Great sponsorship is rooted in great storytelling. The likelihood of gaining breakthrough with consumers as well as impacting their consideration will be amplified for both sponsors and properties who integrate a compelling narrative into their execution. As sponsorship marketers aspiring to tell great stories through our work, we don't just take our inspiration from inside the industry by examining the work of brands and properties. The greatest story-tellers in our culture are not just brands. They are artists, politicians, scientists, fictional characters, etc. The greatest brands win by being tapped into the pulse of a culture and that means widening the net of who we monitor for new insights.
Among those worthy of monitoring for storytelling learnings? The world of comic books and superheroes. An examination of the superhero fascination would reveal that a cultural obsession exists. Fan gatherings like Comic-Con, movie-version reimaginings that dominate the box-office, and status as the annual dominant-selling Halloween costume are all symbols of the weight that heroes hold in a troubled world where consumers long for positivity and role models. But it isn't just people who can strive to conduct themselves like a caped crusader. For corporate sponsors, there are no shortage of lessons to be gleaned from superheroes, whether it be the importance of having a strategic plan, the bravery to support a cause, the ability to leverage badging as a visual cue to galvanize the public, or the fundamental understanding of ones true purpose. MKTG examines what sponsors can learn from some of our favourite superheroes:
IRON MAN - THE TECH-SAVVY ACTIVATOR
What Sponsors Can Learn From Iron Man: Iron Man combines technology with a sound strategic plan and the intelligence to get the job done. Sponsor activations should embrace technology as an amplifier for a sound concept, but not be over reliant on technology to create a compelling consumer experience. Technology and digital should be integrated rather than interruptive.
Sponsor Comparison - Samsung: A track record of integrating value-add experiences that enhance the consumer experience and showcase product attributes, such as Samsung's Tough Mudder activation featuring foam washing spray.
BATMAN - THE AMBUSHER
What Sponsors Can Learn From Batman: The Dark Knight has a complex relationship with Gotham. As an "unofficial" hero acting as a vigilante – without the support of authorities – Batman is often acting in support of his constituents in the absence of actual "rights". But just like the brands who successfully gain attribution without being an official sponsor, Batman succeeds by being authentic and stalwart in his pursuit of his goal - acting core to his brand rather than discouraged by how his formal authority limits him. Ambushing sponsors receive the most pushback when they are venturing outside territory that is core to who they are. While MKTG does not endorse ambush sponsorship, we recognize its existence, and can acknowledge that it only works for brands when they have established equity in a certain property genre. Despite Batman's unofficial status, he was ultimately accepted and admired by Gotham residents for his vigilante activity.
Sponsor Comparison - Nike: While Nike does boast a large sponsorship portfolio, they have launched a number of notable ambush campaigns around marquee events like the 2012 and 2014 Olympic Games and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Nike is only able to earn attribution as an ambusher due to smart, strategic decisions to play in authentic territories core to their brand. Other ambushers are unlikely to significantly move the needle if they simply trying to speak thematically to a territory new or not core to their brand.
WONDER-WOMAN - THE "PSYCHOGRAPHICS OVER DEMOGRAPHICS" SPONSOR
What Sponsors Can Learn From Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman is one of the most popular comic book characters of all-time. The status and success of Wonder Woman was innovative in how it showcased a female not on the peripheral of a superhero narrative (spouse of a male character, victim, etc.) but rather at the forefront. Sponsors more than ever must rethink how they appeal to female consumers and incorporate a more empowering tone into their efforts.
Sponsor Comparison - Under Armour: The apparel brand has placed significant resources against building out their endorsement portfolio, particularly through partnerships with high-profile female athletes and female influencers. Current brand campaign, “I Will What I Want” has featured Lindsey Vonn (skiing), Sloane Stephens (tennis), Misty Copeland (ballet / dance), and supermodel Gisele Bundchen, among others. UA has effectively aligned brand strategy / sponsorship and business objectives. Female apparel is the primary growth strategy for the company, accounting for $500 million in annual revenue. Overall, the tone and narrative that Under Armour is bringing to their female-targeted sponsorships and activation is one of empowerment. Females are casted not as moms or spouses, but as athletes themselves. The brand understands the notion that women do not need to be explicitly targeted with feminine imagery that can often be interpreted as patronizing or stereotypical.
CAPTAIN AMERICA - THE FLAG-BEARING SPONSOR
What Sponsors Can Learn from Captain America: Captain America is respected and loved for his commitment to his country. His purpose is to protect and defend what he believes is the greatest nation on Earth. Captain America resonates with people due to the fact that he has literally wrapped himself in the America flag. In today's sponsorship landscape, many brands have won by taking a similar approach. Sponsorship is a communication of values, and patriotism is a value shared by the masses in a given country.
Sponsor Comparison - Bank of America: BoA's marquee cause program, the Wounded Warriors Project, assists severely injured service members on making the transition to civilian life. The program has been celebrated as a gold-standard cause activation and has helped Bank of America rebuild their image after the 2008 financial crisis.
THE AVENGERS - THE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
What Sponsors Can Learn From The Avengers: Heroes can accomplish more when they work together. The Avengers were able to put aside their individual differences and combine their strengths for the greater good of humanity. Similarly, fellow brands and co-sponsors with shared properties can drive value by shifting how they view each other - not just as competitors for attribution, but as partners with shared values. By working together co-sponsors can gain economies of scale, reach a wider audience, and ultimately deliver enhanced community betterment.
Sponsor Comparison - Scotiabank & Canadian Tire (MKTG clients): As authentic supporters of community hockey, Scotiabank and Canadian Tire pooled their resources to keep hockey rinks open longer in the winter in the Greater Toronto Area.
SPIDERMAN - THE MORAL ADVOCATE
What Sponsors Can Learn From Spiderman: Spiderman is the ultimate 'purpose-led' superhero. Recognizing the power that he has, he is guided by the overarching philosophy that with great power comes great responsibility. He seeks to use his gifts for the betterment of society. Today, the influence and power of the corporate sponsor is rising. Sponsors, through their financial contribution and marketing clout, have a legitimate influence over the properties they sponsor. As rights fees increase for sponsors, they are demanding a seat at the table in matters related to property governance and oversight. With that power comes a consumer expectation that sponsors will exert their influence and speak out over moral transgressions by a property or those associated with it.
Sponsor Comparison - Verizon: As a major sponsor of the NFL, Verizon will be working with the league to address its recent challenges with domestic abuse amongst its players. Verizon has a successful domestic-abuse reporting system in place for employees and will consult to the league on how to take action. Rather than hold the league hostage and threaten to exit their sponsorship agreement, Verizon is leveraging their partnership as a force for good.
SUPERMAN - THE FOOT-IN-THE-DOOR SPONSOR
What Sponsors Can Learn From Superman: Superman travelled from Krypton to Earth and brought with him special powers. He used his abilities to provide value in his community and integrate into society after coming from a different world. Sponsorship can be an important tool for brands to leverage when entering a new market. Before and during market-entry, sponsorship can be used to align with the passion points of a new audience in an exclusive medium, and help position a sponsor as an investor in local and community interests.
Sponsor Comparison - AirBnb : The peer-to-peer lodging company in which residents can rent their homes out to tourists is increasing their sponsorship portfolio. AirBnb leverages sponsorship to build awareness in expansion markets by aligning with significant cultural properties.