Marketing Risks Come With Sponsorship Territory

FoulPlay-B

The latest CMO Council study, "Doing Away With Foul Play," on marketers' thoughts on brand-protection and intellectual property risks around sports found that marketers realize they are lagging in the race to stay ahead of counterfeiters, ambushers, and others using digital platforms to steal their brands.

The survey, performed with MarkMonitor, a brand protection firm, polled 225 senior sports marketers across a number of industries on how well brands are safeguarding themselves. Also polled were 20 executives from top leagues and corporate sponsors. While 72% said that sports sponsorships are valuable, only 52% are monitoring their brands on digital channels; a quarter said they don't track their brands online. Forty-one percent of respondents listed ambush marketing by competitors as the top concern ahead of counterfeiting and knockoff merchandise.

Ambush marketing, where a brand not officially affiliated with an event creates a very public campaign that makes them appear to be, is one such tactic that got several brands more than they paid for at the FIFA World Cup this year. Think of the Bavaria Beer girls, who gave the company free beer ads for the cost of tickets. Forty-one percent of marketers in the survey said ambushing is a top concern in brand protection, putting that issue ahead of counterfeiting, knockoffs, and the improper behavior of top athletes (27% of respondents).

"Brands that ambush events are competing with official sponsors for customer attention," says Liz Miller, VP programs and operations for the CMO Council. "If someone does one great stunt that gets someone to try their brand, you have lost that customer. It's not just competition for airtime, it's beyond that."

The FIFA games also provided examples of another intellectual property risk -- brand hijacking -- where illegitimate players steal brand logos and event imagery to create faux marketing sites. In the survey, 26% of respondents said brand hijacking was the most important risk, meaning that problem came in fourth place.

In the case of the World Cup this year, people ended up buying worthless tickets from a fake Web company that festooned itself with all of the official FIFA partner brands. "Unfortunately, the negative carries over to legitimate brands and properties," says Miller.

"The backlash leads back to the sponsoring brands just because their logos happened to be on the site. Ambush marketers and hijackers are latching onto the excitement of global mass events, and that diminishes the value of brands that are official partners and the value of the sports properties themselves," she tells Marketing Daily, explaining that the complexity marketers are facing now with Web 2.0 is that the democratization of the digital space opens doors to fraudulent misappropriation and misuse of brand content.

The survey said there was little consensus on what encouraged these problems. Forty-two percent of respondents said lack of enforcement or penalties was the main problem. Second place in marketers' minds was sophistication of perpetrators, and difficulty in the timely detection of threats.

"The response strategy must not include just the CIO, CFO and legal departments. There must be a cross-functional, c-suite mandate on protecting customer experience and engagement. Marketers must be part of it," she says, adding that it makes sense to look at sports properties not only as ad platforms but as engagement opportunities. "In this day and age, it's not just how big the signage is, it's 'how do I get that fan base to be loyal to my brand?' It's a vehicle rather than a ... destination."

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