Tag Archives: Sponsorship Evaluation

When Can Stadium Naming Rights Turn a Corporation into a Hero?

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Corporate America: These fans could be cheering just as mightily for your brand soon enough.

Despite the crippling economic situation in Detroit, it seems like it is “all systems go” for the construction of a new home for the Red Wings in the city affectionately known as “Hockeytown.”

Although the City of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July in the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the United States, a state board declared a unanimous vote the same week approving plans for a new downtown hockey arena.  The $650 million project will be funded, in part, with an estimated $285 million in tax dollars – even though the city is in an estimated $18-$20 billion in debt.

Detroit has become a place where police, on average, take an hour to respond to calls for help and 40% of streetlights are powered off in an attempt to save money.  Vacant buildings and empty schools litter the landscape of the former industrial powerhouse.  On the face of it, a new stadium dependent on public funding just doesn’t appear to be an appropriate allocation of property taxes given the dire situation of Detroit city services.

Advocates for its construction, however, view the 18,000-seat arena as the centerpiece in a development plan to inject life into the 45-block area linking midtown and downtown Detroit.  Michigan Governor Rick Snyder hopes the proposed retail, office, and parking space around the arena will create a better long-term environment for the city.

Completion of the area is anticipated for 2017, but to this point, there has been no public mention of any corporations vying for naming rights of the Red Wings’ new home.  The proposed arena would be home to one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports and would supplant the Palace at Auburn Hills as the premiere indoor concert venue in Metro Detroit.  There is a lot riding on this venue, and it has the potential to breed a very positive influence on a very depressed city.  According to our research, this is the perfect situation for big business to find sponsorship success by playing the hero, rather than the exploiter.

In the first independent study of its kind, Performance Research revealed the critical “Naming Rights & Naming Wrongs” of stadium sponsorship.  When do companies get it right, you ask?  In situations such as this where there is a strong need for a new venue, and there is a deep appreciation for corporate contributions that help make the new stadium a reality, that’s when!

Some pertinent highlights from the study: Nearly 40% of respondents opposed the idea of changing the titles of existing stadiums and arenas to accommodate corporate naming rights, regardless of the reasoning.  However, companies that struck deals with new and developing arenas experienced a positive impact on public opinion with 6 out of 10 fans. Local supporters embraced named stadiums that were new because they often felt they benefitted personally as a result.  ‘Lower taxes,’ ‘more sports opportunities,’ and ‘lower ticket prices’ were the most appreciated benefits cited by fans.

Although hockey is not discussed, this intriguing USA Today infographic highlights the lucrative nature of stadium naming rights today.  Joe Louis Arena, Detroit’s current house of hockey, is one of only three in the NHL without a corporate sponsor.  Our prediction?  Look for the new Detroit arena to buck this trend and shop its naming rights this time around.  And, if corporate America is smart, they will surely listen.

If a corporate sponsor emerges to help facilitate Detroit’s new downtown developments, the results would be tremendous for everyone involved.  A city in desperate need of salvation would see government funding allocated where it is needed most.  The new venue and surrounding infrastructure would provide a well-timed ray of economic hope for Detroit. And its residents, as well as those outside of the area, will recognize that sponsor’s commitment in making it all happen with substantial PR gains in the process.

That is how to become a corporate hero in one easy step.  What’s not to like?

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LGBT Community Calls for Boycott of Olympic Sponsors

ImageRussian president, Vladimir Putin has led a series of harsh political actions against homosexuals over the past month, including passing one resolution that bans propaganda of all non-traditional sexual relations.  With Sochi set to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, worldwide protest of this reform continues to grow leaving many calling for the International Olympic Committee to demand retraction of Russia’s laws under the threat of boycott.

The IOC has promised that it would work to ensure members of the LGBT community, athletes and spectators alike, safe participation in the games without experiencing any discrimination.  In a recent statement, the IOC claims to have received “assurances from the highest level” of Russian government that the anti-gay propaganda law will not affect anyone participating in or attending the Games.  Despite these assurances, many remain skeptical.  Would you feel safe?

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin recently challenged NBC Universal, which paid $4 billion for exclusive rights of Olympic coverage, to fully disclose Russia’s human rights violations during its broadcasts.  NBC’s response left much to be desired, as they agreed to “provide coverage of Russia’s anti-gay laws IF the controversial measures surface as an issue during the upcoming Winter Olympics.”

Social issues of this magnitude are typically not on the minds of corporate sponsors when they are inking multi-million dollar contracts.  Their concern lies in putting together innovative and effective campaigns that will maximize their ROI.  With the Sochi Games fast approaching, however, opposition to Putin’s war on the gay community is gaining steam.

In addition to the rampant and growing calls on Facebook for boycotting anything Russian, the latest target on social media is aimed squarely at Olympic sponsors.  The controversy will challenge companies like AT&T, Coca-Cola, General Motors, McDonald’s, Panasonic, Samsung, VISA, and Procter & Gamble that have made huge commitments to sponsor all that is positive about the Olympic movement.  However, with the unanticipated turmoil in Russia, they run the risk of being associated with the event for all the wrong reasons.  The controversial nature of this issue leaves them vulnerable to offending the LGBT community to the point where they may lose the group as consumers for years to come.

Coca-Cola, sponsor of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay, has a longstanding history of support for LGBT events and causes.  Coke has repeatedly stood behind their statement that they do not condone intolerance of any kind.  Despite this, it has refused to weigh in on the controversy, claiming that it “does not take positions on political matters unrelated to our business.”

Olympic sponsors will continue to feel immense pressure to make a statement against Russia’s policies as the February Opening Ceremony nears.  The Olympics are almost always accompanied with some form of controversy.  This includes, most recently, protests against Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Summer Games due to China’s human rights track record.  However, given the recent passion surrounding LGBT equality and the proliferation of social media since 2008 the potential for an issue to directly impact official sponsors in this capacity is unprecedented.

Regardless of how this plays out, the bigger question for sponsors will remain.  What level of responsibility should sponsors of the Olympics bear?  Where do you draw the line between sports and politics?   Is there truly an effective reaction for sponsors to take that will satisfy anyone in situations like this?

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Lack of Funding for US Speedskating Offers Huge Sponsorship Opportunity

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A recent USA today article highlights the plight of Olympic aspirants that struggle just to make ends meet.  Olympic short-track speedskating hopeful Emily Scott’s story is highlighted.  She has seen her monthly direct athlete stipend cut by nearly 70%, forcing her to take on the third-shift at a surgical supply factory and apply for food stamps.

Scott’s predicament is not an isolated one, however, as many other Olympic hopefuls are forced to live paycheck to paycheck.  Outside of a few skiers and snowboarders with lucrative sponsorship deals, other winter athletes endure the same kind of financial struggle as Scott.  The US Olympic Committee can only do so much for its athletes, and naturally allocates funding to the athletes with the greatest chance of standing atop the podium draped in gold.  Other athletes are left to fend for themselves as their direct stipends continue to decrease. 

The limited funding the USOC distributes to the lower-profile winter sports provides an ideal opportunity for resourceful sponsorship.  Funding sports like speedskating or bobsledding offer potential sponsors a cheaper method of becoming officially affiliated with the Winter Olympics that can do wonders for their public image.

Prior research conducted by Performance Research consistently suggests that companies who fund struggling Olympic teams hit emotional trigger points with consumers that make the venture a worthwhile one.  Olympics-related sponsorship is particularly good at generating good will, and companies who fill voids such as this one are viewed as altruistic and patriotic leaders in their field. 

US Speedskating currently boasts a 15-member sponsorship roster, but there remains plenty of room for any corporation looking to become an official Olympic sponsor on the cheap.  The domestic speedskating governing body has seen the money it receives from the USOC for direct athlete support cut by about $15,000 from last year.  This is particularly surprising because speedskating is historically USA’s most successful winter sport.  Not only will forthcoming sponsors be perceived as charitable, but their brand will also be associated with athletic success of the highest order.    

Before Tuesday, Emily Scott has raised $195 on her crowdfunding site, gofundme.com.  Since the USA Today story broke, she has raised $35,498 and counting.  This is a testament to just how impactful a new corporate sponsor can be not only to US athletes, but also to consumers across the country.  If people are willing to empty their pockets for an Olympic athlete in need, imagine their perception of a company that would do the same.

It is astonishing that additional sponsorship of US Speedskating is yet to emerge.   To any companies thinking about pulling the trigger on this type of deal: please fire away!  Opportunities like this to generate progressive public sentiment are hard to come by.  Our research suggests that you will not regret your decision.

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LA Tech Firm Belkin Hopes to Rejuvenate Pro Cycling with Sponsorship

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Professional cycling is getting a much-needed boost heading into the 100th rendition of its major annual event, the Tour de France.  Los Angeles based tech company Belkin has announced a deal to sponsor the artists formerly known as the Rabobank Pro Cycling team through 2015.  The Dutch lending firm is just one of the many team sponsors to remove themselves from the sport in the wake of all-time cycling great Lance Armstong’s fall from grace.

Rabobank asserted, “the trust in the cycling world has gone,” upon its withdrawal of its $20 million annual sponsorship.  Nissan has also dissociated from another cycling team featuring at least one member with ties to Armstrong’s serial use of performance enhancing drugs.  In addition, The HTC-Highroad team was forced out of commission because of potential sponsors’ hesitation to associate with a sport whose history is rooted in corruption.

Belkin has an incredible opportunity to expand its brand globally this weekend.  The Tour de France is one of the only truly global sporting events.  The three week long ride provides ample advertising opportunity, especially if the Belkin Pro Cycling team competes near the front of the pack. Riding as Team Blanco, Belkin’s new squad has already amassed 19 victories this year. The team is comprised of 29 different cyclists of five different nationalities.  Belkin currently sells products to more than 100 countries, and will look to amplify its presence in the global market with this move.

Belkin has pledged to uphold a no-nonsense policy on doping, a plan that their newest sponsees should have no problem respecting.  The team made the decision to ride as Team Blanco after being dropped by Rabobank to signify a fresh start for its members and the sport in general.  They will remain a member of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) as they ride under the Belkin umbrella.  The MPCC is an assembly of teams devoted to cleaning up the sport, holding themselves to even stricter anti-doping measures than those established by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

This sponsorship represents a huge investment for the California consumer technology firm.  In fact, CEO Chet Pipkin says it is the largest Belkin has ever made in the marketing arena.  Pipkin will not be the only person eager for this marriage to work.  From prospective sponsors to the most casual of fans, the world will be monitoring the success of this relationship closely.  The tech savvy and faithful cycling fan base already in place fits well with the Belkin brand.  Pipkin hopes this association with a well-established pro team will introduce Belkin to a new pool of consumers and stimulate the reemergence of cycling on the world scale.

Lance Armstrong was once one of the most revered athletes in the world, but the truth behind his success has pushed many potential followers in the other direction.  Fans of a sport in need of a savior should be optimistic about the combination of an enthusiastic sponsor and a team devoted to competing with honesty and integrity.  Belkin’s pledge bodes well for professional cycling, but the question remains: How will the sport recover from the fall of its prodigal son?

A good showing by the Belkin Pro Cycling squad in France will go a long way in accomplishing just that.

Catch coverage of the 100th annual Tour de France throughout July on NBC Sports Network.

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Ireland Considering Ban on Sports-Related Alcohol Sponsorship

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Irish officials are currently mulling a proposal by the Department of Health that would terminate the presence of alcohol companies in sports sponsorship.  Newly elected Minister of State for Primary Care, Alex White, drafted a memorandum last month that called for a gradual phasing out of the drinks industry that is so heavily involved in the state’s premier sporting events.  His plan would entirely detach alcohol sponsorship and sports by the year 2020, and ban the establishment of any new sponsorship deals beyond 2016.

Opposition against the proposed ban is gaining momentum among domestic sporting organizations.  The Irish Sports Council believes Ireland’s ability to compete on the international sporting stage will be destroyed if the Government proceeds with plans to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring major sporting events.  The most successful Irish sports organization stands to lose the most in this situation.  Alcohol-related sponsorship is pivotal the success of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), with an estimated value of € 9 million.  The Union will be unable to compete to keep the top players currently playing for the Irish clubs that have proven to be worldwide competitors at the Heineken Cup.   

It is important to note the link between alcohol sponsorship and sport extends beyond the country’s premier sports leagues.  Local pubs across Ireland regularly sponsor local sports clubs by providing gear marked with their logo.  By and large, these deals are not built in the financial interest of the pub, but as a testament of commitment to the local community.  The proposed ban would eliminate this type of goodwill funding that provides so much value for the youth in the country.  Athletic competition across the spectrum would suffer a fatal blow were this type of sponsorship to be prohibited.

Supporters of the ban believe as alcohol moves out of sport, other companies will move in to fill the sponsorship void.  Current evidence, however, suggests otherwise.  Take for example the annual Irish Open, which for the third straight year is left without a title sponsor despite its worldwide appeal and star-studded cast, including world top-ten performers Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.  And what about the 2013 World Cup champion women’s rugby squad? They too are in the midst of a desperate search for funding. 

Adequate patronage presents itself far too infrequently for Ireland to render alcohol companies castaways in the sea of sponsorship.  They instead need to facilitate a RESPONSIBLE relationship between drink and sport.  NASCAR provides an ideal example of healthy participation by alcohol companies in sport.   Teams sponsored by liquor companies are required to run responsible drinking campaigns both on the track and in the media.  Jack Daniels, for example, displays “Pace Yourself. Drink Responsibly.” on their sprint car and flies a waving yellow flag warning drinkers on their section of the NASCAR website. 

In a country where the mantra “Drink Responsibly.” is too often superseded by “Drink Relentlessly.” conscientious alcohol sponsorship provides the perfect opportunity to educate people of Ireland about alcohol use and abuse.  

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PR On-Site at X Games LA 2012!

The Performance Research team was busy conducting research at the X Games in LA this summer. The event continues to grow, and sponsorship activations on-site are growing right along with it.

Check out some of our pictures, below, and let us know: did you watch X Games this summer? If you did… did you see the Hot Wheels Double Loop Dare? It’s been getting lots of attention on social media. It was our favorite sponsorship activation by far. The stunt drew huge crowds and follow-up traffic at their X Fest booth. It was a unique and daring way to engage with X Games fans who have a penchant for the unique and daring.

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Nike, Famous Ambusher, Is Redefining the Art of Ambush Marketing

As the world is ramping up for London 2012, savvy marketers everywhere are attempting to find ways to align their brand with the Olympic Games — even though they’re not official sponsors. Ambush marketing is nearly synonymous with the Games, and if any brand is famous for its Olympic ambush schemes, it’s Nike: they’ve perfected the art, from wrapping the 1996 Athens stadium in their “swoosh” to handing out branded merchandise to fans entering Olympic arenas.

But the sportswear brand is doing something completely different for the 2012 Games: instead of attempting to “trick” consumers into thinking Nike is an official sponsor, they’re taking ownership of their non-sponsor status. It’s a first in Olympic ambush marketing… and it’s compelling.

The ad campaign they revealed yesterday pushes a message no ambusher has ever attempted to sell: official doesn’t mean great. You don’t need official equipment to play a great game, you don’t need to be an official Olympic Gold medalist to be a great athlete, and you don’t need to be an official sponsor of the Olympics to be a great brand.

The 60 second ad spot opens with shots of un-famous athletes competing and training in lesser known “Londons” around the world, from Ohio to Nigeria. They’re wincing through sit-ups, throwing perfect pitches, and wrestling their hearts out. During the montage, a (British!) man voices over this message:

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all… Greatness is not in one special place, and it’s not in one special person. Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it.”

In the end, they promote #FindGreatness, encouraging athletes everywhere to join in on their conversation.

            

Only time will tell if it manages to drown out adiadas’ campaign (they paid a cool $60 million for their official sponsor status of London 2012). In any case, it’s a powerful ad, a powerful message — and a very interesting 180 for Olympic ambush marketing.

Check out the ad for yourself here.

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Francis Tiafoe, 14 Year Old Tennis Phenom… And Potential Marketer’s Dream

Francis Tiafoe is a 14 year old tennis phenom who, if he isn’t already, should be on corporate sponsors’ radars.

The obvious reason: he’s got skills. As the nation’s top-ranked boys player in his age group, Tiafoe has the potential to become the next star in men’s tennis at a time when the game is going through a greatness drought (it’s been almost a decade since a U.S. male won a major).

But Tiafoe didn’t become a rising star in a conventional way. It’s his underdog story that will really attract sponsors and fans.

Tennis is an expensive sport. Those who play at a professional level usually come from privileged backgrounds, allowing them access to top-notch coaches, exclusive tennis clubs, and the best equipment. But Tiafoe wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. There is no Jr., III attached to his name. If it weren’t for the fact that Tiafoe’s father was employed by the Tennis Center at College Park, a private tennis club in Maryland, Francis may never have had the means or the resources to hone his talent.

Francis’ father was the Tennis Center’s janitor for more than a decade. During that time, he lived on the grounds with Francis and his twin brother, Franklin; the family slept on massage tables in a 120 sq. foot space that became their makeshift home. Mr. Tiafoe earned less than the club’s $27,000 annual membership fee, but because Francis lived on the grounds it was as if he was a member. He had access to the courts, the coaches, and the equipment.

Francis spent much of his early life watching his more privileged peers learn the game. Eventually, he would begin to practice with his brother, early in the morning, before lessons started. He quickly fell in love with tennis. After years of practice, the Tennis Center coaches noticed his talent and took him under their wings. And now he’s winning prestigious international tournaments — Les Petits As 2012, for one.

While Tiafoe’s tennis chops are impressive, it’s his inspiring rags to riches tale that has the potential to grab all Americans, who have always had a soft spot for talented athletes with Cinderella stories.

Wilson and adidas already have endorsement deals in the works. And we’re betting it doesn’t stop there.

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Army Pulls Out of NASCAR Sponsorship

The US Army, a presence in the NASCAR experience for nearly a decade, recently announced that it will no longer sponsor a NASCAR team as part of its branding and recruitment efforts. At one point the Army was a primary sponsor of NASCAR. They moved to Stewart-Haas Racing to sponsor Ryan Newmann in 2009. In exiting their sponsorship of SHR, the Army is effectively cutting its sponsor relationship with the motorsport indefinitely.

It’s big news made bigger by the fact that the move comes just days before the House takes up an annual spending bill that includes language intended to prohibit military sponsorship of sports.

The language in that bill is a result of an ongoing effort on the part of Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga) to ban the spending of defense dollars on sponsorships (they’ve targeted NASCAR sponsorship in particular). We’ve been following this political initiative with our Sponsor Eye since Rep. McCollum took up the issue in 2010, and subsequently lost a House vote to keep the military out of sport sponsorships in 2011. You can see some of our tweets about it here and here, with links to Wall Street Journal and USA Today pieces.

While we can’t be certain that the bill is the whole reason the Army made its decision to pull out of NASCAR, we have a hunch it played a not-so-insignificant role. In any case, it’s an issue worth our two cents.

Let’s look at the Reps.’ argument: they assert that the approximately $136 million sliver of the defense budget spent on sport sponsorship is wasteful, as it doesn’t garner enough return in recruitment numbers.

Before moving forward, can we take a step back and look at some math?

The 2012 Department of Defense spending budget is around $707 billion (that’s billion with a B). At $136 million allocated for sport sponsorship spending, Reps. McCollum and Kingston are making a big fuss about a %.02 savings. And at only $8.4 million going towards NASCAR sponsorship specifically, it’s an even smaller margin. With government spending at an all-time high, going to battle over such teeny savings seems pretty petty.

Decimal points aside, who are two politicians with absolutely zero background in sponsorship effectiveness to say that military sponsorship of sport — in particular, NASCAR — is ineffective on the grounds that the recruitment numbers aren’t there? The Army has exceeded its recruitment goals every year since it started its relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing. But that’s almost beside the point.

Having been on the inside of researching military sponsorships, we have seen enormous opportunities and in some cases, very strong return on objectives —but maybe the Reps aren’t focusing on the objectives that really matter.

The goal of a sponsorship is never about sales, or recruits, or numbers alone. Putting a  logo on the side of a race car isn’t going to suddenly bring a spike in sales or enlistees. Humans are more complex than that. Sponsorship is more complex than that. The Army’s relationship with NASCAR is — or at least, should be — about building national awareness and an emotional connection with fans, and not necessarily only those fans who are in their target recruit demographic of 17-24 year old males. There are older and younger siblings, parents, teachers, and coaches who love NASCAR, and who influence the life and career decisions of those they’re close to. When the Army builds an emotional connection with NASCAR fans, they’re not only reaching the people who show up at the event. We’d be interested to see if the sponsorship effectiveness report that influenced the Army’s decision took the more emotional side of the partnership into account, and looked at the Return on Relationship that NASCAR sponsorship is best at.

When government officials recently questioned the value of so-called “junk food” sponsors involved with the Olympics we were left thinking the same thing: politicians should stick to legislation, and stay out of making calls on sponsorship.

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Is Touting Past Relationships at Opportune Times Ambush Marketing?

The Performance Research team always has sponsorship on the brain — even when we’re shopping for cereal! We recently snapped photos of two cereal brands shelved side by side at our local grocer. The sight immediately caught our “sponsor eye.”

Quick, which of the cereal brands below officially sponsors the Olympic Games?

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If you said Wheaties, you’re forgiven — but mistaken.

With a quick glance, it seems as if both of the cereal giants could be sponsors of the Olympic Games. But look closer. The Kellogg’s box has the iconic Olympic rings logo emblazoned on it, along with language (“official sponsor”) that ties them directly to the Games. The Wheaties box? Not so much.

That’s because Kellogg’s is the official cereal brand of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and their Corn Flakes box is part of a marketing campaign driving home that official sponsorship to consumers. Wheaties, on the other hand, has no current official relationship with the USOC or the Olympic Games.

The re-release of past Wheaties boxes featuring Olympic champions at such an opportune time — leading right up to the 2012 Summer Games — could be considered ambush marketing, a tactic that can be cause for concern for those official sponsors (like Kellogg’s) who spend millions of dollars on officially associating their brand with the Olympics.

It’s a recurring issue. Olympic season after Olympic season, unofficial “supporters” of the Olympics elbow their way into the top of consumers’ minds as bon-a-fide Olympic sponsors by using ambush marketing tactics.

We conducted research during the 1994 and 1996 Games that lent insight into consumers’ perceptions of official Olympic sponsor brands. Often, ambush sponsors outpaced official sponsors (e.g., ambusher Nike vs. official sponsor Reebok) in terms of sponsor recall and belief that these non-Olympic companies were doing more than many official sponsors to support the Olympics.

More recently, we collected data after the 2010 Vancouver Games and found that ambush sponsorship marketing was still alive and well. In particular, Subway, who used Michael Phelps in a campaign leading up to the 2010 Games, was strongly associated with the Olympics that year even though they weren’t officially sponsoring the Games. So was Verizon, who used the U.S. Speed Skating team in ads surrounding Vancouver but had no official partnership in 2010. Full details of that report can be found here.

The topic raises a lot of questions: is spending big bucks on official Olympic sponsorship worth it? Is it ethical to lead consumers to believe your brand is associated with the Games when there is no official sponsor relationship there? We welcome your comments on this one.

Also, a challenge: keep your eyes out for all of the official and not-so-official Olympic campaigns going on this month.  Send us your pics, we’d love to see what you uncover.

Just as we’ve done since the 1992 games, we’re planning to conduct similar research for the 2014 Olympic Games.  As always, don’t hesitate to send us a message or ask us questions if you want to learn more about what we’re up to.

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July 5, 2012 · 10:54 am