The Internet Has Changed Brand Sponsorship Management

It is a clever piece, the commercial opens with scenes from places called London around the world, London Nigeria, London Ohio and London China, it then proceeds to talk about finding greatness in little ways by average people. By any standards, this is great advertising. The brand asks consumers to reconsider who their true heroes are. Rather than try to be part of the Olympics, Nike questions the hero worship of the games and the lack of recognition of the small man making great athletic efforts out there. Nike is famous for this sort of thing especially around events that lock it out on account of competitior sponsorship.

The insight behind this perspective is inspired. Firstly, in a world where heroes are increasingly groups of people in movements or social media pages rather than individuals, the idea that heroes are everywhere is one that is likely to appeal to consumers. From Egypt to Libya, heroes are increasingly faceless people on mobiles and laptops. Revolutions have happened without the emergence of individuals that become the brand owners of liberation.

The place taken in history by the Mandelas, Kenyattas, Castros, Savimbis and Garangs has increasingly been “shared” by millions. It therefore makes sense that heroism is attributed to them. A key lesson from this ad experience is the evolving complexity of sponsorship rights management. A few years ago, it was easy to exclude a brand from an event by prohibiting broadcasters from airing their ads near the event broadcast and “blocking” ad space they could use. Broadcasters in breach would be threatened with rights withdrawal.

The internet has complicated this significantly. A brand only needs to plant its ads on Youtube and the rest works organically. The horror of this situation is such that Youtube has become a mass medium TV alternative globally. To put this to context, Lady Gaga`s “Bad Romance “ Music video has more than 480 million views on Youtube, the world cup final in South Africa was watched by around 530 million people on TV.

To police breach of sponsorship rights and broadcast compliance in this circumstances is to sit sentry at the gate built in an unfenced compound. Brands and the models of sponsorship are in trouble. You can no longer ring fence a sponsorship or sign exclusivity with any amount of certainty. Even worse, the people who sell events will have even more dilution of their product as they increasingly lose audience and association gate keeping.

Sponsorship gurus understand this well. Kim Skildum, an Aussie who specialises in sponsorship, explains that sponsorship happens in people's minds. Ring fencing the context of the event and it's relevance and reward to your audience is thus more important than loads of legal paper. Essentially, protecting a sponsorship is not a lawyer's job but marketing and agency work.

It is also likely that marketing is yet to understand the internet as well as it did broadcast TV from this perspective. The internet is driven by consumers' willful consumption of media while TV works by pushing stuff at people. Understanding how to communicate a sponsorship owned by consumers through them is more important than getting a good lawyer.

Frank is lead consultant at FMC and CEO at Mobile agency Sponge .
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