Dishing: The Games People Play
It's been almost 20 years since Robert Fulghum published his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which correctly reminded us that we can learn a lot from seeing the world through the experiences and ground rules of our childhood. For me, it's been seven years since I switched from account planning to consumer context planning and I've learned something similar, but a bit more focused:
Everything an advertiser needs to know about sponsorship was learned during recess on the grade-school playground.
Since I began studying a wide range of media vehicles as well as valuing brand sponsorships, I've come to the realization that three recess events represent powerful metaphors for how to win and lose in investing our clients' hard-earned money.
In the worst of the three, Crack the Whip, kids link hands in a line, and the leader pulls the chain of humanity in an unpredictable, winding path that causes a chain reaction of movement. The goal for the leader is to create such Newtonian reactive force that the poor kid on the end of the chain flies off. Victory is achieved when only one person remains standing.
This game is the perfect symbol of how to guarantee a sponsorship will fail.
In this metaphor, the leader in Crack the Whip represents the media vehicle who sets the pace and course. He isn't required to care much about those hitched on to him. In fact, they're sort of a "drag" on the system. True, there wouldn't be a game without them, but he isn't there to work with them. He's there to do whatever he can to win the game. The sponsoring advertisers are the kid hangers-on. They have no control over the leader, or the direction, pace, or nature of his media content. They just hope that, by holding on for dear life, they can stay a part of his game and benefit from his leadership and pace-setting image.
Worst of all is when your brand is the poor sponsoring schlep in the last position - the first to fall off and last to be remembered; the laughingstock for everyone watching from the playground.
A second, less wasteful sponsorship approach is what I call the Baton Race sponsorship.
In this event, the medium teams up with a few advertisers. The baton represents the funding. Each advertiser puts cash in the baton and passes it on. The medium is always the final runner in the relay who gets to cross the finish line with the baton full of cash.
Baton Race sponsorships are certainly better than Crack the Whip efforts. The advertisers and medium do band together to plot the path and strategy to achieve total team victory. There is some shared glory and credit to go around for all. But in the end, it's a safe bet that the medium who crosses the finish line enjoys most of the spoils of victory, leaving the sponsors as supporting stars covering the cost of the competition.
That leaves us with the gold medal sponsorship approach: the Three-Legged Race. In this event, the advertiser and media players are, quite literally, joined at the hip. They must work as full partners to win, matching assets, style, strategy and objectives from the starting gun to the finish line. If one falters, both fall. If both stay in perfect sync, performing at their best, they both win.
The partners are sensitive to each other's needs, assets and vulnerabilities, and work cooperatively to achieve mutual success. The spectators are left admiring their seamless synergy, and benefiting from their outstanding and entertaining performance.
Agencies should take a three-legged race approach, bringing clients together with the right media vehicles early and mapping out a partnership that creates the most engaging win/win consumer experience. That's the way to deliver content that leaves the audience captivated by both the medium and sponsor alike.
Jana O'Brien is executive vice president and chief consumer officer at Starcom MediaVest Group. (email@example.com)