Inside the Mix

Event sponsorship needs to go further than slapping your logo on anything that moves

Event sponsorship needs to go further than slapping your logo on anything that moves

At a time when growth estimates for ad spend are being revised downward, the importance of squeezing every drop of value from your media buy must be front and center in advertisers' minds.

Just like few TV advertising campaigns now exist in isolation, any company that spends money on a corporate sponsorship and just sits back and watches its logo flap in the breeze is throwing good money after bad.

Some marketers have clearly figured this out. Frontline, a flea and tick medication for pets, has been a Ketchum client for some 18 years, and has decided to reach beyond its core target audience of moms with pets and go instead to the real enthusiasts: those who watch and participate in outdoor dog sporting events. After all, these dogs are the ones who are running around outside, in forests and ponds, and need flea and tick protection more than most.

So Frontline signed up to be a sponsor of ESPN's Great Outdoor Games, which have been held since 2001 and include dog events such as "big air" (doggy diving, essentially) and agility. The sponsorship is designed to build a bridge between regular dog owners and enthusiasts with the message, "I have a healthy, top-performing dog, and this is how I keep him healthy. Your dog might not be able to run through the agility course without cocking a leg against one of the poles, but he can be healthy, too."

The event has a number of other corporate sponsors, including title sponsor Dodge, but Frontline intends to, in the words of Ketchum VP MaryBeth Clayton, "blow the other names out of the water."

To do this, Ketchum figured out a way to get right in the middle of the action, creating Team Frontline (along with the website, which is fielding 12 of the 57 elite canine competitors. At the games, Frontline's booth will be decked out like a doggy locker room - complete with dog bowls and plasma screens showing highlights from the event. The dogs, when not competing, will be milling around wearing Frontline-branded bandannas, and Animal Planet veterinarian Dr. Holly Knor will be there issuing tips and advice to dog owners.

Outside the event, Frontline has been doing a hometown heroes-style campaign, getting the competing dog handlers interviews in the local media, so that the home folk will be rooting for them.

The clever part is that Ketchum and Frontline worked hand in hand with ESPN on all this. My first reaction, frankly, was that Frontline could be overstepping the parameters of the sponsorship by seizing ownership of the games to such an extent, both on-site and off, but by working so closely with the broadcaster, such problems never arose. The model of a PR firm working on a paid sponsorship deal with a broadcaster's commercial side is a highly educational one.

Best yet, Frontline is getting into a sport that it predicts will grow in popularity at the ground-floor level. Marketers have long aligned their brands to sporting products and events, but for Frontline, it's dealing with Beau and Sparky rather than Tiger and Venus. And let's face it, the chances of a sponsor being tainted with doping scandals are pretty minimal when it comes to our four-legged friends.

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