Why brands need to place long-term bets in the war for attention

Wavemaker national head of content Shivani Maharaj
By Wavemaker national head of content Shivani Maharaj | 18 September 2019

We’re currently engaged in a war for audience attention, and it’s every brand for themselves. In this hostile environment, the importance of brand building is greater than ever.

We all know why we’re in this situation. The fragmentation of media over the past decade has dramatically changed the landscape for brands and their agencies. In 2013, we could choose from 20-plus TV programs to deliver one million viewers or more. Last year, that number was down to six.

For that reason, reality TV and sport – the two genres that still demand impressive audience numbers – have become hot property for brands when it comes to sponsorship.

Take MasterChef as an example. When everyone’s favourite cooking show launched in 2008, it had a handful of major sponsors. By 2019, hundreds of brands have been involved, ranging from different tiered sponsors, partners, suppliers, contra deals, you name it. A lot of the success has come from 10’s approach in ensuring every brand campaign is unique across every platform. (Whether sponsors step back from the next season now that Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris won’t return as judges, remains to be seen.) The Block, in its fourth week now, has over 200 partners involved.

The conundrum facing brands is that the TV programs and events they want to appear in are getting cluttered. But if you don’t jump in, your competitor will.

The same goes in the sports arena. There are only seven stadiums in Australia with a capacity of 50,000 people or more, and only a dozen top-tier teams that brands would want to secure.

Critical mass opportunities are getting fewer and fewer.

Play the long game with devotion

This decline of critical mass opportunities is exactly why we need to think and talk about ‘Devotion’. There are finite opportunities so brands have to make their sponsorships work harder.

And to do that, they need to think about how to leverage those partnerships in the long term, not just in the now. Dipping in and out of the partnership is pointless – you might as well save your money. To make a sponsorship worthwhile today, brands have to commit and leverage it a lot harder than in the past.

The biggest question sponsors have to ask themselves is, how will you stand out when you’re up against 50-plus other sponsors of the same program or event?

The celebrity factor

When it comes to reaching your target audience, many celebrities and top-tier influencers are commanding audiences similar to those of major media vendors.

The use of celebrity ambassadors is an effective way for brands to increase awareness, trust and familiarity. Consumers feel more sympathetic towards a brand if their products are promoted by a celebrity they admire or relate to. It’s a simple psychological effect: subconsciously people believe that purchasing a product that’s promoted by a celebrity they

admire, will allow them to emulate the celebrity’s desired traits or attract similar people into their lives.

The use of celebrity ambassadors is a high-reward game with powerful impact, but of course it can also be high-risk. Brands may inadvertently find themselves caught up in whatever situation the talent finds themselves, good or bad, while their campaign is live – just look at the recent controversy surrounding celebrity chef and former MasterChef host George Calombaris, when news emerged he had underpaid staff in his restaurants. While brands such as WA Tourism pulled their sponsorships, they would still have reaped the rewards from the partnership before things went pear shaped.

Either way, the long game matters here too. Whoever you choose to work with as an ambassador, it needs to be a longer-term partnership for it to have meaning for your brand. So find the right opportunity for your brand – whether it’s a sports team, partnership, talent ambassador or the right content partner – and lock it in for a period of time.

Colgate makes it work

Wavemaker’s experience with Colgate testifies to the benefits of the long game.

Five years ago, we took a tube of whitening toothpaste – Colgate Optic White – and positioned it as the ultimate fashion and beauty brand. After all, your smile is your best accessory.

What started as a partnership with Australia’s Next Top Model evolved into signing Jennifer Hawkins as the Colgate Optic White ambassador, bolstered by a move into sponsoring Spring Racing, owning our own carnival day, Colgate Optic White Stakes Day and working with fashion-forward influencers.

The latest partnership for the brand with Napoleon Perdis culminated in the creation of a new limited-edition lipstick design for Colgate Optic White – the ultimate red lipstick highlighting the perfect smile.

Thanks to this long-term strategic approach, Optic White has been one of the most successful innovations in Colgate’s history with Australia leading best in class for partnerships. Better yet, Colgate Optic White has retained its number one position in whitening on shelf.

The longer the better

Whichever way you look at it, brands have to start placing long-term bets. Longer contracts and partnerships will deliver better value.

There are plenty other examples in the market demonstrating the success of long-term partnerships.

The darling of the QSR category, KFC, has committed to cricket for over 10 years, and so has Kia with the Australian Open and Optus with the Olympics. Coles has enjoyed enormous success with its 11-year partnership with MasterChef, despite the explosion of partners over the year – by sticking around for the long haul, Coles has come out on top.

These brands have put their bets in partnerships and drove them through multiple touchpoints and avenues.

If you’re going to place this bet, do it well. Leverage it and push it to get the value from it.

KFC and Kia have both seen success, with Roy Morgan publicly publishing brand results.

Every piece of marketing science research across the world supports the importance of long-term brand building through distinctive emotional brand assets.

Which is ironic because nearly every brief that comes across our desks in content and partnerships is focused on the short term. I know where I’d be placing my bet.

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