Sports Sponsorship 2.0: Don’t Put a Logo on a Suit, Invent a Suit
Thijs de Boer, executive creative director at Cheil Amsterdam, demonstrates how R&D can be a powerful brand-building tool
I’ve long felt sponsorships are an uninspired (read: costly) way for brands to get attention. Pay loads of money to stick your logo on a random object, and hopefully people will see your name while enjoying something completely unrelated - sports for example.
Too often, brands are not concerned whether there is any connection between who or what is sponsored and their business. The goal is mass reach - as long as the event, sport or person attracts a lot of attention: success.
However, over the past few years, brands have started to realise that for sponsorship to have value, there should be some sort of fit. I’m pleased to see that McDonald’s finally (after 40 years!) has stopped sponsoring the Olympics. No explanation needed.
In most cases however, sponsorship is more about quantity than quality. About showing your logo to as many people as possible. A step forward would be to find a natural fit. But if a brand could really be relevant and create true value for the event, sport or person they are sponsoring, now that would be something else entirely. So, that’s what we aimed for when Samsung Netherlands came to us with a request to promote its sponsorship of two of the best Dutch short-trackers on their way to Pyeongchang.
Milliseconds and millimetres
Instead of coming up with all kinds of communication ideas, we started with a very long talk, with the Dutch national coach, the skaters and an ‘embedded scientist’. About top level short-track, about the secret of ice skating, about milliseconds and millimetres. As it turned out, one of the most important things in skating is the position of the ice skater. The closer to the ice, the longer the push on the ice, the faster you’ll go. Until now the ideal position had been something the coach and skaters judged on gut feeling.
As a tech brand that stands for progress by defying barriers, there was a big opportunity for Samsung to be a contributing tech partner for the skaters. A chance to be a relevant sponsor, giving true meaning to Samsung’s tagline ‘do what you can’t’. Two weeks after our initial talk we presented the Samsung SmartSuit to the coach, scientist and Samsung. Stuffed with sensors measuring in real-time the height at which the skater was positioned above the ice, the suit was designed to send data to the coach’s device, allowing him to immediately communicate adjustments back to the skaters. Both the national team and Samsung embraced the idea and the technological challenge. Big ups for a brave client.
More than just a logo
After technical development, the technicians and short-trackers secretly tested and trained with the suit for six months. Just before the Olympics - when the buzz about innovation in sports was at its peak - we brought the story to the press. The whole world reported on it, talking about Samsung being more than just a logo on a suit, but truly a contributing tech partner. It didn’t just put the logo out there, it built on the brand story.
The best Olympic short-trackers and coach in the world had really embraced the suit. They used it in training for months, showing us that they believed this innovation could really make the difference. Additionally, other teams expressed an interest - even in the home of short-track (and, funnily enough, Samsung) South Korea.
Sponsors should look out for partnerships that allow them to really build their brands, instead of settling for logo awareness and reach. Sponsorship then has greater meaning and can really become an important part of long-term brand building. It’s time to inject some creativity - not just money - into sponsorship.