "superbrands" expect to just turn up at a major event and put their names on hoardings. Many of these brands act like the French national soccer team did in Japan, expecting to get the most out of the event without addressing the main tasks at hand. Integrated campaigns can not rely solely on the clever and sensational above-the-line advertising that is rolled out for these events. If the below-the-line element does not receive the same input, why include it at all?

Our research suggests below-the-line communications can optimise the "live connections" between brand and consumer, via the event. It also epitomises the thinking that accompanies Arc's re-engineering as a global network from a global scattering of offices that used to be known as IMP -- D'Arcy's marketing services specialists.

These live connections enable a global brand to relate to consumers in a number of local markets at once, without losing the overall theme of the campaign. A promotional item that the consumer can retain long after the promotion is over will stay in the mind longer than an ephemeral TV campaign. The promotional prize acts as a keepsake from the event that first linked brand and consumer and, as such, built an emotional bond between them.

The Sun, an unofficial sponsor of the World Cup, created a cost-effective promotion that caught the mood of the British public by capitalising on England fever throughout the qualifying campaign and England's three weeks in the Far East. The newspaper, adept at such promotions, provided its readers with England merchandise such as flags and team posters. The travels of David Beckham and the England team cemented the publication as the 'people's paper'. St George's flags carrying the Sun's logo were displayed by residents and motorists across the country for months after the qualifiers and even in the weeks following the World Cup exit.

The Sun is a shining example of the advantages a simple, consumer-focused promotion holds over run-of-the-mill bogof's (buy one get one free). Peperami used imaginative below-the-line tactics in Euro '96 as an unofficial sponsor of the event. An eight-foot Peperami mascot was planted at each England game and fans were encouraged to try to smuggle it into the stadium. Connecting with the fan was paramount and the brand grew in the eyes of supporters, without spending millions of pounds on sponsorship.

In this instance, the guerrilla marketing tactics fitted the brand image of Peperami and would not necessarily be appropriate for other brands such as McDonald's. But the key ingredient of an innovative and creative approach, combined with an understanding of the fans' needs, produced real value from the event for Peperami.

Time and again a raft of promotions is developed, ignoring any connection with the brand's above-the-line message. True global brands will only remain as such if they achieve a connection at a grass roots level through the events they sponsor.

Nike was recently criticised in some quarters when its Scorpion football promotion was branded as being "unconnected" with its target market at a local level. However, the recent three-a-side competition played in the Millennium Dome demonstrated message continuity as well as supporting Nike's alternative football brand image at a local level.

Judging by the quality of recent consumer promotions, the marketing plans of a number of global brand owners are at risk of being shot down in flames if they continue to neglect their below-the-line strategies.

As market share becomes more measurable, and budget-holders more accountable, all elements of an integrated campaign must be utilised effectively, or brand owners will run the risk of wasting millions of pounds on useless sponsorships.

Ben Stobart is new-business manager at Arc in London.

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