Stupid Sponsorship Activations

Stupid Sponsorship Activations

OK, that is sort of a bold title and perhaps a little harsh, but I wanted to get your attention.

I am tired of sponsorships including lame or stupid activations, or engagements that don’t work—then the sponsors don’t renew. And no, “stupid activations” are not solely the fault of the brand which wants to do the lame activation. I blame the property just as much. They let the sponsor do it. They must have known it would not work, yet they took the money, let the sponsor do something that would not generate a positive outcome, and then blame the sponsor when it does not work—because it was “their” lame idea!

And when I say stupid, I don’t mean like Herb Tarlock on the Original WKRP in Cincinnati running a Thanksgiving station sponsorship and promotion “stupid” that included throwing turkeys out of a plane not understanding that turkeys don’t fly! I am talking about stupid or lame because, for the most part, they won’t deliver positive ROI or goals. Here are a couple of examples.

  • Recently, we were working with a facility (arena and sport complex) which hosted a ton of adult recreational hockey. A national restaurant chain with a sports bar lounge attached, that was famous for sports teams and sport events, wanted to do a sponsorship with the facility. They insisted that a rink board be the focal point of the activation and sponsorship. Their goal was to drive traffic to their sports bar after the “beer league” teams played. What a waste of money—the rights fee plus the activation costs associated with production and installation, etc. After a three-year term, they didn’t renew. Surprise! Rink boards build brand awareness—they don’t drive traffic. Who sits on the bench in the heat of the game or while facing off at centre ice and says to a teammate, “Hey let’s go for beers afterwards at ABC Restaurant and Sports Lounge?” They would have been better off providing bounce back coupons (buy one, get one free) for three months to form a habit, make sure every team player got one each week for the term of the campaign, and that they were only good on that night.
  • Last month, I was chatting with the director of development at a private school. She knows her stuff on the philanthropic side inside and out—really amazing. She engaged me for coffee just to chat about an upcoming gala and how to shift from the traditional “sponsorship/donation”—“Gold – Silver – Bronze” packages. She was struggling a little with some of the sponsors and what they traditionally wanted. She knew it would probably not deliver results. She wanted them to get results so they would come back again. One example was a local car dealer. He was insistent that he wanted some of his cars (he owns multiple dealerships in the mid-sized city) in the conference centre ballroom where the gala dinner and reception was to be held. I was pretty blunt. I said I thought it was stupid (and I have told car dealer clients this before face to face, so this was not an epiphany for me at this coffee). No one is coming to the event to look at cars. The cars are an intrusion versus enhancing the experience. Plus, no one buys a car because they saw it at a gala, in a theatre lobby, or wherever. They buy a car after a test drive. So, I challenged her to think of ways that she and the dealer could do an activation that would get “bums in seats”—test drives. What about giving everyone who makes a gift over $5,000 at the event one of the dealer’s cars for a weekend test drive? People are going to make the donations anyway. This is further incentive to donate and gets bums in seats. Or maybe focus on the graduating class. Perhaps any parent who buys a car as a grad gift for their child will have a $1,500 cash gift from the deal given to the school in the child’s name. These are ideas based on trying to get people to buy a car—not to have vehicles in the lobby making the reception space awkward and tight.

In my mind, it all comes down to doing the “discovery session.” Figure out what the sponsor needs and wants to achieve and then build an activation that will leverage or deliver those goals and objectives. Don’t run a branding activation if you are trying to drive traffic. If you know of a really stupid activation or a good one, or want to object to my thoughts on these activations, please share with me directly or on the blog! I welcome that feedback either way—positive or negative!

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  1. What? Turkeys don’t fly? No way!

    • Dave,

      News to me too man! Hope you are safe, isolated and healthy my friend. Brent

    • One of my favourite TMCs to date!

      What do you feel about activations that have nothing to do with the brand’s product? Ive have seen a car activation at a hockey game where contestants had to shoot the puck from center ice and get it underneith the car to qualify to do it again at a game later in the season. The prize, property tickets and swag and zero call to action on behalf of the car company. Unless simple branding and exposure is what the brand was after?

      Out of curiosity, in the example of the car company and the philanthropic property, what would the terms look like? Simply pay the school to be an “Official Partner” and the rest would be brand activation fees?

      Great read, as always!

      • Josh, thanks for the feedback and the questions. My feel on the activation is that a brand needs to have an objective. But more importantly it needs to align with its partner. If this was at a hockey game… I think it is great. People came to the game to watch hockey… they are hockey fans… so build an activation that engages them in what they like. They like hockey… let them shoot. So from that pretext I think it is a great activation. I don’t know their objectives or goals… so cannot comment there. Again the prize being associated to the hockey team again is right… the fan came because he or she loves the game / team… no greater prize that their team’s swag. As you note, perhaps it was brand awareness… then it might have been achieved.

        In the example.. I think there would be more assets… they could be the official car dealer, but the package would also include rights to engage, the announcement, the offer etc. as those are all onsite assets that the dealer would have to “buy” or be included in the package for them to actually activate.

  2. Great comments Brent!

    Our team in Regina came across an idea from a major dealer in another market; confirming that yes – some of the best ideas are stolen.

    To highlight a dealer at a high end event, the sponsor worked with the venue to offer a valet service. The dealership provided the drivers (sales personnel) to park the vehicles. This offered an opportunity to engage with the driver before and after the event.
    Encourage the dealership to leave behind a business card with a test drive offer on the back of a business card upon departure.

    • Cindy,

      Hey thanks for this and the feedback. What a great story and example of an activation that works. And with your land mass… you might even be able to offer a vehicle sponsor a test drive option right during an event you are hosting… pretty cool they would not have to go to the dealership for test drive… could go right from EVRAZ Place space.


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