The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
It all started with a flash of American superiority and a bruised royal ego. In 1851, a yacht owned by the New York Yacht Club easily beat 15 of the fastest British yachts in a race around the Isle of Wight. Surprised at the result, Queen Victoria was reported to have asked who had come second and was politely informed: 'There is no second, your Majesty.' The America's Cup had begun.
After 156 years and 38 contests, the finally returned to Europe. In April of last year, yachts from 11 nations began competing in Valencia to see who would eventually race the current holder, the Swiss yacht Alinghi. It always is a massive event, but arguably those with the most to lose are not the yachtsmen or countries involved. In fact they play an almost peripheral role compared with the companies spending nine-figure sums to associate their brand with the event.
As I walked around Valencia, Spain's newly designed marina it could easily be likened to visiting an exotic menagerie of big brands with some of the fattest marketing budgets on the planet. BMW and Oracle had joined forces with Allianz to sponsor the American yacht. A few meters away the French boat sponsored by Areva, the French nuclear power company. For reasons that weren’t immediately obvious, New Zealand's entrant was sponsored by Emirates. Most companies pay upwards of $100m to be a sponsor. Meanwhile, supporter brands such as Vodafone (the official phone network), Nespresso (the official coffee) and Adecco (the official HR supplier) were also stumping up millions to be a part of it.
With stunning locations adorned with glamorous yachting fraternity, it would be all too easy for marketers to lose their focus and fall into the ancient trap of assuming anyone spending this kind of money must know what they are doing. It is exactly these big-money events at which a marketer must maintain their ROI focus. How, we should ask, can a B2B software company such as Oracle justify spending that kind of money on a yacht race? What, we may wonder, is the link between nuclear power and yachting? And what has Emirates got to do with the Kiwis?
The answer is in the two elements of brand equity. To create a strong brand, marketers must first build awareness among the target market to establish its existence. Then they need to build the right associations that will ensure differentiation and strong relationships with customers.
While it is true that most of the sponsoring brands gained significant awareness from the event, it is hard to justify their investment simply with media mentions. There were 11 boats competing for attention on the water and soon 10 of them would be out of the race.
It is even harder to prove ROI in terms of brand associations. Most of the sponsoring brands had no legitimate connection to yachting or the Cup itself, so their marketing teams were working overtime to highlight their 'authentic' role in the event. Alcatel-Lucent showcased the race live at its Second Life stall. BMW went to great pains to point out that four of its engineers advised on their yacht's hull design. Apparently, researchers from the Allianz Center for Technology developed a more robust spinnaker pole for the same boat. According to Bjoern Widemann, global sponsorship manager at Allianz, 'Allianz's partnership with the BMW Oracle Racing Team is more than just sponsorship; we draw on our core competencies to offer specialist support that gives the team a competitive edge out there on the water.'
The real message remains much clearer. Forget marketing ROI and brand positioning and have some old-fashioned marketing fun. Girls in bikinis, sea and sunshine, millions in unmeasured marketing spend and, in the distance, the magical sound of clinking champagne flutes. All aboard!
30 SECONDS ON … AMERICA'S CUP
- The Americas Cup trophy was designed in 1848 by Garrard & Co and yachtsmen colloquially refer to it as 'the auld jug'.
- The most famous person to have competed in the event was Sir Thomas Lipton. The Scottish tea baron tried and failed five times to win the Cup. While the Cup eluded him, his reputation as the world's most cheerful loser built the Lipton tea brand in the US and Britain.
- Mirko Groeschner, marketing director of the BMW Oracle team, made capital out of the fact that the VIP section at the event offered an area where the team had breakfast and lunches. 'Guests can actually see the team eating. You don't get that with Formula 1.'
- The ultimate VIP seat was a spare 18th seat on one of the 25m sailboats alongside the crew. At least one team is considering selling the seat to raise money – the price tag is rumoured to be 1m.
- The 2007 race was won by the Swiss yacht Alinghi in the 7th race.
- Currently the sailing community has shifted its focus from the race to this nasty lawsuit.
Sponsored By: Brand Aid