Heineken leaves a bad taste in Sebastian Vettel’s mouth

‘Still I Rise’ – the motto tattooed across the top of Lewis Hamilton’s back. Never have these words been as pertinent as during last weekend’s Mexican GP, when the Mercedes driver found himself being elevated, along with his car, up to the podium.

The South American race is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the season, mainly for its hordes of enthusiastic fans and grand podium ceremony. Taking place within the Foro Sol – the stadium that was once home to the Diablos Rojos del México baseball team – the end-of-race festivities are up there with any sporting celebration in the world.

While offering a fine spectacle to those at the circuit, and to the millions watching from the comfort of their armchairs, second-place finisher Sebastian Vettel didn’t quite share the fan’s fervour. “I liked most of it except the selfie guy and the trophies,” said the German.

“It’s a shame. You have such a great race and they put so much effort into the race and then you get these sh**ty trophies that look boring. There’s Heineken written everywhere! You don’t need to have the fricking star on the trophy as well.”

 

While some would argue that the Ferrari driver is just being a party pooper, perhaps he has a fair point. How far is too far when it comes to sponsorship activation? Should the traditions and routines of a sport have to make way for a sponsor’s wishes?

We know that there is a careful balancing act to be played between giving a sponsor new experiences and assets as part of their package, and yet ensuring that the fan’s/athlete’s/team’s experience is not negatively impacted by this sponsorship.

Ultimately, without sponsors a lot of sports wouldn’t survive, and athletes certainly wouldn’t earn the money they do now, or have the global reach that most of them currently achieve. If you limit the activation potential for brands then they’ll go elsewhere, and if they go elsewhere then the least of Sebastian Vettel’s worries will be a sh**ty trophy.

In the current sponsorship environment, experiential activation has become everything. Logos on the side of a car, around a pitch or on a team shirt don’t cut it on their own anymore; sponsors want more and more for their investment. They want to give clients and employees unforgettable experiences.

Professional sport is a fantastic arena by which this can be achieved. It is an industry that instils passion and loyalty amongst its fans like no other. Play your cards right, and as a sponsor you can tap into this passion and loyalty, align your brand with the values of the sport, and provide incredible activation opportunities.

Overstep the mark and you can potentially end up damaging your reputation. The thing with enthusiastic fans is that they are there to watch their childhood team or support their favourite athlete. They are not there to be brainwashed by the overzealous activities of a sponsor. When entering the world of sport, you must add to the fans experience, not take away from it. Loyalty and positive sentiment are gained over time, not overnight.

In reference to the Heineken-emblazoned trophies, Vettel is adamant that there should be a return to specialised trophies rather than corporate ones. “Get something nice like they had when F1 used to race here before we came back,” quipped the Ferrari driver.

Are corporate trophies overstepping the mark? In most cases not really, but if you are a traditionalist then yes, these are taking away from the history, nostalgia and pageantry of the sport. Perhaps more impactful for Heineken is one of F1’s global stars talking negatively to the world’s media about their brand!

At SQN we understand that successfully activating a sponsorship to its full potential is a complex process that requires clear objectives and strategy from the very beginning. Taking into consideration the wider impact a sponsorship has, not only on the brand, but also on the fans, is essential and part of the process we undertake. To find out more about the power of sponsorship, and how SQN can help you to extract the full potential of a partnership, please click here.