Terry Murphy. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Terry Murphy. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

As the Fifa soccer World Cup gets under way, questions are again being asked about the value of brand sponsorship. Do consumers even notice the often expensive association.

Brands lending their name to the spectacular in Russia should be asking about "the missing 40%", says Nielsen SA Watch (Media) MD Terry Murphy. Though brand sponsorships are trusted by 75% of South Africans, only 61% of global fans are favourably disposed, Murphy tells the FM.

Big sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket have traditionally been attractive propositions for sponsorship investment because of their larger fan base, and "as brand owners and rights holders become more adept at understanding the connections between consumers, audiences and fans, opportunities are opening up to reach consumers in multiple places, to achieve better outcomes in terms of awareness, engagement, loyalty and ultimately market share".

Research has revealed that passionate cricket fans are also keen on braaiing and cooking, and are interested in other activities such as health and music. This, she says, opens up opportunities to connect with cricket fans on different occasions and at events with brands relevant to their lifestyle.

Murphy believes returns required from sponsorship investment are evolving to become more meaningful and tangible.

"There is a growing trend towards partnerships, with brands requiring more than just visibility. Integration across multiple touch points is sought, including advertising, public relations and activation."

Engagement is the key

But brands also need to get smarter. "They need to become more precise and purposeful about their marketing investment through a better understanding of consumers, audiences and fans. And their strategy needs to incorporate measurement metrics to guide and optimise spend and provide stakeholders with verified return on marketing investment."

The key word is engagement. Brands need to incorporate more sophisticated and insightful engagement activities which include penetrating other aspects of a fan’s lifestyle.

"A consumer’s lifestyle interests present many opportunities for engagement, which when used correctly can convert fans to loyal consumers. These opportunities are there for a brand’s taking, if they can adapt their strategy to fit in with the consumer’s life."

While global brands like Visa, Coca-Cola and adidas have forked out millions of dollars for the right to sponsor the World Cup, a bigger budget doesn’t guarantee a good return on investment.

Murphy cites the sponsorship, by regional soft drink brand Twizza, of the Free State Cheetahs rugby team. It has made significant inroads into the carbonates market in the province as a result of the association.

"A campaign’s success depends on using the budget available in the right way: where and how it is used to reach the intended audience via content, activation, pricing and promotion and distribution efficiency."

Brands venturing into sponsorship also need to keep a weather eye on digital platforms.

Says Murphy: "Unsurprisingly, we are seeing more adspend directed towards digital formats. For some companies this is as high as 30% of their ad budget. As marketers incorporate real-time metrics they will be able to capitalise on reaching the right audiences, providing more focused, personalised content and becoming more interactive and responsive to their consumers."