The science of sports sponsorship activation — Part 2

Tip #2: Outflank the competition by understanding placement power

Sports properties offer unique placement opportunities. But many advertisers aren’t taking full advantage of these opportunities to maximize the impact of their brand communications.

While live sports are often on brand media plans to drive reach, or as a way to communicate with hard-to-reach audiences (or both), few advertisers and agencies are fully leveraging the depth element to sports. This is the level of connection, or ‘lean in’, that sports have on audiences. There’s a ‘brain-hacking’ effect that happens, where appropriate messaging that leverages the unique properties of live sport performs 200-300% more effective than it does in other environments. That’s an astonishing increase in value.

But what is “appropriate”?

Appropriate is about aligning your brand communications with the content of the property. For many marketers, this means weaving the sport in question into the brand spot (like the Nissan vignettes mentioned above). And this does consistently show uplifts in ad and brand performance. From hockey, to English football to American football, Brainsights has revealed double-digit in audience neural activity of attention, emotional connection and encoding to memory for those brands that integrate the sponsored sport into their activation.

But it’s more than the 30s spot showing your brand’s relationship to a sport. How you tell that story and where, specifically, that story is placed, also matter.

How your story is told within the sports environment matters a great deal. In our analysis of the 2016 Super Bowl, ads that exhibited similar pace, energy and intensity to the ‘Big Game’ garnered 24% greater Attention, 31% greater emotional Connection and 51% greater Encoding to memory than the average spot run in the Super Bowl. Ads that misaligned with the Super Bowl’s core properties – those that were serious in tone, or with slow builds - significantly underperformed.

Ads that compliment the Super Bowl environment tended to perform
significantly better in TV’s most expensive media opportunity

For a fascinating illustration of this phenomenon, see case in point.

There’s also where in the broadcast these ads get placed. Media planners have long known of the advantages of “first-in-pod, last-in-pod” ad positioning. But this has been largely due to those ads being viewed: first ads in a commercial break are the lead in that viewers see before taking their own break, whereas last ads are seen as they return ahead of their programme resuming (ads in between went largely under-viewed - or so the theory goes).

What this model failed to account for, however, was the impact of the programming itself on the placement’s performance - the halo impact. For example, the first position in the first ad pod immediately following the end of the first quarter in the Super Bowl drove considerable increases in the ad’s effectiveness. Our models estimate that this placement alone contributed additional lifts of 75-100% in impact across all three Brainsights metrics, as the halo of game-action excitement felt at the close of the first quarter cascaded into the placement.

This placement was unique in its power, both in the game itself and across the dozens of other environment analyses we’d conducted. The Super Bowl really is a unique media occasion. But we've observed similar phenomena in English Premier League placements

Nissan’s vignettes, which air at the beginning and end of ad breaks on Sky Sports’ Sunday English Premiership coverage, perform substantially above average versus all other ads in the premiership broadcasts. On top of their football-focus, they’re quick-paced and cheeky - themes our research says play well in this environment. Even more, when the Super Sunday brand plate precedes these vignettes, emotional Connection – a measure of brand resonance, and a strong predictor of market-based success – was boosted by 25%. This is the type of return Nissan wants from its sponsorship.

And this is how sports sponsors must approach activating their investments. With media effectiveness in general, and sports in particular, advertisers must look beyond reach to unlock value. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be poured into reaching the 110 million people who will tune in to the Super Bowl, and the hundreds of millions who will watch the Olympics, the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League Final this year. In addition to this reach, there’s a depth to the experience, which heretofore was theorized but never quantified. Now, with neuroscience, we can quantify that experience depth, and the connection it creates.

But how can we close the loop on this connection measurement, and understand more fully how these activations contribute to building associations with consumers? That's the subject of our next and final tip on the science of sports sponsorship activation.

(Image cred: