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When A Brand Loses Its Shine

Saturn's Rings Photo Credit: NASA, ESA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

When a brand loses its shine, the image and reputation of partnering brands are at stake. But if all marketing partners maintain strong brands, the synergy gained from co-branding is priceless.

Sponsors orbit sports properties, generating an aura that may benefit those around them. This halo effect can produce positive or negative energy. Here we will explore both the positive and negative aspects of sports sponsorships.

Six Positive Benefits of Sports Sponsorship:

  1. Corporate sponsors have the potential to expand their reach and enhance brand image.
  2. Through co-branding initiatives sponsors can increase brand value.
  3. Sponsors generate awareness through advertising, promotion, public relations, and corporate communications.
  4. Sponsor hospitality programs provide networking opportunities for business development.
  5. Sponsors attract other sponsors.
  6. Sponsors provide marketing and financial support.

Economic advantages – Sponsors generate revenue and offset expenses through sponsorship fees and in-kind contributions. In-kind donations may come in the form of products, services, technology, and know-how. These budget-relieving contributions have real value.

Long-term benefits of sponsor activation – Key to a successful sponsorship is the sponsor’s activation of co-branded sports marketing campaigns. This is a major consideration when negotiating sports sponsorship deals. Discuss activation plans in advance so both parties can leverage their relationship. In the long run, how much upfront fee dollars a sponsor is willing to spend may be less important than investments in sponsorship activation and co-branded marketing campaigns.

Mutually beneficial relationships – The best sponsorship relationships are symbiotic. The parties benefit mutually. Corporate sponsors promote their brands using the sports property as a platform. There may be entertainment value, signage, media exposure, social networking opportunities, grassroots promotions, cause-marketing, and even interactive gaming. The possibilities are endless.

Disadvantages of sports sponsorship – A sponsorship relationship is most beneficial when both parties maintain strong brands that play off each other. When the image or reputation of a partner starts to fail, the relationship becomes unhealthy. If the decline continues it could pull down participating brands and potentially result in a loss of goodwill and brand equity. This is why it benefits the organizations to maintain a distinction between their brands.

Fall from grace – The potential for a business to loose its prominence and fall from grace always exists, even when the likelihood may be remote. For instance, the business could encounter quality problems, face an unexpected change of control, or experience a major disaster or corporate fraud. Any association with a disreputable brand is harmful, and sometimes it’s disastrous.

Protect Your Brand – Take the following steps to help maintain brand distinction and protect your brand from the unexpected downfall of aligned sponsors. These five steps can help sports properties maintain their shine.

  1. Avoid derivative marks, leading to brand dilution and confusion.
  2. Maintain clear separation with brand distinction.
  3. Maintain strong brand identity.
  4. Negotiate an anti-ambush provision along with a cross-license.
  5. Establish mark usage and approval guidelines.

Avoid derivative marks – Avoid inadvertently creating a derivative mark. On occasion, an overzealous designer might combine brands into a new graphic element. Accidentally or intentionally creating a derivative mark has the potential to cause confusion and dilute the brands.

Maintain clear separation and brand distinction – When activating sports sponsorships, keep brand identities separate and distinct. Co-branding does not necessitate a blurring of brand identities. Work to keep them strong.

The size and placement of participating brands can vary. When signing a title sponsor, the name of the sports property should be prominently displayed in the title along with the sponsor’s brand name. The lead sponsor’s logo will typically be presented in a larger type and a more prominent position than supporting partners. But don’t allow a title sponsor to compete with the sports property.

Maintain strong brand identity – Sports properties are more valuable when they have a strong identity of their own that attracts sponsors. When granting exclusivity to a title sponsor for naming rights, maintain the identity of the sports property. When the sponsorship period ends, what happens to brand equity and goodwill value in the name if the reputation is credited solely to the sponsor? This can be a problem for sports properties that don’t develop identities apart from their sponsors. There have been situations where lifetime sponsorship deals have been renegotiated with marketing partners. A sports organization has little negotiating leverage if it does not maintain it’s own brand image and identity.

Negotiate an anti-ambush provision along with a cross-license – When negotiating agreements with marketing partners include an anti-ambush marketing provision along with a cross-license. Grant use of marks under predefined terms and conditions. An anti-ambush clause will help protect sports marks from sponsor on sponsor ambush.

Establish marks usage and approval guidelines – Be sure to include written trademark guidelines and establish a marks approval procedure. I recommend developing a formal procedure for submitting, reviewing, and approving all applications in which marks are used. Publish a standards and style guide for the brand. Don’t leave quality and consistency to chance.

Look for more articles about Sports Marketing & Management within this blog. Parts 1 and 2, Brand with Star Power  and Guard Against Falling Stars,  of this three-part series are now available.

Share your thoughts and experiences about building strong brand identities through activation of sports sponsorships.


  © 2012 Anne Wall, All Rights Reserved.

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