TV sponsorship brand best friend

TV Sponsorship: a brand’s best friend

Winner of ‘Best Paper’ at Media Research Conference 2008.

Thinkbox’s pioneering research with Duckfoot uncovers the inner workings of sponsorship; revealing how and why sponsorship works and the ways in which its impact can be best measured.

In Brief

TV sponsorship is booming.  The market was worth over £190m in 2007 according to Carat – up 8.5% on 2006.  The growth is set to continue as sponsorship becomes an increasingly hot advertising property and demand for opportunities soars.

However, in spite of this escalation, relatively little is known about how sponsorship works and how it creates value for the advertiser.  On an anecdotal basis, there’s a barrage of case studies demonstrating sponsorship’s ability to generate business effects such as sales and future purchase intention.  How it does that though has remained largely unknown until now.

Thinkbox’s innovative research with Duckfoot sought to dig below the surface of sponsorship to deconstruct how and why it works and how it differs from spot advertising.  We also wanted to underpin the measurement metrics that allow practitioners to best unlock the value of their sponsorship campaigns.  In order to inform the research and validate the findings, we also created a unique cross-industry working group.  Comprising of key figures from different areas of the industry, the working group fed into each stage of the project and helped ensure a balanced perspective.

Key Points

  • Sponsorship has a greater impact on the emotional/implicit mind than the rational/conscious mind
  • The stronger the viewer’s relationship is with a programme, the more effective sponsorship is in driving positive emotions towards the brand
  • Bumpers need to facilitate the relationship between the brand and programme
  • Sponsorships work better over time
  • Sponsoring brands can enjoy ‘brand rub’ and adopt the personality traits of programmes
  • Sponsorship makes brands famous and increases purchase intent, favourability and ‘for me-ness’

Download the Charts for this research study hereIn Depth

The research comprised of a number of stages. The first stage was qualitative. Groups of viewers were interviewed about different types of TV content and their relationship to that content. They were also questioned at length about several live TV sponsorships and television sponsorship overall. An online quantitative survey was then used to assess 1,600 respondents’ attitudes to a number of brands and live sponsorships, focussing in particular on their attitudes to brands, their awareness, how the sponsorships related to the advertisers and the programmes. We also examined the perceptions of both the programme and the sponsor to see how closely the two were aligned and if any transfer of personalities had occurred. A wide range of sponsoring brands and categories were included in the study including Domino’s and The Simpsons, Toyotal Aygo and T4, Loose Women and Maltesers, Wrigleys and Hollyoaks, Bombadier English Bitter and Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Pedigree and Dog Rescue, and and Channel 4 Drama. Next we conducted a lab-test test to examine how the sponsorship bumpers, and particularly the creativity of the bumpers, worked in relation to standard spot advertising.

Finally, a relatively new technique, Implicit Attitude Testing (IAT), was employed to test how sponsorships affected respondents on a sub-conscious level.   The technique was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘Blink’ and helps reveal the strength of automatic association we have between concepts that we are unable to reveal on a conscious, rational level.   In this case, it pitched competing brands against one another to assess how they performed against several key measures.  It was ideal for assessing how sponsorships had shaped implicit associations of brands that would usually be unreachable through more cognitive based research methods.

The Results:

Sponsorship works most effectively on the implicit/emotional mind

Perhaps the most fundamental finding is that sponsorship has a far more profound effect on the emotional, implicit mind than on the rational/conscious mind.  This is unsurprising when you consider the shorter time-lengths of sponsorship messages.  Indeed the lab test confirmed that sponsorship bumpers do not convey significant levels of brand information or instil particularly high levels of emotion in the viewer even when they are creatively linked to the programme and placed within the right context. Instead their power comes from the association made between the sponsor and the programme (thus making it more difficult to track).  


The qualitative work confirmed this.  Sponsorship is very much an accepted part of the television landscape.  Overall, viewers appreciate sponsorship’s role as ‘break punctuation’ and have a more positive view of sponsorship than of spot advertising.  Spots ads are viewed as a ‘harder sell’ whereas in many cases, sponsorship is seen as divorced from the ad break – many respondents failed to distinguish it from the programme and felt it acted as a marker and set the tone for the coming programme.

The viewer’s relationship with the programme is key

The stronger the viewer’s relationship is with a programme, the more effective sponsorship is in driving positive emotions towards the brand.   Fans of programmes were more likely to like the sponsor of their favourite programmes than less involved viewers. Intention to purchase increased by up to 9% for fans (4% on average), brand favourability rose by up to 8.5% (4% on average) and how ‘for-me’ respondents perceived the sponsors to be rose by up to 12% (5% on average).

Unsurprisingly, the way that advertiser entered into the programme-viewer relationship was an integral part of the sponsorships’ success.



Bumpers need to facilitate the relationship between the brand and programme

The best results come about when the sponsorship bumpers successfully introduced the brand into the emotional relationship that the viewer had with their programme. Where there was a more of an obvious link between a sponsorship bumper’s creative content and the programme content, the brand performed better across all the key measures.  Likewise, when there was a more obvious link between the brand itself and the programme, the brand performed better. If this link was not as obvious, then the sponsorship creative needed to work harder to establish the link or the sponsorship needed time and repetition in order to embed in viewers’ minds.



Sponsorships work better over time

Generally, the longer a sponsorship has to establish and maintain the relationship between the programme and the  brand, the better it performs.  In this study longevity was the real key to value  - as we saw in the case of Domino’s Pizzas which had been sponsoring The Simpsons for over a decade.   Across the study, purchase intention, ‘for me-ness’ brand favourability and fame all increased with the length of the sponsorship. Longevity was particularly important when the fit between the brand and the programme was subtle. 

Short-term sponsorships could work well, however, particularly when the link between the programme and the sponsoring brand was quickly apparent to the viewer.  If the link wasn’t obvious, the creative had to work hard to establish the relationship early-on in order for the sponsorship to unleash its full potential. This was the case for Bombadier where the link to Al Murray’s Happy Hour was instantly apparent to most viewers.  The effects of that campaign were felt earlier than the other newer sponsorships.



Brands adopt the personality of programmes

The research found that brands can take on aspects of the personality of the programmes that they sponsor.  We’ve termed this ‘brand-rub’ as the programme aspects literally rub off on the brand.  The phenomenon was particularly pronounced for fans of the sponsored programmes who tended to use words to describe the brand  that were more closely aligned to the programme than non-fans.  However, overall, the personalities tended to merge for less involved viewers, just to a lesser degree.  An example of this was Bombadier English Premium Bitter.  Fans of ITV’s ‘Al Murray’s Happy Hour’ chose the words ‘funny’, ‘light-hearted’, ‘enjoyable’ and friendly’ to describe the programme and they also used the same words to describe the brand – suggesting that the personalities of the two had morphed. 



This pattern was repeated across the campaigns and demonstrates the effects that sponsorship can have on the implicit, emotional mind.  There was also qualitative evidence to support this.  Fans of The Simpsons who viewed the programme on Sky One and regularly saw the Domino’s sponsorship felt the link between the two was inherent and that he family were often shown on-screen eating pizza.  However,  viewers of The Simpsons on Channel 4 (which is not sponsored by Domino’s) failed to see the connection, instead associating the cartoon family with doughnuts.

Sponsorship makes brands famous

By associating brands with television programmes, sponsorship bestows fame on the advertiser and can create a sense that brands are bigger and better known than they really are.  In fans’ minds, brand fame can be increased by up to 10% (3% on average) through television sponsorship.  Strand sponsorships were particularly successful in increasing levels of brand fame, most likely driven by the increased repetition of the bumper and the wider range of programmes sponsored.   Toyota Aygo’s sponsorship of TV drove perceptions of fame up nearly 10% in comparison to non-viewers and saw similar results.




This finding replicated the qualitative work where the majority of respondents perceived that sponsorship was more costly than spot advertising with sentiments such as “only big brands sponsor’ and “it must cost a hell of a lot of money to sponsor a television programme”.  There was also an element of prestige instilled by television sponsorship, as two female respondents commented, “you think, ‘wow, they’ve done well to get on tele’” and “it’s not just normal programmes they sponsor, it’s always the top selling programmes”.
This backs up the IPA’s work ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ by DDB Matrix that showed fame to one of the key drivers of brand profitability and TV to be one of the key elements in achieving and maintaining brand fame.

Sponsorship shouldn’t be measured and appreciated in the same way as spot advertising

Given that sponsorship works through its association with the programme and that the effects are felt most strongly on the emotional and implicit mind, then tradition explicit, recall-based methods of evaluation are destined to fall short of the mark. For this reason, the value of sponsorship could be slipping below the measurement radar and perhaps most importantly, advertisers could be failing to optimise the impact of their investment. 


In summary, Thinkbox’s work with Duckfoot demonstrated what many of us in the industry suspected – that sponsorship has a far greater impact on our  implicit mind and emotions that on our rationale and consciousness. Sponsorship can effect how viewers feel about brands, how relevant they perceive them to be, their likelihood to buy and ultimately it bestows a degree of stature and legitimacy to brands in a way that only television can.   Sponsorships work harder over the long-term, particularly where the ‘fit’ between the programme and brand is less obvious. But ultimately, new or old, the relationship between the viewer, the brand and the programme is crucial and the sponsorship bumper is the key component in facilitating and maintaining the relationship between the three facets.   When these elements harmonise, the impact on the brand can be significant.

Relevant search terms: brand rub, association, fame, bumpers, idents, long-term, branding building 


Duckfoot Thinkbox

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