How To Do Sponsorship Marketing

Last week I attended the Digiday Social conference in Universal City, California.  One of the topics that stood out to me was a presentation on “cause marketing.”  There are two different types of cause marketing that I would like to discuss, brand value alignment and sponsorships or microsponsorships.

At Digiday Social, a case study was presented by imc2 for Secret deodorant, a brand they have been working with since 2003.  The first type of cause marketing is finding something of marketing interest that resonates with the core values of the brand.  For example, Secret’s core brand value is “empowering women” so imc2 latched on to Lindsey Van’s petition to allow women to participate in ski jumping in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games (visit to sign the petition).  The commercial, which can be seen here on YouTube, resonated with the Digiday audience and received a round of applause, to which the speaker was unabashedly flattered.  Although the YouTube video has only received 1,500+ views, the company forwarded the LetHerJump domain to their Facebook page, which was smart.  The Page has nearly 40,000 Facebook Fans, which can be marketed to repeatedly (although this should be done well, which is a whole other challenge).

As a side note, another speaker at DigiDay pointed out how the advent of social sites such as Facebook has created the opportunity to constantly market to an audience, which on the plus side can increase Lifetime Customer Value (discussed in a previous post) but on the down side makes it harder to evaluate the affects of a particular marketing campaign.

In order to effectively implement the brand-alignment kind of cause marketing, several steps need to be achieved through primary research (if you need assistance, the company I work with, C.A. Walker, does this).  First, you must know what values you would like the brand to stand for, then you can use surveying to evaluate your brand’s values currently in the mind of the target markets (if any), and whether the values you would like to have associated with the brand would be acceptable in the mind of the target(s).  You can also ask what nonprofits, if any, they donate their time to so you can determine those you may want to evaluate if their brand values are in-line with yours.  From there, you need to create opportunities to attach the brand value to a particular nonprofit objective and market it.  Lastly, you should then re-test the market post-campaign to see what lift was created in terms of brand value awareness, brand loyalty, likelihood to purchase/switch from a competitor, etc.

In the instance of the Secret campaign, although I was one of the persons clapping for the video’s message at Digiday, if they were to ask me I would tell them it did not move the needle much towards me purchasing their product (this is why it’s always good to test campaigns!).  While it had some positive lift in my understanding and appreciation of the brand’s objectives,  there are other factors at play when it comes to my decision to purchase deodorant that, if I became a Facebook Fan based on this campaign, would still not be communicated.  The campaign needs to be reinforced by standard product feature marketing, including price, whether it goes on clear, effectiveness and possibly also scent.  Ways they could swing my vote are:

  1. Allow me to buy a sample size before committment of the next several months of my armpits to their product, or send me a free trial in the mail or via in-store handout.
  2. Package trial-sized versions of different scents together, so I could determine which of several options I prefer.

The second type of cause marketing is the more typical “sponsorship,” expected to grow 6% over the next year to $1.61 billion, according to a recent IEG Sponsorship Report.  Much marketing discussion recently has centered on the increase in “microsponsorships,” which is the giving, by a company/brand, of a few hundred or few thousand dollars to consumers to fund pet projects.  There are pluses and minuses to the trend, specifically (numbers correspond to sources at bottom):


  • Well-conceived programs can be priceless, both in terms of the value they provide society and the business benefits they bestow on the corporations and brands that undertake them.1
  • They can be a truthful, sustaining, committed approach to improving the environment and people’s lives.1
  • More marketers are latching on to this, and rightfully so, because there is more transparency in where the money is going.2
  • For some marketers, microsponsorships present a much-needed icebreaker in social media.2
  • Sponsorships may be more market research than marketing campaign.2
  • They build databases of those consumers applying for grants or voting…so marketers can reach out to them in more meaningful ways.2
  • 79% of consumers say they would be likely to switch from one brand to another (when price and quality are about equal) if the other brand is associated with a good cause.2


  • Too often we see marketers adopt causes just for the sake of having one, which often results in a mismatch between the cause’s purpose and the marketer’s [reason for being].1
  • Causes appear to be a convenient charity upon which a brand can piggyback to goose its Facebook friend count or incite some quick blogger hits.1
  • Just as consumers quickly saw through the rampant green-washing of the past decade, brand beware: They’ll see through your cause-washing, too.  And even if they don’t, they’ll forget about you and what your brand stands for when you move onto the next shiny marketing idea.1
  • Too often companies view cause efforts as a tax they must pay.2
  • Even tiny sponsorships have to be closely associated with your brand…whatever you decide to pursue can’t be an isolated campaign.  It has to tie into a bigger program that attracts people with similar values and those have got to be clearly stated.2
  • Microsponsorships make it easy to “lose control of the brand,” especially when doling out small sums to far-flung strangers.2
  • One downside of these programs is that they are “just pecking away” at big problems.2
  • For people to be more engaged is generally a good thing, but what are the tradeoffs if people think, “I’ve voted for this; I’ve spent half an hour online looking at these projects and signing petitions, so I’ve done my civic duty.”2
  • Often microsponsorships lack focus, and it’s difficult to determine ROI.  The most successful sponsorships are long-term, sustained sponsorships. Microsponsorships fly in the face of that. It’s the equivalent of unfocused granting. You want to have an impact on a cause and be given credit for that impact.2

One of the largest and well-known microsponsorship campaigns currently is Pepsi Refresh.  In order to address the issue of hard-to-define ROI, “Pepsi is employing a battery of diagnostics, including gauging of brand-equity measures that correlate with volume. The brand has also partnered with Good, Global Giving and Do Something, third parties that are on-board to ensure quality and credibility. As for getting the word out about the brand’s impact, there are plans to profile the grant winners and highlight what they’ve accomplished with the money later this year.”2

An upcoming microsponsorship campaign by Prilosec OTC is one to keep your eyes on also.  Read Prilosec Works to Become ‘Sponsor of Everything’ for more on their efforts.

1 AdAge –  Cause Campaigns Must Benefit Brand and Greater Good

2 AdAge – Cause Effect: Brands Rush to Save World One Deed at a Time

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