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Sponsorship Makeover

May 20, 2009

As most TV junkies know, last week was finale week for many of the major primetime shows. Which means that I watched an insane amount of TV. One of the only healthy results from this TV overdose is the overdose of ads I got to watch in the process. Let’s get it straight, I do have DVR. But I also love ads. And I like taking commercial breaks to digest the newest Lost reveal (locke is not locke, omg). What I noticed after hours and nights of consecutive television is that there are sometimes very identifiable constants in advertising style, even across seemingly very different categories and products. As a planner, I obviously believe in unique consumer insights and targeted messaging. But deep down, all these brands are trying to communicate with people. And it is often the case that what works for insurance may also work for candy bars.


One such similarity I’m exploring right now is the idea of a new face on sponsorship. I don’t know if I’d call it a trend, but I found a few different examples of some very different brands attempting to position themselves in similar ways, as the official sponsor of ideas and concepts. Things that in the past have not really been ownable in way that the Olympics, the Superbowl, or the newest Disney move are.


AHAMutual of Omaha has launched a campaign to announce their company as “The official sponsor of the aha moment.” When I first saw the TV spots, I thought it was just a clever line.  But after a quick trip to the internet, I found a totally awesome microsite with all of the social network fixins around the idea of the aha moment. This is more than just a campaign. Mutual of Omaha is really looking to own the property of this unique moment in life. At the microsite you can watch video, search aha moments, upload your own moment, sign up to receive the aha newsletter, follow the aha moment on twitter. They have an RSS feed of aha moments from around the web and even an aha moment tour that is traveling around the US in a branded RV to capture real aha moments across the country. It’s an excellent way to add tangibility to this previously intangible purchase trigger and to associate your brand forever with a unique feeling. What a way to differentiate in a very crowded category.

On the CPG side, Frito Lay has laid claim to sponsoring something simple and inherently good. Smiles. With what I believe to be a primarily radio and online campaign, Frito Lay is making a value play by adding 20 percent more product to selected bags of snacks like Cheetos, Fritos and Tostitos without increasing prices. The promotion is to last “for the next few months,” an announcer says in radio commercials that end with the words “Frito-Lay, sponsoring smiles for 76 years”. Interestingly enough, that is, since 1933, a particularly depressed year during the Great Depression. Timely and appropriate for their brand personality, this sponsorship works on a smaller scale, but uses the similar idea of wanting to associate their brands with something wonderful.


On more example is the American Cancer Society. Similar to mutual of Omaha, they have a television campaign ending that uses the line, “the official sponsor of more birthdays”. And like Mutual of Omaha, they have a kick-ass online campaign to give this “sponsorship” real legs. Their site is called They are framing their strategy as a BIRTHworld movement – asking people to join them in creating a world with more birthdays. They also have a tie to Facebook, options to send e-cards, download birthday kits and share with friends.  Who doesn’t like birthdays?

What is the cause of this new type of sponsorship? Is this just more evidence of the economy’s effect on marketers’ purse strings? In these trying times, it makes sense that some companies can’t afford to associate with big ticket sports events and movie premiers.  So, in place of that marketing action, they are grapping to gain relevance through the softer, loftier side of sponsorship. Or perhaps this trend is more at the marketer’s choice. This may be the way some marketers are answering to the changing consumer reactions to advertising in general. It’s less flashy and more real, which is what consumers seem to crave these days. Or maybe for marketers it is the less risky option. These days, you never know which athlete may end up admitting steroid use. Or what scandal may erupt at the event your company is going around sponsoring. Sponsoring smiles and birthdays is much less controversial, and something everyone can relate to.


I’m not sure what the cause is, or if it is merely coincidence that these campaigns are all popping at the same time in history. Either way, if this does start working for these very different brands, it opens the door for others to mimic this strategy of brands inserting themselves further and further into the inner circles of real life. The possibilities are endless.


This post brought to you by Kim. The official sponsor of brilliance.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Crystal permalink*
    August 12, 2009 9:43 pm

    Kim, you ARE the official sponsor of brilliance. I think it’s all about the optimism trend. And about tapping into something with larger meaning so that social networking strategies have something to sink their teeth into. Rational reasons to believe aren’t the meat and potatoes of Twitter and Facebook and consumer generated content. I like the a-ha moment stuff a lot.

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