How audiences evaluate sponsors at sporting events: A behavioural economics guide

By The Earnie Team

It’s reckoned that global sponsorship spending will reach $57.5 billion in 2015. This goes to show just how vital it has become as a channel in the marketing mix for many brands. Events are also becoming far more competitive and involvement in blue ribbon events are getting even more expensive. So with that being said, we thought we’d take a look at some of the behavioural economics behind on-the-day activation.

A recent study* shed light on a number of interesting findings. The first demonstrated a strong association between the quality of a sporting event and fans’ attitudes towards the sponsor; basically, the bigger and better the event, the more positive the sponsor is regarded.

The second finding showed that a clear fit between a sponsor and an event will reinforce positive attitudes toward that sponsor’s product. This is especially true if the product can be sampled, linked and showcased at the event. We have looked at how b2b brands activate successfully and this is something they can address through innovative thinking.

Thirdly, the way the brand is portrayed, visually, is crucial to making a cognitive connection. In a cluttered environment it is essential that your brand creates cut-through, recall and positive association. This is something that top global events struggle to deliver when they carry multi-tier sponsors across a number of categories. It’s also important to bear in mind the pace and atmosphere of different sporting events. Golf and tennis are fairly reflective sports, played over a longer period of time, whereas football and basketball may be shorter and therefore harder to create brand dwell time.

Fourthly, it’s important where the sponsor places their logo within a sporting event. Research showed that the closer a brand is to the action, the better it is received from both a visual-processing and cognitive perspective. A good example would be Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Kia placing their logos on the nets of the grand slam tennis tournaments that they each sponsor – the US Open, Australian Open and French Open. By doing this, they are subconsciously telling consumers that their brand is an integral part of the action. Camera angles also play an important part of communicating this for non-live audiences who are watching at home.

Lastly, the research found a direct link between the positive visuals of a sport and a sponsor’s involvement. For example, attendees will subconsciously link a warm summer’s day in a picturesque setting with a brand’s involvement, in turn making the sponsor more prone to recall. This positive attribution can also be leveraged through other marketing channels in addition to on-the-day event branding.

Earnie has looked at how brands can make the most of sponsorship before and after an event and the importance of maximising positive association on the day.

The key takeaways are:

– The higher the quality of the event, the more effectively your audience will link it to your brand
– The more relevant your brand is to an event, the easier attendees will find it to buy into your involvement
– Ensuring your brand sits in an uncluttered environment will generate better visual processing and cut-through
– Where your logo is positioned on the day can subconsciously affect how viewers link you to the event
– Attendees draw a direct link between the visual information of an event with a sponsor’s involvement

At Earnie, we’ve been talking about the importance of behavioural economics for a while. It’s clear that marketing needs to understand how audiences make decisions, especially in such a crowded and expensive area as sponsorship. Given emotions play such a huge part in sport, we’d suggest taking some of these findings into account when planning, activating and measuring your next campaign.

*Research findings are taken from “Visual Processing and Need for Cognition can Enhance Event-Sponsorship Outcomes: How Sporting Event Sponsorships Benefit from the Way Attendees Process Them”: Vol.55, No. 2 of the Journal of Advertising Research; Angeline Close, Russell Lacey and T. Bettina Cornwell