Unilever brands are using sports sponsorships – including in Formula One and football – to connect with fans on things that mean the most to them.

According to Unilever’s global head of sponsorships, Willem Dinger, the global FMCG giant has embraced sports partnerships in the past year with the mindset that brand communications should be less around interruption and more about connecting with consumers in a deeper and more meaningful ways.

The company is working to increase its relationships with Formula One and football, in particular. Unilever’s football partner portfolio currently includes the likes of the La Liga, the Spanish football league; City Football Group, which majority owns and operates the English Premier League’s Manchester City FC as its flagship club; as well as Chelsea FC, also from the English Premier League.

“It’s about building that deeper and more meaningful connection with the audience, and you can do that through these amazing properties,” Dinger said at the All That Matters conference in Singapore recently. (For more, read WARC’s report: Beyond badging: Unilever on the sports sponsorship game.)

In Formula One, for instance, Unilever’s deodorant brand Rexona has partnered with British F1 auto racing team Williams since 2015. Previously, it was a sponsor for the Lotus F1 team from 2012 to 2014.

“It’s not easy to sell a deodorant, so therefore by connecting with amazing properties like Formula One and football, that gives you that opportunity to give fans something they don’t already have,” said Dinger.

But this is only the start of it: “It’s very important that when you do have that different connection, that you’re then showing up in a credible way, you’re owning the space for providing value and enhancing the fan experience,” he explained.

Working with rights holders to figure out “where the white space is” and “what it is that the fans aren’t getting” is especially important for building this connection.

“We all say that in the sponsorship industry, it isn’t all about badging,” Dinger emphasised.

“We need to play a really important role with the fans, with the consumers, and make them want to continue reengaging with our brand. That’s why showing up and having something different to talk about is hugely important.”

Sourced from WARC