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Picking a sponsorship based on shared values is "fundamentally flawed".

Team spirit, commitment, innovation, respect, authenticity, passion, teamwork, capability, composure, inclusivity, discipline, solidarity, integrity, can do spirit, leadership and sportsmanship.

Yes – it’s one hell of a list. When was the last time you applied them to anyone that you know or care about?

More importantly, and this gets to the point of this post, when was the last time you thought about your favourite sport, sports event or sports team in these terms, unless related to how your team is performing?

If you’re honest, I bet you haven’t.

It’s more likely that you assess a sports entity, especially one that you genuinely care about, in emotive terms; surprise, happiness, enjoyment, amazement, delight or shock, sadness, fear, disgust etc…

You express your experience, shared or otherwise, in terms of how you feel or felt. This is the context in which fans and supporters watch and absorb their favourite sports, events and teams.

Given this. Why do so many brands express their sponsorship selection, or connection, using values?

Values might seem like a good basis during a planning meeting - but they’ll be meaningless to the very people whose attention they’re trying to grab?

“Crap, total crap” was how an eminent marketing professor described them to me during a LinkedIn chat about this very point. It seems counter intuitive to me. Yet, the list at the top of this post are the values that just three sponsors of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 attributed to rugby and claimed to share or champion!

I’d suggest that the premise of the ‘values based partnerships’ is fundamentally flawed, just like the ‘old-world’ image transference that sponsorship people used to talk about. Why? Because they’re out of context and ask for far too much cognitive investment from the audience.

We must remember that the audience cares about the sport, team or event and their experience. They don’t care about the brand and they are unlikely to rationalise why a brand sponsors.

Evidence gained over many years evaluating sponsorships indicates that a strong and easily understandable connection is key to achieving engagement and positive brand outcomes.

A sponsorship connection based on ‘shared values’ is neither strong or easily understandable.

Brands and their agencies must remember that sponsorship is a pretty simple form of communication and does what it does very effectively if you follow the rules.

My advice is therefore:

- Learn and follow the rules before investing

- Don’t base your sponsorship on values

- Understand how your brand connects with the activity

Above all, don’t over-complicate things.

This way you’ll stand a significantly greater chance of catching the attention of the audience, optimising your sponsorship investment and building your brand.

Ian Thompson is an independent sponsorship strategist

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