A response to: Nissan is an Olympics brand winner

This guest blog is written by Richard Reid, who manages iris SPORT's consultancy and data offering in APAC.

The Olympic Games have closed for another four years and as is customary with all global sporting events, the marketing industry is rushing to award medals to sponsors, ambush marketers, and extended partners alike. The consensus seems to be that Nissan has taken gold this time, receiving praise for leveraging a multi-channel strategy to drive visibility and social engagement.

Whilst it is correct to seek to understand how and why brands have been successful, to paraphrase Irish boxer, Michael Conlan, if you have read articles reviewing these Olympic sponsorships, it seems like sponsorship evaluation is dead.

My colleagues have written previously on the importance of a holistic approach to evaluation, ensuring evaluation aligns to quantified corporate and marketing objectives. This approach enables us to capture the uniqueness of sponsorship as a marketing channel, its ability to drive value across a business.

There is no other marketing channel which offers this level of flexibility, we cannot use a TV campaign to drive consideration amongst Millennials and at the same time grow B2B sales but a sponsorship can do this and more. This diversity necessitates an objective-led approach to evaluation, and whilst it is one that sponsors should follow closely, it is almost impossible for the interested observer to follow this methodology, we simply do not have enough information. This is not to say that Nissan has not been the most successful sponsor, it may well have been, but it is not possible for us to know either way.

Both of the articles referenced earlier use a single metric in each case to measure overall sponsorship performance, advertising visibility and social mentions, the value of each metric can be questioned in both cases. Firstly, with regards to advertising visibility, given that Olympic sponsors are some of the most recognisable brands on Earth, it seems unlikely that they would have sought to use the Olympics to drive further awareness. Whilst brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have business challenges, we can safely assume they’re known by 100% of their target audiences. Brands of this calibre must be looking to drive purchasing and brand love, so what was the outcome of this increased visibility?

Social mentions is a valid indicator of some of these outcomes, it demonstrates awareness and engagement. However, we wouldn’t consider measuring the performance of even the simplest social media campaign against a single metric, and so it’s impossible for us to draw significant insights on the performance of a sponsorship of the scale and complexity of the Olympics using this approach.

In order to identify the most successful sponsor we must firstly know and be able to quantify the objectives of each. However, as discussed previously, given the diversity of objectives this is impossible. For arguments sake let’s assume that one sponsor used the Olympics to grow brand love, another to support CSR initiatives, and a third to drive B2B sales. Firstly, there is no way for us to know this, and secondly, even if we could have this information, we cannot quantify these objectives and so we cannot weight metrics appropriately.

This is not to say that there is nothing that marketers can learn from reviewing the performance of Olympic sponsors, but that current methodologies make it unwise to draw significant conclusions. There are two possible solutions, firstly, either we become more cautious in our learnings, which may mean limiting the scope of any evaluation or reducing the confidence with which we make conclusions. It is true that Nissan was successful in driving social mentions, so let’s try to learn how and why they were able to be successful in this space, rather than seeking to extrapolate overall performance from a single metric.

Whilst this seems like a sensible approach, it is unambitious and therefore unsatisfactory, an alternative would be to try to follow an objective-led approach using all data which is either publicly available or can be created. This path is not without its challenges however, as it requires us to estimate the objectives for each and every sponsor, as well as bearing significant costs to create some of this data at a global level. These challenges do not invalidate the approach, indeed any brand looking to invest in a significant sponsorship should conduct an audit in this manner, to see where other brands succeed or fail and how they can best leverage the partnership.

If we are to draw learnings, we should focus on specific campaign initiatives which can be seen to be successful, and seek to understand why they were successful. If all sponsorship campaigns are reviewed in this way we build up a library of interesting and engaging ideas which can form the basis of future activations. I would certainly refrain from drawing grand, sweeping conclusions on overall sponsorship performance, and just enjoy these events for the sporting spectacles they are.

Richard is a consultant and commercial analyst, responsible for managing iris SPORT's consultancy and data offering in the APAC region. Richard co-developed iris SPORTS's award winning sponsorship measurement product. He advises clients on sponsorship selection and strategy, portfolio management, and evaluation.


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