Do Consumers' Actions Speak Louder Than Their Words?
The research raises the issue: Can you rely on customers to accurately predict their own behavior when it comes to sponsorship effectiveness?
Asking consumers to self-assess the impact of marketing activities is not best practice for marketing effectiveness analysis. There are at least three reasons why this would not work for sponsorships:
- First, consumers don't always do what they say. Some years ago, an airline client of ours surveyed passengers about their in-flight snacking preferences. A large majority of the passengers indicated they wanted healthy snack options. However, actual snack consumption, after the introduction of the new healthy snacks passengers had asked for, still showed the unhealthy options as the most popular. This is just one example of how consumers' actual actions can differ from their stated intentions.
- Second, the question asked in the research, "When a brand is an official sponsor, are you more or less likely to buy it" is a complicated one. The question requires respondents to assess the role of sponsorships among the many other purchase factors. Complicated questions usually don't yield robust data; therefore, we usually try to avoid them.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we believe the approach may be flawed because the impact of a sponsorship doesn't just have to do with the "Official Sponsor" status, it has to do with the activation of the sponsorship. When a sponsorship is intended to build brand equity with a broad target, activation is critical for the sponsorship rights investment to be justified.
While the rights are necessary to become a sponsor, the activation allows those rights to be leveraged to their full potential. A sponsorship activation like Visa's "Go World" Olympics campaign with its connection to past Olympic events and to the fundamentals of the Olympic ideal brings the sponsorship to life in a way that the term "official Olympic sponsor" cannot capture.
So how should we analyze sponsorships? The idea is to link sponsorship exposure to brand perceptions and then to either purchase intent or actual purchases. We know that sponsorships are intended to build brand equity, so we start by determining how customers' brand perceptions have changed as a result of sponsorship exposure.
We then look at how these changes in brand perceptions impact purchase behavior by linking to either purchase intent or actual purchases. The analysis relies on statistical analysis not direct reads. We ask customers separately about sponsorship exposure, brand perceptions and purchase behavior, making respondents' tasks much easier, and yielding more robust results.
Overall, we've found that sponsorships can be very effective at driving customer behavior. Sponsorship activations often yield returns that more than justify the investment in sponsorship rights. As a result, Olympic sponsors perform significantly better than their peers.
Since its inception in the beginning of 2006, the Dow Jones Summer/Winter Games Index, tracking the financial performance of Olympic sponsors, has yielded annual total returns of +9.3%, compared with -9.6% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. So while consumers may think they are indifferent to Olympic sponsorships, their behavior, in fact, suggests the contrary.