Why ‘Top-Down’ Is Better Than ‘Bottom-Up’ For Sponsorship Activation

Most brands know sponsorship is a great way to connect their brand to their target audience. Most brands strive to deliver great campaigns and activation programmes. Most brands take a ‘bottom-up’ approach to campaign activation.

Most brands get activation wrong.

But why is this the case? More importantly, what can brands do about it?

In simple terms, a ‘bottom-up’ approach to campaign activation mean brands (in this order);

1. assess the sponsorship rights at their disposal

2. devise the activation programme to leverage those rights

3. articulate a campaign idea to connect the activation programme to the brand

Successful brands take a ‘top-down’ approach to campaign activation, meaning they start from the top with the campaign idea itself. Only once the blue sky thinking has been done do thoughts shift towards grounding the central thought that connects the brand, asset and target audience to an activation programme and sponsorship rights. Implementing a ‘top-down’ approach is the only way to ensure the brand tells a rich, compelling and coherent  campaign story.

P&G’s “Proud Sponsor of Mums” tagline has proven fertile ground for rich campaign ideas to connect brand, target audience and asset. The brand’s global sponsorship agreement with the International Olympic Committee enables the company to take the Olympic Games to the 4 billion consumers worldwide served by P&G brands. For the London 2012 Olympic Games, the consumer goods company created the Nearest & Dearest platform, which supported the friends and family of all the athletes in the lead up to and during the Games. Rights were also put to use in “The Hardest Job is the Best Job - Raising an Olympian” campaign, which brought to life the dedication of mums across the world in helping their kids to achieve their dreams. First channelled through digital and social media platforms 100 days before the Opening Ceremony, P&G leveraged every asset available to maximise the sponsorship.

Capital One’s overarching campaign idea to 'Support the Supporters' has been brilliantly brought to life through their sponsorship of the Football League Cup, better known as the Capital One Cup.

Stepping in to help Shrewsbury Town FC increase stadium capacity ahead of their Round 4 tie against Chelsea is a good example of an activation linked to a great campaign idea.

By its very nature, the League Cup presents Capital One with the opportunity to activate at each round of the competition, helping the brand uphold its commitment to supporting the supporters through great activation.

In another example from this season, Capital One gave Nottingham Forest FC fans the chance to unite and pay their respects to Forest legend Brian Clough. The Nottingham-based credit card company handed out over 1,000 iconic green jumpers, synonymous with ‘Cloughie’, to all Forest fans who travelled on the official supporters’ coaches to White Hart Lane for the tie against Tottenham Hotspur in September. The gesture struck the right chord amongst players, fans and media alike, helping reinforce Capital One’s commitment to the territory of ‘Support’.

BMW’s “Drive Your Team” campaign and branded content at the 2014 Ryder Cup also stood out for all the right reasons. Not only did it represent the brand and product values, it gave fans high-quality, emotive and selective content to help them get behind their team by using the #DriveYourTeam hashtag.

BMW has a rich heritage in golf, sponsoring the Ryder Cup and other golfing tournaments, and kicked off their 2014 Ryder Cup campaign with an integrated social activity, including a full BMW Twitter profile takeover, followed up with a fan competition (for Ryder Cup tickets), live content and finally rounded off the activation with a series of celebratory images.

Brands that put first things first and implement a ‘top-down’ approach will continue to create the showcase campaigns of tomorrow. Ultimately, brands which go ‘bottom-up’ may risk ending up at bottom of the pile…

A year like no other: Synergy’s 2014

As another year comes to an end, now seems a suitable time to reflect on a whirlwind 12 months for Synergy.

Here we outline some of our most innovative work in 2014, what the wider implications are for the industry, and what other campaigns have caught our eye and set the benchmark for what will undoubtedly be another busy and exciting year:

JANUARY

What we did:

2014 kicked off slightly early for some of the team at Synergy, who were at Twickenham activating IG’s inaugural sponsorship of The Big Game. Through the ‘Big Game, Bright Lights’ campaign, we looked to capitalise on the down-time that half-time offers and re-invigorate the crowd for the second half. By innovatively using Twickenham’s LED inventory, fans experienced an audio-visual spectacular that connected IG’s brand with Harlequins and gave fans the chance to win some amazing prizes.

Industry insight:

Half-time at sports games have often felt like a necessary evil for sports fans in the UK; a short break to allow the players to recover and fans to visit the facilities. The Pepsi Half-time show at the SuperBowl in February emphasised that US sport is still the benchmark for half-time entertainment, but IG’s work at Twickenham showed that, with a clear insight and innovative use of standard sponsorship inventory, the half-time break may no longer simply be used as an excuse to get the drinks in.

FEBRUARY

What we did:

The RBS 6 Nations tends to dominate the sporting agenda in February, and is often when Synergy is at its most active. As part of the RBS 6 Nations activation, Synergy helped to produce a series of films based on defining moments from the tournament. These films truly encapsulated the values of sportsmanship, perseverance and teamwork that the brand and the fans love about The Championship.

Industry insight:

Capturing sport’s inherent ‘truths’ like this, and amplifying them to produce content of interest, based on real insight, is a gift that fans want to receive. Guinness also managed this feat, with their films in honour of Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams and Bill McLaren, whilst Barclays’s impressively moving Premier League film captured the essence of the match day experience that makes football so special for fans, and so valued by brands.

MARCH

What we did:

The Capital One Cup Final in March saw the climax of Capital One’s season-long campaign focused on ‘supporting the supporters’. As part of the Final activity, Capital One looked to maximise the audience of the final by offering free Now TV passes to those not lucky enough to have access to Sky Sports. This was a big gesture that delivered true value to football fans, who would otherwise have missed the first final of the 2013/14 season.

Industry insight:

Extending the true excitement of an event beyond those lucky enough to attend is a challenge facing a number of brands and rightsholders. However, alongside Capital One’s work, there have been a number of other examples in 2014 of brands bringing events closer to non-ticket-holders. Two that we particularly enjoyed were The National Theatre’s continued commitment to its National Theatre Live programme, which involves live screenings of theatre shows at local cinemas, and Manchester United’s partnership with Google+ that allowed fans around the world to ‘be’ at Old Trafford by appearing live on the pitch-side perimeter boards.

APRIL

What we did:

In order to kick off MasterCard’s partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy created a photo moment on the Thames involving All Blacks legend Dan Carter kicking conversions over Tower Bridge. As emphasised on the Synergy blog, a good photo idea has to be reinforced with insight and good management in order to be successful. Both of these boxes were emphatically ticked here, with the resultant images capturing the imagination of the national media and providing one of the most compelling sports PR shots in recent memory.

Industry insight:

Other striking PR shots that grabbed our attention this year included the Yorkshire Building Society dying 150 sheep yellow in honour of the Tour de France and Puma’s water projection on The Thames to launch the new Arsenal kit. Once again, these examples looked fresh and innovative and therefore excited the media and fans alike.

What we did:

BUPA’s ‘My First Step’ campaign looked to get more people running by emphasising the ease with which people could start, or re-start, training. As part of the planning, BUPA and Synergy found that 60% of UK adults believed that their bodies would not be up to running once they reached 60, a myth BUPA looked to dispel as part of the campaign. 63 year-old non-runner Jennie Bond was recruited as an ambassador, as we followed her training journey that culminated in her completing the BUPA London 10,000 event.

Industry insight:

Consumer insight is clearly crucial for a successful sponsorship campaign, with the best examples based on thorough planning. Whilst the success of the ‘My First Step’ campaign was built on a relevant and robust consumer insight, we make no excuses for including another piece of Synergy work from 2014 that emphasised the importance of understanding a target audience. Ahead of Round 4 of the Capital One Cup, Capital One gave Brian Clough-style green jumpers to Nottingham Forest’s away fans at Tottenham as a tribute to their legendary manager. The story and images received widespread acclaim and, whilst the execution was impressive, the success of the story was thanks to the team’s insight around the 10th anniversary of Clough’s death and his unforgettable status within the game.

JUNE

What we did:

June at Synergy signalled the launch of Coca-Cola’s ParkLives project. Following many months of in-depth planning and research, the aim of getting more people more active more often was brought to life through this bespoke programme in partnership with local councils, which provides free activity classes for local people in local parks in cities across the UK.

Industry insight:

The planning for the ParkLives campaign re-iterated that self-created programmes can often be the best way for brands to achieve their CSR goals, rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf proposition. Another great example of this in 2014 was Western Union’s ‘Pass’ programme around the brand’s UEFA Europa League sponsorship. Each successful pass made during the competition signified a contribution of financial support for quality education of young people around the world.

JULY

What we did:

The SSE team at Synergy were up in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the culmination of the brand’s GoGlasgow campaign. One of our many roles up in Scotland was managing SSE’s experiential activity on Glasgow Green, which allowed fans to capture a unique photo of themselves supporting their nation. Importantly this activity linked seamlessly into SSE’s wider campaign and fed into a digital leaderboard that acted as a real-time tracker on the conversations around the Games.

Industry insight:

Whilst by no means a new trend, by linking the experiential activity to the wider campaign and creating a strong digital output, the reach of SSE’s footprint went far beyond those lucky people at the Glasgow Green live site, and therefore generated significant engagement levels. Another really simple idea that we loved from this year was Nescafé’s activity in Croatia that again blended the online and offline world simply and effectively to create a fun and shareable experience.

AUGUST

What we did:

A couple of crazy days in late August saw Synergy manage the media launches for both the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership 2014/15 rugby seasons, and give journalists, staff and fans unique access to two of the biggest club rugby competitions in Europe. The Guinness launch focused on staff engagement at Diageo’s global HQ in London, which gave employees the chance to quiz the Pro 12 captains; whilst Aviva’s event at Twickenham harnessed the Twitter reach of several of the players by creating the first ever ‘Captains selfie’ which provided fans with a fun, new viewpoint of the launch.

Industry insight:

One of the obvious benefits of sponsorship as a marketing tool is the ability for a brand to give their target audience behind-the-scenes access to something about which they care passionately. Whilst not specifically a launch, The FA’s use of the trophy to promote the sense of adventure around the upcoming third round of The FA Cup is a heart-warming example of a rightsholder giving fans unique access to something special (in this case, young fans being able to take the trophy on a series of their own adventures).

SEPTEMBER

What we did:

2014 has been a massive year for Martini and Synergy, as we have helped take the iconic stripes back to the Formula 1 grid through the title partnership of Williams Martini Racing. In September, at Martini’s home race at Monza, a massive pan-European trade promotion reached its climax, with consumers and trade partners having the chance to experience an exclusive Italian weekend. This included rooftop parties, power boating on Lake Como and, of course, access to the Italian Grand Prix itself, and Synergy were on-hand to ensure this massive operation ran smoothly.

Industry insight:

Global sponsorships don’t get much bigger that a Formula 1 car deal, and Martini have used their sponsorship effectively to create unique promotions that engage with their target audiences. We also loved Coca-Cola’s huge FIFA World Cup on-pack promotion – offering consumers the chance to win one of a million footballs. For a brand that is committed to helping people get more active, this was a bold statement of intent. The additional element of a 10p donation to StreetGames for every purchase showed a brand that is embracing the Social Era and also reiterated that sponsorship, shopper marketing and CSR can work brilliantly together when applied correctly.

OCTOBER

What we did:

October was all about The 2014 Ryder Cup, and the BMW and SLI teams at Synergy used their sponsorships in very different ways to achieve their objectives. BMW focused on generating sales leads and bringing fans closer to the action, with all activity centring on the #DriveYourTeam hashtag, whilst SLI used the tournament to demonstrate their ‘World Class As Standard ‘proposition. Two unique content strategies helped to achieve these objectives, with BMW focusing on using Twitter to create relevant and reactive golf content for fans and SLI creating long-form video content with ambassadors Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange to connect the World Class attributes of The Ryder Cup with Standard Life Investments.

Industry insight:

As we all know, a single sporting platform can be approached in very different ways, and a third brand (this time a non-sponsor) who once again used The Ryder Cup as a prime PR opportunity was Paddy Power, and we loved their approach, using a tongue-in-cheek appearance from Nigel Farage to extol the virtues of Europe coming together.

NOVEMBER

What we did:

The QBE Internationals are always a busy time in Synergy’s calendar and this year we were busy creating fantastic social content for our new client, and England kit manufacturer, Canterbury. Using Canterbury’s innovative new shirt fabric as our literal canvas and creating messaging that linked the product with the team, we were able to put an innovative spin on real-time messaging and put the shirt at the heart of Canterbury’s content.

Industry insight:

As the fan appetite for real-time content continues to grow, the evolving challenge for brands is how to get serious cut-through from their communications. We therefore also liked Virgin Media’s real-time newsroom during the Commonwealth Games, which created fun, amusing and – most importantly – differentiated sponsor content throughout the Games.

DECEMBER

What we did:

December has seen another milestone reached for Synergy, as the first instalment in a series of Royal Salute videos inspired by the world of horsemanship, reached over a million views on YouTube (across four geo-tagged edits for different markets). This visually stunning video beautifully encapsulates the bond between man and horse, and is perfectly in keeping with a luxury brand with a strong heritage in polo.

Industry insight:

We have thought about some of the other content we have enjoyed in 2014 and in no particular order, three of our favourites include:

Beats By Dre – The Game Before The Game

The ultimate ambusher pulled off a masterstroke – brilliantly framing the key moment before a game (the moment when Beats headphones have an obvious and key role for the players) with a little help from among others – Neymar (and his dad), Fabregas, Van Persie, Lebron, Serena and even the two stars of the World Cup final – Schweinsteiger and Gotze. The presence of the pantomime villain Suarez didn’t even detract from it!

Nike Football – The Last Game

We loved how Nike brought out the personalities of their superstars and used animation in a fresh and interesting way, helping them to get around the obvious problems of bringing together a wealth of their talent for a shoot. The medium also opened the door brilliantly to the unique #AskZlatan real-time content series.

Always #LikeAGirl

A very different video – and one that doesn’t rely on any talent costs or high production values – but in an incredibly focused, simple and beautiful way reinforces Always’ commitment to empowering girls globally.

What do all of these videos have in common? All four of them are (in very different ways) tapping into something of genuine interest and relevance – whether a moment or a movement – and therefore people in their millions have actively chosen to watch, talk about and share them.

For Synergy, 2014 has unquestionably been a year to savour in sponsorship – here’s to another great year for the industry in 2015.

Does the rapid growth of eSports show it provides a legitimate alternative to real sport for brands?

As consumption patterns of music, entertainment and sport continue to shift, so too does the approach of rights holders, brands and agencies. The growth and quality of internet access has allowed new pursuits to spawn in the past 15 years and offers huge opportunities for entrants into the leisure market.

Source: Battlefy (2014)

Internet broadcasting, through PPV platforms, YouTube channels or bespoke social networks and apps have allowed a new generation of superstars, spectators and key influencers. The rise of created sports (Slamball, Crashed Ice), Fantasy Sports and Professional Gaming has allowed brands to connect with a generation of millennials that they may not otherwise have. Professional gaming is not a new phenomenon, with Space Invaders tournaments taking place as early as the 1980s. The growth of the internet, and thus multiplayer platforms, has seen the number of participants and prize money soar, as shown in the graph above. As consumer interest has risen, so has media interest, with bespoke satellite channels, and more recently internet channels, providing widespread coverage of tournaments.

Major channels including ESPN, CBS and DirecTV have all covered professional gaming, however, internet channels such as Twitch (recently purchased by Amazon for $970m) and MLG.tv have been the major media platforms. Both platforms have huge subscriber bases, dedicated social media communities, and continue to grow exponentially. In 2013, 45 million unique users watched 12 billion minutes of video on Twitch, from six million videos, while 58% of the users spend more than 20 hours a week on the streaming site. These figures place Twitch in the same league as the top cable TV channels, while peak viewing (at 4.5 million live viewers) is comparable to major sporting events such as the Stanley Cup Finals. While traditionally appealing to a niche, hardcore community of fanatical gamers, the appeal is now spreading to more casual gamers, and thus appealing to more consumer brands. Samsung & Movistar were two of the initial backers; Samsung partnering with the World Cyber Games, and a pro team. On Monday (15th December), Coca-Cola live streamed an eSports Game-a-thon from their global HQ in Atlanta. Five renowned gamers took part in five games, streamed over Twitch, with the winner donating the prize pool to a charity of their choice. It is all part of a conscious focus from Coke, which includes support for the League of Legends, and a dedicated Twitter gaming account with 204,000 followers.

Both FIFA & NASCAR have entered into the world of professional gaming, with the FIFA Interactive World Cup (almost 2 million players), and the NASCAR iRacing series. The number of participants is relatively low, compared to the number involved in other eSports titles, however, brand involvement is arguably more advanced in this space. FIFA and NASCAR both make use of the existing partners they have in place, with Sony heavily involved in the Interactive World Cup, while car manufacturers have allowed access to ‘digital versions’ of their cars across the iRacing series. By getting in early, have FIFA and NASCAR found a niche in the market which will convert gamers into real life? Or are they just seeking to avoid football and racing fans defecting to gaming?

Whether across Twitch and MLG.tv or YouTube and Netflix, a generation of millennials is accustomed to consuming their content on TVs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. As the broadcast model continues to evolve, so too does the opportunity for ‘challenger’ sports such as professional gaming. With prize pools, audiences and awareness increasing, it is only a matter of time before more consumer brands become involved.

Whilst ‘YouTubers’ establish themselves as the next generation of influencers alongside actors, musicians and athletes, so too will brands wanting to tap into the generation of millennials. Indeed, this new generation of influencers are starting to impact ‘real’ sport, with one ‘YouTuber’, John Green, investing some of his personal advertising revenue as a sponsor of AFC Wimbledon.

The 5 Key Olympic Sponsorship Implications of the IOC’s Agenda 2020

Bach

Earlier this week the IOC approved the 40 recommendations in new IOC President Thomas Bach's Olympic Agenda 2020, the 'strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement'. Although the overall implications have been extensively covered elsewhere - check out in particular this excellent piece by David Owen - no-one has yet looked in detail at the key implications for Olympic sponsorship. So, here's my view.

1. Buyability: Bach puts clear water between the IOC and FIFA

The Agenda 2020 white paper was published a few days after FIFA once again descended into chaos. Although this was coincidental, it emphasised both how open the Agenda 2020 process was, and how clearly it was designed to make the IOC and the Olympics fit for the future - both in stark contrast to FIFA. The key word here is buyability. Agenda 2020 is not only re-assuring for existing Olympic sponsors: it also makes the IOC and the Olympics far more buyable than FIFA and the World Cup - the IOC's primary competition for potential global sponsors. In Agenda 2020, President Bach has put an ocean of buyability between himself and FIFA.

2. Partnership: actions speak louder than words

In our experience, most rights holders genuinely want to create partnerships with sponsors, but all too often find it tough to make it happen. In this respect it was very good to see how integrated IOC TOPs were in Agenda 2020, with representatives on several of the working groups. How often have you seen a rights holder embark on a process as far reaching as Agenda 2020 with its sponsors embedded in the development and execution of the recommendations? The IOC has created a new gold standard.

3. The IOC's youth strategy is still in a mess

The average age of an Olympics consumer - as defined by broadcast TV, the Olympics' primary distribution channel and revenue source - is now over fifty and rising. This is now a crisis for the IOC, which must find a way to engage with younger audiences to ensure its future and to retain and attract sponsors, and is thus a key theme of Agenda 2020. And the plain fact is that Agenda 2020 revealed that the IOC youth strategy is a long-running mess. The Youth Olympic Games - the Rogge-era IOC's ill-conceived attempt to solve the problem - has demonstrably failed in its current format, and the total re-boot approved in Agenda 2020 was long overdue. The new Olympic Channel - of which more below - is key to solving the problem. But above all it was good to see Agenda 2020 acknowledge the need that it needs strategic partners from outside the Olympic Movement, and to involve its sponsors far more, in its youth marketing strategy.

4. The Olympic Channel is all about content, not distribution

The newly-approved Olympic Channel should have been launched years ago, but wasn't for fear of damaging the IOC's cash cow, its broadcasters, particularly in the US. But now it is here, it is to be welcomed. It's a vital enabler in enabling the IOC to to take the Olympics to digital-first younger audiences. But this is not about what screens it lands on, but what lands on the screens. When the Olympic channel was first mooted I advocated strongly that the IOC should look to co-create content with its sponsors, and it was good to see that this featured (albeit with the usual IOC caveats about branding) in Agenda 2020. Above all, I hope that the IOC takes an enlightened approach to its content strategy, way beyond the archive and Olympic sports coverage. How about, for example, a strand dedicated to eSports, the Millennial gaming phenomenon, with an Olympic theme?

5. Sponsors' activation footprints should remain discretionary, not mandatory

The most potentially controversial sponsorship-specific Agenda 2020 recommendation was to introduce a programme designed to increase local activation by TOPs. This is a longstanding issue in Olympic circles. Understandably, every NOC wants TOPs to activate at scale in their country, and becomes frustrated if they don't. Equally understandably, and quite rightly, TOPs want to control the geographic footprint of their activation programmes and align them to their business priorities. This must continue, and as such in my view TOPs should resist the IOC suggestion of contractual obligations. Meanwhile, the new marketing capability programme for NOCs - to be run, interestingly, by P&G - promises to ease, if not remove, the issue.

Further reading:

Olympic Agenda 2020 Recommendations

Olympic Agenda 2020 Context and Background

Synergy Decisions – A Framework for Sponsorship Valuation

Today Synergy launches Synergy Decisions, the first ever tool developed to help brands value sponsorships in the same way that companies and other assets are valued. Sponsorship can impact business revenue and costs, so should therefore be treated as any other financial asset, rather than just marketing activity, or as a communications channel.Synergy Decisions will help brands enhance their understanding of how much value sponsorship creates for their business. Other sponsorship valuation methodologies in the market today have a number of issues. In trying to address them, Synergy Decisions is a positive step forward for the sponsorship industry.Synergy Decisions has spent the past year in beta testing where it has successfully helped four different brands make significant investment and resource allocation decisions. Having gained this experience, we are now in a position to roll it out more broadly across the market.To share the detail behind the tool and how Synergy think about sponsorship value, we have written a white paper.

Read the full paper here

If you're a brand wishing to develop a richer understating of how your sponsorship portfolio creates value please contact Synergy's Tom Gladstone - tom.gladstone@synergy-sponsorship.com