Do Consumers' Actions Speak Louder Than Their Words?

According to a recent AdweekMedia/Harris poll, 71% of consumers are indifferent to official Olympic sponsor status when it comes to buying a brand. However, we will argue that this in no way diminishes the attractiveness of Olympics sponsorships, or sponsorships in general for that matter.

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.

6 comments about "Do Consumers' Actions Speak Louder Than Their Words? ".
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  1. Ilyas Pannu from United States Postal Service, March 16, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.

    Good practical analysis on consumer behavior, could be helpful in understanding survey results and actual ROI.

  2. Joey T, March 16, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.

    Great and important read.
    I believe the sponsorship works well, yes, for more activation, but most importantly as a competitive advantage. The exclusivity of olympic sponsorship usually ensures 14 days of your brand being displayed non-stop, while your competition will be invisible. A lot of ads are purely tit for tat (I must because he is). At the olympics, it is an opportunity to take a strong lead.
    And the Olympics index - Only very strong companies who invest their marketing budget wisely can afford and benefit from olympic sponsorship (a chicken and egg question)


  3. Michael Lehman from Levenson and Hill, March 16, 2010 at 1:56 p.m.

    "As a result, Olympic sponsors perform significantly better than their peers."

    Were the sponsors doing proportionately better than their peers beforehand? Was a pre/post analysis used to reach this conclusion?

    Just curious.

  4. Richard Shain from Performance Analysis Group, Inc., March 16, 2010 at 2:27 p.m.

    I tend to agree that consumers are not the best ones to predict their own behavior. I remember my younger days at Procter & Gamble. At cocktail parties friends would invariably say "Advertising doesn't effect me." I'd ask them what toothpaste they used and why. They would reply, Crest...because it prevents cavities. When I'd ask what toilet paper they used and why, they would say Charmin because its softer.

    They were like parrots mimicking the commercials...even though they were convinced that advertising didn't effect their behavior!

  5. Roger Wilson from The Conference Department, Inc., March 16, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.

    Based on my scientific sample of two family members closely observed plus a measure of self awareness on my part I would say the sponsors and the advertisers got their money's worth. Imagine what value could be created if we actually had access to good coverage (for me all Nordic, Alpine and Speed Skating).

  6. Ove Haxthausen from Millward Brown Optimor, March 16, 2010 at 6:51 p.m.

    Thank you for all the great feedback.

    To address the question by Michael Lehman: Yes, we do pre/post and test vs. control analysis, looking at how sponsorship activation exposure impacts brand perceptions and how those brand perceptions lead to change in purchase behavior. Our analysis often (not always!) shows ROIs that more than justify sponsorship rights fees.

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