Sponsorship Primer: Brought to You By...
Nearly a half-dozen years ago, an Israeli company called Pineapple Multimedia wowed Interactive Newspaper Conference attendees with a bit of inspired online advertising. Picture this: you’re reading a story in your morning paper (online, of course) and a miniature cartoon hand holding scissors cuts open a small section of the article. Up pops a tiny man holding a box of cereal. He shows you the box, pops back behind the story and closes up the gap, all within a few seconds. Captivating and fleeting, the ad was the talk of the conference. This, we all thought, is the future of online advertising. Well, it took much longer than expected, but the future is finally here. Online, advertisers are moving beyond banner ads and into more creative arenas, where the standard 468x60 pixel space just doesn’t cut it. Welcome to the world of online sponsorships.
Although the term is still being defined, the best way to describe an online sponsorship is to compare it against its more famous relative, the ad banner. Ad banners and sponsorships serve some of the same purposes—to build brand awareness and encourage consumers to buy certain goods and services—and they sometimes take on some of the same manifestations—as a banner spot or web page button—but the similarities end there. Sponsorships typically last much longer, anywhere from one to three months on average or as long as a year or more, and they are generally more visible than ad banners. For instance, sponsorships may include well-placed logos, pop-up windows, and more integrated content. In addition, sponsors tend to negotiate exclusive deals that are based on a package price, not on a CPM basis.
The benefits of sponsorships are clear. Just as in the “real” world, a sponsorship provides an implied endorsement between the content site and the sponsor, and it allows the advertiser to build upon the trust another brand has already attained. Sponsors also may receive valuable data, such as when the content site agrees to share email registrations. Plus, sponsorships allow for significantly more creativity, because the advertiser isn’t restricted to a small corner of a site. Here’s a look at some of the more effective types of online sponsorships.
Content Integration If the primary goal of a sponsorship is to align your image with that of a particular content site and build upon the trust the other site has developed with its customers, one successful example to watch is the relationship Kraft has established with Food Network’s FoodTV.com (www.foodtv.com). Over the past three years, Kraft has routinely worked with FoodTV to link its image to the popular website. FoodTV.com is known for its celebrity recipes, cookbook reviews, cooking tips, online chats and other food-related content, so it was a logical partner for Kraft, the food giant. Between four and six times a year, Kraft sponsors a recipe section based on a seasonal event; for instance, one month it might be a “Back to School” promotion, another time it is a Halloween sponsorship, and another time it may be a winter holiday celebration. Visitors click on timely recipes listed on the FoodTV.com pages, and the links take them to a colorful page deep within the Kraft site, so individuals don’t waste time floundering on the Kraft home page. This type of sponsorship has driven thousands upon thousands of FoodTV.com users to the Kraft site and helped Kraft tailor its image to a highly desired audience.
Rich Media Another type of sponsorship relies on the use of rich media to attract and hold consumer attention. Consider, for example, the sponsorship of Dilbert by Microsoft’s website authoring tool FrontPage. About a year and a half ago, Microsoft ran a unique sponsorship on one of America’s favorite online cartoon sites. Visitors to the Dilbert home page were given the opportunity to use FrontPage to modify the home page in dozens of ways; for instance, they could change the background color or replace Wally with Ratbert. More than simply a co-branding or a link to another page, the sponsorship showed users first-hand what it was like to use the FrontPage tool, and you can bet the strategy was more effective than simply linking them to the FrontPage website. While there hasn’t been an overwhelming number of these types of sponsorships, this type of creativity could soon flourish. An online bookstore, for example, might sponsor a section on a children’s community site that lets kids collaborate on creating stories by posting the next sentence on a message board, or a sporting goods store might drive visitors to a ski mountain site in the boots of someone actually skiing the course.
Back to Basics The third type of sponsorship most closely resembles the traditional ad banner, but the exclusive nature of the promotion gives it a special twist. Commonly called “inline ads,” these banners are typically run vertically down a page and tend to be somewhat larger than standard ad banners. They aren’t outstanding in terms of technology, but the exclusive placement brings better results than a rotating ad banner. Saab knows how this works. The car manufacturer is currently sponsoring part of the Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) site, the expert guide for automobile buyers. Those interested in new luxury vehicles click through the new car section of the site, and Saab’s inline ad accompanies them through each step. Besides achieving what DoubleClick spokesperson Stacy Smollin characterizes as outstanding click-through rates on the ad, the sponsorship encourages Kelley Blue Book users to think of Saab when they think of luxury cars.
“Fun” sponsorships Some sponsorships are notable more for their unexpected, quirky nature than for their attempts to lure visitors to the sponsor’s site. Take the case of an eclipse in the summer of 1999. The eclipse was a major news event in Germany, and BMG decided to get in on the act. Visitors to BMG’s arts and entertainment site around the time of the eclipse watched for a few seconds as the page slowly went black and then were greeted by a message along the lines of “This eclipse was brought to you by...”
Another notable example of this type of sponsorship tied into the latest movie version of 101 Dalmatians. Some online surfers began seeing black and white spots show up on the backgrounds of their favorite web pages. The spots weren’t clickable; they were simply a fun way to publicize the movie and create a relationship in the minds of these surfers between the sites and the movie.
Choosing partner sites Creating successful sponsorships online is different from creating successful ad banners, so here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
Before diving into a sponsorship, figure out what your goal is. Is it to generate traffic, to develop a brand identity, to generate some buzz about a particular product? Ask yourself if you can meet your goal without driving people to your site. If so, then you may benefit from sponsoring content on a site other than your own, as long as it reaches your target audience.
Look at the behavior patterns of the site with which you’re considering creating a sponsorship. “A lot of people look at traffic numbers, but they should be looking at the behavior patterns, the e-commerce patterns,” says Brian Quashnock, account manager at Pegasus Online Marketing. “Being able to say, ‘We know this site does a million dollars plus or more so it’s good to target them,’ is more likely to do more (than simply reaching a mass audience).”
Lastly, get as detailed a demographic as possible. Quashnock notes that demographic data for websites are not as comprehensive as compared to other media, and advertisers don’t always get a detailed picture. Get as much demographic information as possible, he advises, and do any offline research you can. For instance, if you’re considering a sponsorship with a Broadway-related site, look at research on who attends Broadway plays.
While following these tips won’t ensure a knock-em-dead sponsorship, they can help point you on the right path. Since sponsorships are relatively newer than many other types of online advertisements, they tend to be a bit riskier, and the CPM may be higher. But when you weigh in the intangibles, you may find yourself a winning deal.
Heidi V. Anderson is a freelance writer specializing in marketing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.