Sep 30, 2009 at 05:43 PM
written by Michael Munson

Challenging The Idea of Category Exclusivity

You know the old adage: A job worth doing is worth doing well. When it comes to spending money on sponsorship, this isn’t always the case.

Case in point - and for proof - this week’s Sports Sponsorship Symposium. As usual, there is talk about how we need better ROI and measurement, media is not enough any more, yadda, yadda, yadda. How many years in a row are we going to hear these complaints until buying decisions and implementation methodologies are changed to deliver results that make the high priests of sponsorship stop decrying how it isn’t working well enough for them? I mean seriously, the same people (in the same positions at least) bought into the media measurement methodology, pioneered by companies like Joyce Julius, as a holistic way to measure sponsorship value and sent the message to the marketplace that sponsorship’s real value was based on media. Moreover, sponsors oftentimes continue to buy largely based on media value.

I may be a simpleton, but isn’t the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results? I mean when what you are doing isn’t working, isn’t it time to start looking at doing things differently than you have in the past? It’s like “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” when it comes to the seemingly never-ending quest for measurement. Sometimes, trying harder and more forcefully to try to generate a desired outcome actually gets you no closer to it.

Sometimes, you have to “overturn some tables” of conventional wisdom to make progress.

This first pillar of sponsorship conventional wisdom I would throw out is category exclusivity. If you are reading this, you know all about how it works, and that the lynchpin of exclusivity is protecting sponsors so no other company can usurp them in their category of sponsorship. But with ambushing being so common these days, and so much clutter out there, does exclusivity really mean anything anymore, anyway? What really matters is the activation; the better it is, the more value the sponsor will extract. Exclusivity is just a crutch and a reason for the sponsor not to push itself to do great activation. I bet if you asked 100 people who the NFL’s beer sponsor is, more would say Budweiser than the correct answer, Coors. And I can show you research I did personally that indicates it is pretty worthless as a measure of anything, let alone a sponsorship’s value.

Why should a brand that executes sponsorship well and frankly could bring value to any property, be barred from competing for customers just because there is another competitor as a sponsor with a property already? What happened to competition? It seems to me that artificially limiting competition through the quaint notion of sponsorship exclusivity allows sponsors and properties to be lazy about putting together sponsorship activations that resonate with audiences. When it takes meaningful activations to make consumers want to ring the register and move the needle for the sponsor, limiting competition to develop those activations seems misguided. I mean, absent that competition, we hear sponsorship isn’t working well enough, right?

It’s a sad irony that the same people crying about not being able to get measurable results, are the same ones that freak out at the notion of someone ambushing them. As Kim Skildum-Reid says, the best way to avoid damage from being ambushed is to put together activations that work and are valuable enough for the consumer to act on them. Do that, and you’ll get more desired outcomes. Anything else is whining. If a competitor copies you, try harder. Develop another innovation, improve your good or service, or provide more value to the market by improving the reward a consumer gets for cooperating with your sponsorship activation.

Any company should be able to sponsor any property without limitation. Sure, the assets a sponsor gets may be price-conditional, but the basics of what to build a sponsorship on – the logo and marks of the property – should be available to anybody that wants them. Sponsorships should be done like a tradeshow, where anyone that wants to make an offer to the audience a property reaches can make their case for why the audience should buy. It should not be like a private club, where unless you have a VIP pass, you aren’t getting in to meet the property’s audience to make a pitch.

Sponsorship is only going to start working better when it works better for consumers. We read all this stuff in the sports business and sponsorship press about how well two cogs in the sponsorship model are doing, the properties and sponsors, but nobody ever talks about the consumers and what needs to be done to make them participate more in the three way partnership that is sponsorship marketing. The more barriers are put up via exclusivity, the more delimitations we create and the more we hold back progress.

Consumers need to be engaged. They need to have mechanisms in place that give them reasons to participate with and buy from sponsors. Those mechanisms require inducements with and about the properties for which consumers have passion. To get better incentives and mechanisms in place to make consumers want to purchase, sponsors need to compete for the same audiences in the same categories, with the same properties. When those activations are in place, and they are working as desired, then sponsorship will be able to be quantified in a meaningful way.

May the best sponsor win.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the publisher, SponsorPitch, LLC. Mike can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter at @mjmunson. Also, don't forget to view all of Mike's previous posts.