If You Build It, Will They Come?
When Netflix created House of Cards in 2013, the online streaming company sent a message to consumers that they were shifting to a new approach. They would no longer solely rely on others to create content for streaming. With greater control over their own product, Netflix was able to bring innovation to how they distributed it by releasing all episodes at once.
This “build-it rather than buy-it” approach has also been applied by sponsorship marketers, where a variety of brands have invested to create their own proprietary programs/experiences as an alternative to associating with a traditional sponsorship property.
The common inference is that these brands are making a statement against sponsorship when they create a program, however this is not necessarily the case. By adopting what is often referred to as the “Red Bull approach” to sponsorship, many corporate sponsors are simply shifting their role on the sponsorship continuum and are functioning like a rights holder. Both the build it and buy it approach are similar in spirit for what they can accomplish for a brand. Both approaches allow brands to:
1) Connect with consumers over a shared passion
2) Bring their brand to life in a tangible way
3) Align with key themes that are part of organizational values
What should sponsors consider when weighing the opportunities/threats of building vs. buying? MKTG breaks down key considerations for each approach:
Traditional sponsorship can provide many benefits for the investing brand. It is an established turnkey approach that gives your brand exclusive access to engage with consumers on a shared passion.
In formal sponsorship though, brands are often constrained by limitations of the marketplace. Is there an incumbent sponsor in a brand’s category? Is there an existing property that will meet the organization’s objectives? As buyers, prospective brands do not have control of what is for sale.
Building a property is when a brand creates its own proprietary engagement activity not associated with a traditional property. Through the brand’s own resources they can create an event that demonstrates brand values. Building a property can be a large undertaking involving many resources both financial and human.
Case Studies: Top Creators
Red Bull is often cited as the standard in this category. They have created over 25 events and have had great success. However, there are plenty of other brands that have played the role of property:
BioSteel- Seeking to differentiate in the crowded sports drink market dominated by Gatorade and Powerade, BioSteel invested to create their own Canadian basketball property. With limited amount of basketball properties available to sponsor in Canada, BioSteel decided to create its own and host a Canadian High School all-star game, similar to the iconic McDonald’s All-American Game in the US. The event gained interest from other sponsors like BMO, Sport Chek and Nike as well as TSN who secured the rights to broadcast the game. By associating with up and coming Canadian basketball stars, BioSteel positioned itself as a brand focused on performance and potential.
Google- Google is one of the most valuable brands in the world and maintains a very unique image. Google refrains from formal sponsorship and holds a virtually non-existent portfolio. To promote their own image as a forward-thinking brand, Google hosted a science fair and invited kids age 13-17 from all over the world to attend. The science fair then attracted sponsors including National Geographic and Virgin Galactic looking to align with Google. The property was on strategy for Google, who culturally celebrates innovation, entrepreneurship, and the advancement of society – all themes of the Science Fair initiative.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade- The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual tradition that is part of the Thanksgiving calendar in the United States. Each year 3.5 million New Yorkers attend and another 50 million tune in at home. The first parade was held in 1924 when Macy’s employees along with animals from the Central Park Zoo marched the streets of New York. Macy’s used the parade to showcase their new flagship store on 34th Street and encourage people to do their Holiday shopping at Macy’s. The parade was a success and would become an annual event. The parade has since grown into a major event that attracts sponsors like Delta and GMC.
Key Takeaways For Sponsors:
1) Traditional sponsorship and the “build it yourself” approach can complement each other. Traditional sponsorship can be used for a brand to build authenticity in a specific property genre, providing a brand with greater consumer permission to create a customer experience in that space.
2) Traditional sponsorship can come with a built in audience. If you are sponsoring the NHL you can expect a certain number of people will be watching which will give your brand guaranteed exposure. However when creating your property from scratch, you are creating something that no one has ever heard of before. With that comes the task of finding an audience.
3) The “build it yourself” approach does not mean that you must act alone. Brands have the opportunity to bring in other sponsors/media partners to amplify the event and share costs.