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MKTG Insights: 'Tis The Season for Holiday-Themed Sponsorships

MKTG Insights: 'Tis The Season for Holiday-Themed Sponsorships

As temperatures drop, snow falls, and the calendar flips to December, it is not just consumers who are beginning to plan and prepare for the Holiday season; brands across category lines are injecting a holiday-themed narrative into their marketing activity as well. According to Deloitte, holiday shopping is set to grow by 13% over last year, with the average household set to spend approximately $1300. From U.S. Thanksgiving weekend until the New Year, brands will be bringing Holiday cheer to consumers in a more overt way in order to capitalize on the spending influx in the marketplace.

While commonplace tactics leveraged to communicate this Holiday positioning include promotion and discounts,  themed packaging, revamped store experiences, and timely creative, sponsorship is becoming an increasingly relevant tool for brands to leverage during the Holiday season. As the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, one of the most iconic Holiday-themed sponsorships in North American history, occurred in-market this week, MKTG examines the opportunity for brands to leverage sponsorship as a highly differentiated and authentic way to celebrate the Holidays.

While Holiday-based marketing can drive great value for organizations in a variety of capacities (i.e. drive sales for peak-season product categories, humanize brands and establish an emotional connection with consumers, etc.), so much of the activity is executed through traditional advertising. Consumers now live in an era where their Holiday season is becoming branded earlier and earlier through traditional media. Studies done by Ipsos in the UK reveal that up to 76% of consumers believe that Christmas advertising begins too early. Last year, K-Mart made waves in marketing circles for releasing Christmas advertisements an incredible 106 days before Christmas.  When the thematic attracts so much activity - for such a long duration in-market - it can be challenging for one individual brand to achieve breakthrough with consumers.

Complementing traditional media activity or Holiday-themed campaigns with Holiday-based sponsorship (through either investing in a holiday-based property or bringing a holiday-themed activation narrative to life against a sponsored property) can be seen as a tangible expression of support and a key differentiator. Sponsorship can be leveraged to create a two-way brand experience with consumers and position sponsors as enablers of Holiday joy - versus creators of one-way messaging.

Best Practices in Building Out a Holiday Sponsorship Platform:

1. Incorporate Cause Overlays: The natural link between the holiday season and giving sets the stage for brands to integrate their Holiday-based sponsorships with their donations portfolio. Brands can earn a greater halo with consumers by activating around a purpose.

2. Cross-Pollinate Your Portfolio: Existing sponsorships - regardless of the property genre - may represent opportunities to amplify reach and relevance of a holiday property. Likewise, activating a sponsored property around a Holiday thematic can help build an emotional and differentiated experience for fans.

3. Keep Business Results Top-of-Mind: Holiday season represents a heightened period of consumer spending. Activate against products most relevant to the holiday window to drive business results and capitalize on seasonality.

4. Activate Internally: Sponsorship is most effective when it is activated 360-degrees across an organization (from brand-building to employee engagement). Leveraging sponsorship to offer employees can't buy Holiday experiences or volunteer opportunities can be an effective way to inspire and motivate a workforce through sponsorship.

MKTG analyzes successful Holiday-based sponsorship from both the sponsor and property perspective:

Sponsor Case Study: Discover Activates NHL Sponsorship with Thanksgiving Showdown

While U.S. Thanksgiving in the world of sports is a day dominated by the NFL, the National Hockey League has increased their efforts to build a platform around the holiday, in conjunction with corporate partner Discover. Since 2011, the league has run its annual Discover Thanksgiving Showdown, a "Black Friday" afternoon game that capitalizes on an increased audience size due to offices across the United States closing. Discover and the NHL have amplified their broadcast efforts by co-sponsoring a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to generate PR excitement for the game (which takes place on the following day) and authenticate it as part of the Thanksgiving experience. By aligning with the property, Discover - a credit card company - gains visibility during the heart of holiday shopping season, and important peak period for its category. By activating against the NHL through a Holiday-themed narrative, Discover has built an exclusive, ownable moment in the NHL calendar that cross-pollinates sport, family, and tradition.

Property Case Study: Santa Claus Parade (Toronto)

Perhaps the most marquee Holiday-themed property in the Canadian sponsorship landscape is Toronto's Santa Clause Parade. The event attracts nearly 750,000 attendees and a broadcast audience of almost 4 million viewers. The property holds a unique prestige with consumers: according to property-supplied research, 90% of Ontarians believe that "the Santa Clause Parade signals the start of Christmas season".  In June 2014 it was announced that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment was entering into a strategic partnership with the Santa Claus Parade, which ran for the 110th time in Toronto this past November. In addition to becoming a sponsor of the parade, MLSE provided sales and marketing support to the Holiday-themed property in a way that could allow the parade to grow in its reach, relevance, and revenue generation efforts. Alignment with the city of Toronto's largest sports organization helped fixate the parade as a centrepiece of the GTA community, driving value for other corporate partners, both current and prospective. The partnership with MLSE led to programming extensions that build shoulders around what was previously a 1-day event (3-day festival in Maple Leaf Square and the inaugural 5k Holly-Jolly run) to extend the window of consumer engagement. The revamped strategic approach of the property led to new platform for sponsors. The sponsor roster consists of Tier-1 brands like Kia, McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and MKTG clients Canadian Tire and Scotiabank. For brands investing in the parade, the opportunity exists to position their organization as a good corporate citizen and an enabler of community-based experiences.

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