Tying Brand Licensing Into Event Marketing - Pete Canalichio
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Tying Brand Licensing Into Event Marketing

How many of you have gone to an event and brought home a souvenir? If I had to guess, I would say every one of you at one time or another bought something from an event you attended.  The more incredible the experience was for you, the more important it was for you to buy something.   The only thing more disappointing than having to pay big bucks for bad event merchandise was when there was nothing to buy.  When you eventually found that perfect tee shirt, cap or other souvenir, your experience was immortalized.

For this reason, more and more companies are choosing to sponsor events.  They understand this connection between fans and events and wish to take advantage of the positive association and feelings that consumers / fans get from attending those events. When a company becomes intertwined with an event, for example, through a long standing sponsorship, their company name becomes synonymous with that event.  This type of relationship creates powerful brand cohesion.  NASCAR fans only know their championship as the Nextel Cup championship.   To not include the Nextel name in the title would be to omit part of the title.  NASCAR fans appreciate the role Nextel has played in supporting their sport.  For this support, fans reward Nextel by buying their cellular phone products.  However, Nextel’s NASCAR product line does not extend beyond the cellular phone category.  Wouldn’t it be great if Nextel created a complete line of NASCAR merchandise?   Maybe you are concerned that no one would choose to buy it? If so, keep reading.  There is a huge opportunity waiting to be tapped if executed properly.  For this reason Nextel should create an event licensing program that compliments  their existing Nextel Cup event marketing program.

Just to be clear, when I refer to an event I mean any organized activity that provides entertainment value.  This includes sporting events such as professional league and college sports, all star or championship games, golf, tennis and cycling tournaments, rodeo competitions and, of course, automobile racing.  Events also include entertainment properties such as music and dance concerts, museum or art exhibits, state fairs, county festivals, monster truck rallies, pro wrestling and political conventions.  Organizing committees and/or sanctioning bodies typically manage the execution of an event.  The organizing committee or sanctioning body look to sponsors and television networks to offset the cost of the event.  The sponsors, like Nextel, benefit from an association with the event which they use to drive sales of their products or services. Networks benefit from the sale of ad space during the airing of the event.  In addition, almost every event large or small sells event merchandise.  The merchandise which features the event logo and “look,” provides another revenue stream to defray costs while providing fans an opportunity to memorialize their experience.

Event licensing enables sponsors to create and sell co-branded (sponsor + event) merchandise.  For title sponsors or brands which have been affiliated with the event over a long period, event licensing offers an opportunity to connect the brand with the event marks.  While title sponsors historically have been able to place the event mark on their product, they traditionally have not able to create a co-branded licensed merchandise program. In fact, very few companies successfully have been able to accomplish this.  For those that have done so, co-branded event licensing programs offer tremendous benefits including exposure for the brand, the opportunity to reinforce a corporate message, marketing support for the core business and the chance to satisfy fans/consumers to memorialize the event.

Brands like Nike and addidas have successfully executed co-branded event licensing programs.  However, only a handful of non-apparel companies have accomplished this feat.  One of these companies is Coca-Cola.  When I was at Coca-Cola, my team created co-branded event licensing programs for the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and NASCAR.  Through these programs, Coke was able to reinforce the associative imagery of the event with the Coca-Cola brand in a powerful and distinctive way.  To put this in perspective, most Fortune 500 marketers spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars on event marketing programs which attempt to create a lasting impression between the event fans and their brands.  In almost every case, the impressions generated from these activities -advertising, public relations, experiential marketing and hospitality programs – are fleeting.  In very few instances can a brand create an enduring impression.  Even fewer generate revenue at the same time.

When Coca-Cola created their pin trading program for the Nagano Olympics, they had fans line up every day of the Games sometimes waiting for hours just to purchase the pin of the day.  When the Olympics ended these consumers brought their Coca-Cola Nagano pins home and proudly displayed them in their homes for all to see.  And while some of them eventually may have chosen to take them down, I would bet only a few ever sold their pins.  Certainly none gave them away.  For those that might have chosen to sell, Coke likely didn’t even care as the transaction provided them another opportunity to create an enduring impression.  This is why event licensing can be so powerful for sponsors.

For manufacturers (licensees), event licensing offers immediate recognition.  For established licensees, event licensing offers an opportunity to reinforce their role.  A good example of this is Aminco, a pin licensee.  Aminco has licenses with virtually every major professional sport.  For this reason, Aminco is synonymous with pins.  Event licensing also offers manufacturers credibility as they benefit from the “halo effect” of the event.  Finally, event licensing offers licensees a new revenue stream.  For event retailers, a co-branded program offers additional product mix that will attract and satisfy a broader set of consumers.  A co-branded program usually drives additional traffic to the retailer through marketing and public relations efforts executed by the event sponsor.  Finally for the organizing committee or sanctioning body, a co-branded event licensing program enables them to support an important sponsor while generating incremental royalty revenue.

Tying brand licensing into event marketing creates a powerful way for sponsors to connect with their consumers while creating substantial benefits for all stakeholders – manufacturers, event retailers and the organizing committee.  It would be terrific to see more sponsors pushing for these rights.