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Sponsorship 2.0

It’s time to re-wire broadcast sponsorship so that it works for the next generation of viewers, argues Ardi Kolah

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As readers of this column will recall, a couple of months ago I wrote about Harveys Furniture taking over the sponsorship of ITV's 'Coronation Street'.

So are you missing the Cadbury break bumpers or haven't you noticed as yet?

Depending on your point of view, the switch from chocolate manufacturer to furniture retailer sponsor has been seamless -- or instantly forgettable. I'll leave you to decide for yourself but you can guess what's coming, can't you.

I think the rot had started to set in well before Harveys arrived at the Street.

As a regular 'Corrie' viewer, familiarity seemed to breed indifference and even fatigue despite regular copy changes and numerous executions made by Cadbury's over the past decade.

Worryingly for the brand owner, Cadbury's had become almost invisible -- a bumper blur, a mere cue to retune to 'Corrie' consciousness. And for the large part this broadcast sponsorship didn't deliver the goods in my opinion as there wasn't any real attempt to engage with the audience, let alone build a dialogue with it.

Although it may have made commercial sense a decade ago to use broadcast sponsorship as a cheaper alternative to TV advertising, the media landscape has radically changed to such an extent that such a brand strategy has well and truly reached its sell-by date.

It's time to re-wire broadcast sponsorship so that it reaches the next generation of viewers.

Today, viewers are more savvy and bored much more easily. Brand owners have to work much harder to attract and then maintain their interest. And the metrics for measuring success have also become so much more demanding.

So it's disappointing that Harveys didn't appear to have learned the lessons of the past and take the opportunity to raise its game. Instead, it opted to chew on a similarly idle sponsorship confection -- Harveys the Furniture Store now saunters down the Street with no more creative flair than the animation of a few ornaments in the break bumpers.

So just where is the synergy with the audience? And why should we care?

Clearly, Harveys have a tome of research to chuck at me that underscores its decision to invest in this high-profile broadcast sponsorship opportunity but why leave the connection in any doubt? Why not knit the two entities together in some way? Why not create something newsworthy? Why not engage the audience? Why not open a dialogue?

Sure, there's a mobile short code on the screen. There's even a spot of data capture via a couple of 'Corrie' competitions on Harveys' website, but who would know they were there? Did you?

Andrew McMorran, the co-founder of QM, a new style brand marketing and sponsorship agency that advocates Sponsorship 2.0, observes: "There seems to be a degree of confusion between managing a response and trying to initiate a relationship."

"On screen short-codes or iTV red buttons are only channels. They were novel once but they aren't reasons to engage or calls to action. Remember the days when you had to have a website just because everyone else did? Well, it's the same problem, but different technology", says McMorran. And of course he's got a point.

On the face of it, we seem to have been presented with a range of doors through which Harveys would like us to enter its brand world. But why would we? There aren't any windows so we can't see what delights await us on the inside. And without any windows the doors may as well be locked.

"A good sponsorship today isn't just a chance to borrow someone else's audience for a while. It's an opportunity to create your own.

McMorran said: "By fusing a brand's essential values, personality and business with that of an event, property or programme it's possible to develop something new that adds value to both parties. Splicing brand genetics like this can give rise to truly innovative new initiatives. Events, programmes, tournaments, games, films, books are all new possibilities that, if created with integrity, will appeal to the shared audiences of both parents. Importantly, authenticity is vital if both brands are to retain credibility."

This rewiring of the traditional approach to broadcast sponsorship is what Sponsorship 2.0 is all about. It also has other benefits, too. Both parties learn hugely from one another in the process. Brand owners begin to regard their customers as audiences that need to be entertained from time to time. And similarly, broadcasters begin to appreciate that their audiences can be customers and monetised directly.

Adherence to slavish convention will only repeat the mistakes of the past and superficial associations between parties will only ever be of limited value.

Lazy but well publicised sponsor associations may generate a degree of industry gossip, even some mainstream spin if the PR agency did its job but the initial excitement will quickly give way to boredom, indifference or both.

We've got to be better than that. We need to see what everyone has seen but think what nobody else has thought.

Sponsorship today requires those of us who work in this industry to spark interest, ignite conversations, inspire people to engage and get involved. We need to embrace technology and the way that it allows us to connect people, brands, media and broadcasters in ways that haven't yet been dreamed of.

Whether B2B, B2C, B2B2C or P2P it doesn't matter which stream you swim in -- allowing the power of community to flow through the veins of your sponsorship programme will ensure that your new sponsorship comes alive and has a purpose.

By creating communities of interest, you're more likely to stimulate audiences to engage with your brand -- rather than trigger the automatic mute switch that's programmed to work whenever you appear on the small screen.

Ardi Kolah's new book Sponsorship Works: A Brand Marketer's Casebook is available from SportBusiness (www.sportbusiness.com). Price £149.00.

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