July 10th, 2008

Sponsors Provoke More Emotional Response in Fans

By Emma Hall
Advertising Age

TV sponsorship may seem like a pretty straightforward marketing tool: choose the right program, put together a relevant message or placement and everybody’s happy. On one level this is true, but new research by the U.K. TV marketing body Thinkbox shows just how subtly sponsorship works and how different its effects are from traditional spot advertising.

TV sponsorship works effectively by capitalizing on a viewer’s feelings about a program. The stronger the relationship the viewer has with the program, the more effective the sponsorship will be at driving these emotions toward the brand.

Three types of response
For this reason, it is crucial to understand viewers’ relationship with programs in order to develop effective sponsorship. If it’s done right, sponsorship has a positive affect on emotional aspects, such as fans’ favorability toward a brand (up 8.5%). In addition, for fans of a show the sense of the brand being “for me” can rise as much as 12%, and intent to purchase can be up to 9% higher.

David Brennan, Thinkbox’s research and strategy director, said, “This power of association took us by surprise. We knew sponsorship worked but we wanted to find out how it works. It seems viewers like the brevity and accept the repetition.”

The research clearly shows that brands can adopt the personalities of the programs they sponsor, a phenomenon that Thinkbox calls “brand rub.”

Fans of a show were more likely to use similar words to describe the personality traits of the program and its sponsor than non-viewers. For example, Bombardier English Premium Bitter was described as “funny,” “light-hearted,” “enjoyable” and “friendly”—exactly the same words used to describe the comedy show it sponsors.

Sticking with a sponsorship
Over time, this effect increases, and brands can reap much greater rewards from sponsorship if they stick with a show for the long term. Given time, even brands that are not a natural fit with a show can enter the viewer-program relationship. Longevity reaps greater rewards with increases in intent to purchase, favorability and fame.

For example, “The Simpsons” in the U.K. has been sponsored by Domino’s Pizza on one channel, Sky, for a decade. People who watch the show on Sky think Domino’s is an excellent fit and even believe that the cartoon family eats a lot of pizza. Viewers who watched the show on a different channel without the sponsorship thought that pizza was not a good fit for “The Simpsons” and questioned its relevance to the show.

Although sponsorship can be a pretty cost-effective way of getting a brand onto TV, viewers perceive it as a marketing tool used by already “famous” brands. Consequently, sponsorship increases a brand’s “fame” by up to 10%.

The best results come when sponsorships introduce the brand into the relationship that the viewer already has with a program, using the same tone and values.

When there is a more obvious link between a sponsorship’s creative and the program content, the brand performs better across all the measures: intent to purchase goes up 8%; “for me-ness” (up 7%); and fame (up 5%). But commitment over time can build up similar benefits.

Not for rational communication
The corollary of the emotional appeal of sponsorship is that consumers do not see it as a tool for more rational communication—that is a job best left to other forms of marketing. Only 10% of respondents believed that sponsorship has informed them about a brand or has been thought-provoking, suggesting the effects are gained more through association and that sponsorship should not be used as a mini-ad.

The research into the U.K. TV sponsorship market—worth $380 million in 2007, up 8.5% from 2005—involved 1,600 TV viewers over a period of three months. It included studies of sponsorship by major marketers such as Toyota, Mars, Domino’s Pizza and Wrigley.

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