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Sponsors: Stop Being Proud!

It’s much used - but is being a ‘proud sponsor’ meaningless and wasteful?

At the recent 70th Anniversary GP from Silverstone, I noticed that a large area of the infield had a message painted on the grass that read; ‘Proud to be part of F1’. It was accompanied by the logos of the various brands sponsoring F1.

It reminded me that many brands continue to use ‘proud sponsor’ and I have often wondered why?

Of course, we’re all entitled to feel pride. Usually we’re proud of the achievements of those we care about – e.g. your kids sporting, music or academic achievements. We can be proud of our own achievements too.

Brands and businesses are entitled to be proud. For example; I know that many British Gas employees were proud that the business used its swimming sponsorship to encourage employees, disadvantaged kids and other members of the public to learn to swim.

However, there’s a fine line between feeling proud and telling people you’re proud. Would British Gas’ customers have cared that the business was proud of their swimming sponsorship? Almost certainly not.

So why be a ‘proud sponsor’ when your customers won’t care and when being proud can be misconstrued.

After all, no brand (or indeed person) is keen to be considered arrogant, boastful, conceited, egotistical or smug. These being just a few of the alternatives to proud listed in my thesaurus.

Fans are usually proud of their team’s achievements. So, are brands just trying to ingratiate themselves with the fans by saying ‘we’re proud of XYZ too”? It’s possible...

But let’s not forget fans are emotionally invested in the activity. They understand that sponsors are paying for the privilege of attending their party and will often see through any shallow attempt at emotional engagement.

Perhaps brands are trying to show humility towards the fans? Maybe...

However, this may not be too fruitful either! In their poem The Devil’s Thoughts, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:

“...And the devil did grin, for his darling sin Is pride that apes humility”

Indeed, we mustn’t forget that ‘pride’ is considered one of the seven deadly sins.

Or maybe brands use ‘proud sponsor’ because it’s what brands do. This seems more likely... It doesn’t appear to matter whether the sponsoring brand comes from a sophisticated marketing organisation or not. Or whether they are spending $100k, $1m or $10m’s.

Like lemmings leaping off a cliff, one brand blindly follows the last to be a ‘proud sponsor’.

Using ‘proud sponsor’ has become habitual. A bit of a filler.

At best being a ‘proud sponsors’ is likely ignored by the audiences. At worst, it could convey completely the wrong sentiment.

Its use by sponsors is therefore pointless and meaningless.

Its use by rights owners is not. For example; It would have made far more sense for World Rugby to have been extremely proud to have Land Rover as sponsors of the Rugby World Cup than vice a versa!

I worry that the continued use of ‘proud sponsor’ is indicative of a lack of strategic nous and wastefulness in the sector.

Based on the number of sponsorships I’ve evaluated over the years it’s my hypothesis that few brands really understand their role in the relationship between the sponsored property and its audience?

Brands must recognise the importance of taking every opportunity to demonstrate both their connection with the sponsored property and how their support is beneficial to the other two parties in the relationship.

This is the way to build an emotional connection with the audience and to have a relationship that is balanced. Balanced relationships are more effective.

Therefore, every word, phrase and activity should be optimised to tell the brands narrative in as many compelling and engaging ways as possible.

Only then will brands capture and keep the attention of the audience and achieve a level of engagement that may enable them to fulfil their investments potential.

I say STOP being ‘proud sponsors’. Be supportive and give the fans something they can be proud of.

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