Whatever you think of Sonny Bill Williams as a rugby player (and just about everyone has an opinion), he does have an exceptional and enviable talent for grabbing a headline. You’d think that would make him hot property for sponsors for whom one measure of success is paid-for media equivalence.
Indeed, measuring the ‘success’ of a sponsorship is something that has challenged companies for many years. There are the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ advocates, and then there are those who look for a direct result in changes to brand measures. The paid-for media equivalence (how many times and for how long is your logo shown, how many column inches did you get) is one model, and another is looking at what your sponsorship does to people’s behaviour – did you sell more stuff?
Sponsorship programmes range from the CEO’s pet project, to carefully selected brand image matching, to a vehicle for delivering a social purpose. Each of these reasons for getting involved in sponsorship would potentially warrant a different measure. What they all have in common though will be the need to know whether people are noticing the sponsorship, connecting it with the sponsoring brand and what they have to say about it.
So back to Sonny Bill Williams’ headline grabbing over the BNZ sponsorship of the Blues. For the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ advocates he has scored a solid try. Across the social platforms that Zavy listens in on we can see that people are most definitely talking about it, and of course the media have given the topic plenty of oxygen. So for those who favour media equivalence measures, a combination of the coverage on social and traditional media would give you some high numbers.
So far so good. What Zavy can also tell us though is what the sentiment of the chatter is. If you are concerned with brand reputation and brand image measures you’d be interested to know that since the SBW news broke, there have been three times as many negative or neutral conversations on social media than positive ones. And, this is across many social platforms so it picks up different demographics and also reflects the different ways the platforms are used (instant knee jerks as well as more considered views; news sharing as well as projecting a self-image through the opinions you hold).
Whatever the objectives of a sponsorship programme and whatever measure of success you favour, it is challenging to be confronted with publicity that potentially reflects badly on the brand. So the debate is around whether there is a negative halo on BNZ, or is it around SBW himself? Can an overt rejection of the brand by a carrier of the sponsorship be neutralised or instead is it always a bad thing – can it ever be a good thing?
What we are hearing through Zavy is although the headline is SBW’s refusal to promote the brand (in truth it is the category he rejects, but no one talks about categories except marketers), it’s not what SBW does that matters – it’s what the sponsor does. By behaving with empathy (for SBW’s right to a conscientious action) and a calm tone of voice BNZ have enhanced their brand, their reputation and added to their social media share of voice whatever the headlines are saying.
If we only pay attention to the headlines we don’t get the whole picture. We hear what the media has to say but not what ordinary Kiwis are saying. Listening to social media gets us closer to the word on the street and that’s where ownership lies of both Sonny Bill Williams’ reputation and that of the sponsor.
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