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Are brands missing the purpose of purpose-driven sponsorships?

Are brands missing the purpose of purpose-driven sponsorships?

You Can’t Stop Us by Nike – an incredible piece of video editing and creativity. The multinational corporation’s latest video campaign, released at the end of July, is centred around the concept of not being able to stop sport because you can’t stop athletes.

One of the things that Nike certainly can’t stop is the comments underneath their YouTube video. “You can do anything you want when you use slaves.”, “Nike really cares about people. Except for the people manufacturing their products”, and “Buying Nike is the equivalent of buying blood diamonds.” In fact, of the top 50 comments, 49 of them display negative sentiment towards the company.

Praised by many in the design and creative industry but slated by consumers for its history of unethical manufacturing, the video has sparked a mixed reaction. Nike has a wonderful past when it comes to the creation of powerful ad campaigns, everything from the Tiger Woods Ball-Juggling advert from 1999 through to the Colin Kaepernick ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign of 2018. But is it now just enough to have a powerful campaign?

As a society we become more aware, informed and inquisitive on a daily basis. Everything we ever wanted to know about the world is a simple touchscreen away, with social media providing us with insights and opinions on things we never knew, and at times, didn’t need to know.

That’s why we are more knowledgeable now about the history of almost any brand, and the more it is discussed, the more it spreads like wildfire. Perhaps if Nike had released the very same video 10-15 years ago, it would have had 49 positive comments and just one negative.

That is also an issue with advertising as a whole, its greatest strength is also its biggest weakness – the ability to control the content that you communicate to your consumers. In our wiser, ‘woke’ society, our minds have sometimes been distorted by what we already know about that company, and an advertising campaign dictated by that brand will do nothing to change people’s opinions. Quite honestly, Nike could have released a 30 second video of a blank screen and silence, and it would still receive the same number of negative reactions.

Step forward sponsorship. A more authentic form of marketing that can have a far bigger influence on consumers by directly impacting on them as individuals. Where advertising can feel quite detached from its end-user, sponsorship allows brands to positively enhance the consumer experience. From branded merchandise giveaways at your home team’s stadium, to providing unique player data insights to enhance your viewing experiences, sponsorships can help to support the affirmative alignment between brand and consumer.

One of the more noticeable sponsorship shifts, certainly in recent years, is towards purpose-driven partnerships. The days of maximising shareholder value are long gone, we now live in a society where 87% of consumers will purchase a product because the seller advocated for an issue consumers cared about. With the rise of sports properties that fight for a particular cause, whether that be sustainability or racial diversity amongst other causes, brands have flocked towards these sports to align themselves with this messaging.

Formula e has seen an influx in brands wishing to align with its strong sustainability message

However, much like our more aware, better-informed and ‘woke’ society can see through advertising campaigns, are we already getting to the same point with purpose-driven sponsorships? With brands flocking to sports such as Formula E, is it enough just to be aligned with a cause-related property, or can consumers see right through the reason for the partnership?

When Coca-Cola first partnered with the Olympic Games in the late 1920s, the concept of sponsorship was brand new, therefore the mere sight of Coca Cola branding would have been enough to amaze and excite consumers. But as the years have passed by, and sports have become more saturated with sponsors, to stand out from the crowd and make the partnership work, it has required well thought-out supporting activations.

As purpose-driven sponsorships become an expectation driven by a company’s CSR initiative, so must purpose-driven activations. By that, we mean honest, genuine and impactful cause-related activations that result in meaningful outcomes.

In the case of Nike, they have a huge number of current global partnerships, covering numerous sports and many high-profile teams and players, but will paying Rory McClroy $250m over 10 years change consumers views on their unethical manufacturing? Probably not.

If Nike wishes to change perceptions, it needs to be honest and face up to the reality of its critics. Sponsoring education and sport programmes in its manufacturing locations, whereby the activations result in an improvement in working conditions for its employees would strike a far more powerful message. Brands, like Nike, don’t need to be hampered by their past, as long as they are addressing issues today in a positive, head-on manner.

The sponsorship industry is advancing at an exciting rate, reacting and evolving to societal needs, and proving its worth as a powerful marketing tool. However, the brands that will have the largest consumer impact will be those that actually understand their audience best. Cause-related partnerships are a positive step in that direction, but to truly make a meaningful difference, brands must back-up their sponsorships with purpose-driven activations. If Nike achieve this, then maybe we’ll actually believe that they can’t be stopped…