Stay away from clichés

Foto: Oivind Haug

Author: Simona Kruhar Gaberšček, Foto: Telenor, Oivind Haug | read time: 14 min

What are the common points and the differences between the ESA Excellence Awards winning sponsorship strategies? The three award winners – Telenor from Norway, Cadbury from the UK and Pivovarna Laško Union from Slovenia – discussed the strategies, behind-the-scenes and details of their interesting, successful activations.

A piece of Norwegian ski history in a mobile phone

The Norwegian telecommunication company Telenor received the ESA Best of Europe Gold Award for their innovative Telenor Gold SIM project. Since all mobile network carriers claim to be offering the fastest speed and the best signal, users find it difficult to choose the best one. To rise to the challenge of sending the message that they are the ones that can deliver the best speed, Telenor partnered with the Norwegian Advertising Agency TRY and came up with a bold idea – to melt Norway’s first ever downhill gold medal given to Norwegian sports hero Aksel Lund Svindal at the 2007 World Ski Championship in Are, Sweden, and to put its particles in SIM cards issued by Telenor.
“There is no better symbol for speed than the World Championship downhill gold medal,” says Petter Svendsen, Head of Sponsorship at Telenor, explaining that they wanted to strengthen their position as the telecommunication company with the fastest network, increase their reputation and improve parameters as the most innovative company. By having a SIM card with tiny gold particles in their phones, Telenor customers would receive not only the best proof of speed but also a part of Telenor’s sponsorship – Telenor has been the top sponsor of the Norwegian alpine ski team since 2005.

What could go wrong?

In the description of the project for the ESA Excellence Awards, Telenor stated that Telenor Gold SIM was the most risky communication project the company had ever done. According to Svendsen, it might have turned out to be infeasible or the idea might have been exposed beforehand. “It was a high-risk project because no one had ever done anything similar with SIM cards, we could not be sure that we could guarantee that there would be fragments from the medal in all of the three million SIM cards until we had actually completed the process,” says Svendsen, adding, “In the worst case, we would have melted a part of Norwegian ski history for no reason. Numerous people, not only inside Telenor but also several external experts, had to be involved. If the idea was exposed, we would miss out on the ‘wow’ factor.” The planning of the project took almost twelve months. For the Telenor brand, the highest risk was that their customers would find it in poor taste to melt one of Norway’s most famous and respected athlete’s gold medal. “It was also critical for us that the whole process was thoroughly documented as many people questioned if we had actually managed to get a part of the medal onto each SIM,” explains Svendsen. After thorough research and workshops, they nevertheless decided to go through with the project.

An uncomfortable call followed by an enthusiastic response

So how did Telenor manage to convince Aksel Lund Svindal to give away his gold medal? “I must admit that I felt a little uncomfortable when I made the phone call to Aksel. His first response was that he liked the idea, but wanted to consider it more carefully. After just a few days, he responded with enthusiasm, and was ‘all in,’” says Svendsen. The skier was also happy about the fact that Telenor is planning to create a charity fund symbolising the value of the gold medal and giving more people, particularly children, opportunity to experience the joy of skiing. “We will also produce a replica of the medal and engrave the names of the benefiters. Aksel’s response to this was, ‘This is just fantastic. This means that the medal will not just have a great importance for me, but also for a broader audience,’” adds Svendsen.

Almost one-third of Norwegians with gold SIM cards

The moment Aksel Lund Svindal melted down his first World Championship gold medal, he became the centre of the entire communication project. Through online teasers, the story came out even before it was officially revealed in the two-minute TV commercial during the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals. Within a few hours after the launch of the campaign, the story was featured in all Norwegian media and abroad and the social media response was extraordinary. “The campaign reached its goal concerning attention very fast, significantly faster than all other campaigns we have done,” says Svendsen, adding that they received decidedly positive reactions. “The month after the launch Aksel was rated as the most popular athlete in Norway. He is described by the audience with admiration and respect.”

The medal was pulverised into 120 million tiny particles. 20 to 40 of these particles are present in the gold Telenor logo on each SIM card and are visible through a magnifying glass. The SIM cards are free-of-charge and each comes with a letter signed by Telenor promising to always deliver the fastest mobile network. “In total 1.769 million gold SIM cards have so far been sent to our customers. Keep in mind that the population of Norway is 5.3 million,” says Svendsen.

The campaign had a significant impact not only on Telenor’s but also on competitors’ mobile customers, and Telenor is considering a similar project in the future. “This was a great success, but also an extremely demanding one. It was a stretch for all of us at Telenor, but when the results were so good, we are naturally eager to take on another big project like this – if we can find such a good idea again. However, I think that we are done with melting medals,” laughs Svendsen.

Make sure you have a good backup plan

Svendsen’s advice for marketing and sponsorship experts is to, first of all, try to find a project that is close to their core business. “For us it was important to have a concept that was more than just communication. The symbolism of having a piece of Norwegian ski history in your pocket is very strong. And the physical implementation on millions of SIMs made the idea relevant and tangible for customers and for our sales channels,” explains Svendsen, pointing out that it is also important to be ready for surprises, “Make sure to have a good backup plan. One of our toughest challenges during the process was when Aksel had a really bad accident during the Kitzbühel race and was hospitalized. The day after the race was the start-up day for filming the TV commercial …”

Connecting with retail partners to reach chocolate lovers and Premier League fans

Cadbury, a British multinational chocolate and confectionery company owned by Mondelez International, won the ESA B2B Sponsorship of the Year Award. The sponsorship activation of their partnership with the Premier League aimed to increase chocolate sales and deliver value back to the consumers who buy chocolate. In the last years, Cadbury’s sales decreased significantly due to competition from other manufacturers offering discounts and promotions, and in order to turn things around, they had to create unique activities that would support their consumers and their retail partners. They saw the Premier League as a partner that could help them achieve their goals. Working collaboratively with their retail partners, they implemented a number of activities, such as the Match & Win campaign which offered fabulous prizes for football fans. By buying a promotional chocolate bar and entering the code from inside the wrapper at their website, they could predict a Premier League score, and if their score matched the real one, they won a prize – one of Premier League matchday experiences, Premier League match tickets or match balls. The campaign was activated across more than 80 million products and included some of the legendary football players.

Positive feedback from employees and retail partners

Cadbury’s B2B sponsorship activation project was managed by MKTG, a marketing agency from London and Cadbury’s sports marketing and sponsorship partner operating as an extension of their own marketing team. When asked about Premier League as a sponsorship platform, Andrew Cahill, Business Director at MKTG, explains that like Cadbury, football in the UK dates back to the 1800s and has since become an ingrained part of their culture and way of life. “Football is connected to almost everyone in the UK, to a greater or lesser extent, it creates moments of joy and brings people from all backgrounds together. So, with football as a starting point, we saw the Premier League as a partner capable of supporting the activation scale at which Cadbury operates, and vice-versa.”

According to Cahill, as a partner of the Premier League, they had the opportunity to create something that reaches across the Cadbury business, not just the marketing function. “For us, the first step was to share the news with our employees and teams, outline what it would mean for them and the significant role they would play in making it happen. For this, we leveraged some of the rights we could access to bring this message to life, and the positive reaction was exactly the impact we had hoped for. Likewise, when we shared the news at all levels with our retail partners, it was met with positive feedback, comments and some fantastic ideas.”

Challenging the retail partners’ traditional boundaries and ways of working

Although the project was primarily focused on retail partners, it is ultimately the end customer who decides whether they buy a product or not, and so everything Cadbury has created with this partnership, has aimed to deliver value back to the consumers. “In order to achieve this, we worked collaboratively with our retail partners to implement strong promotions that were engaging, interesting and valued by consumers.  From day one, our retail partners recognised the opportunity for us to work together and create unique, market-leading activities that would support their business objectives as well as Cadbury’s. Many of these activities would challenge their traditional boundaries and ways of working and much to their credit, they embraced it,” says Cahill. The Premier League’s commercial team also provided expert advice in helping them maximise the various rights they had access to.

Maintaining focus on the objective and not deviating from it

Cahill believes that the key to this approach is to maintain focus on the objective, “Know how to achieve your objective, with a clear and succinct plan, and do not deviate from it. Furthermore, get to know how your company or client makes money and grows revenue. It sounds simple, but understanding this will take your partnership programmes to the next level of success.”

With this in mind, the key difference between a B2B and B2C approach lies in the ways of working and plan of action. “A collaborative approach to leveraging a partnership which supports the objectives of all parties involved means getting business partners and key stakeholders involved from day one. Whereas B2C activities might focus more on understanding consumer buyer behaviors and brand consumption channels,” explains Cahill.

Conversely, the key similarity between B2B and B2C is truly knowing the audience – their interests, passions, and what is going to make a difference in their lives. “For Cadbury, success is underpinned by an understanding of both retail partners and consumers,” concludes Cahill.

How to bring the ‘Beer of our Fathers’ closer to young people?

Pivovarna Laško Union took on the challenge of bringing the Laško beer, perceived by many as the ‘Beer of our Fathers,’ closer to the younger generation. They decided to activate a 25-year-long sponsorship with NK Maribor, creating an integrated campaign with NK Maribor’s team captain Marcos Tavares and Sebastjan Cimirotić, a retired footballer who played for NK Maribor’s biggest rival NK Olimpija. Both legendary Slovenian football players were part of Laško’s campaign called “Stava” (The Bet), where they engaged in a battle for a bottle of Laško. A variety of online content was created for the campaign, and Laško’s image was changed in honour of the club’s participation in the UEFA Champions League. The sponsorship activation “Laško x NK Maribor” received the ESA Best of Europe Bronze Award.

Football duel as a topic of conversation

Janez Rakušček, Executive Creative Director at Luna TBWA, advertising agency that created Pivovarna Laško Union’s communication project, says that “The Bet” was a continuation of the previous campaign called “Dvoboj” (The Duel) where two Slovenian actors, Boris Cavazza and Sebastian Cavazza, engaged in a battle of rhymes over the last bottle of Laško. The concept remained the same – two legends fighting over one bottle of the Zlatorog beer by using their skills – only this time it was sports instead of acting. “As all over the world, football is the most popular sport in Slovenia, and its popularity is continuing to grow, therefore it was the logical choice. At the same time, we wanted to make this traditional, well-known brand ‘younger’, more dynamic and interesting. The communication provoked a reaction, engagement and conversation with the audience, which made Laško a topic that stayed with consumers even when they were not directly tuned,” explains Rakušček.

“It does not matter who you are and what you are like, it matters that you love Laško”

When asked about what was the reason for choosing the two players, Rakušček replies that it was because they are both Slovenian football legends but at the same time very different personalities, which made the communication even more interesting. “Marcos is NK Maribor’s team captain and Sebastjan’s heart will always be with NK Olimpija; one is calm and soft, while the other is impulsive and emotional. In their communication, they, therefore, acted as the ideal couple of the two opposites, which was very engaging for the audience. Symbolically, we wanted to say that it really does not matter who you are and what you are like, what matter is that you like Laško,” says Rakušček.

In order to reach a younger audience of beer lovers, they created more dynamic and humorous messages. Aside from traditional media such as TV and external advertising, they also used social media with different messages, “Through a series of video ads formatted to fit the fast content consumption on social, Marcos and Sebastjan used humor to convince the audience to bet on them.” The story ended with a direct TV broadcast during the final when they tried to hit a bottle of Laško at the Celje stadium.

Urban Kramberger, Pivovarna Laško Union Brand Manager, says that the results of consistent communication are best reflected in their sales which have continued to increase since 2016, however, awards such as their ESA Excellence Award are also meaningful. “All our activities are ultimately an investment that we need to monetize. Laško wants to maintain its position as a ‘modern brand,’ that is why we put a lot of our attention on engaging and including consumers in the communication,” explains Kramberger. The results of online communication between Tavares and Cimirotić speak for themselves: 370,000 bets, 6 million views, 564,000 visits, 11,000 reactions, comments and shares and 12,000 live views of the final.

Consumer as part of the game

Kramberger sees sponsorship as a business and not only a fan-based collaboration. “It is important that both parties benefit as much as possible from the relationship, and that they are using it to build their brand and their image, strengthen their position and add emotion.” In this sense, the relationship between Pivovarna Laško Union and NK Maribor is based on the understanding of what they both want, “This kind of relationship cannot be built overnight. It is a gradual process based on trust and clearly defined goals.”

Janez Rakušček points out that famous athletes are too often used in communication campaigns as a means to attract the viewer’s attention quickly and automatically while the organic, content-based connection between the brand, the story and the athlete’s personality is missing. “To achieve the optimal effect we need to create engaging, meaningful, coherent stories connecting the brand with the athlete or the club. Using athletes as cardboard figures with messages and logos is simply not enough,” says Rakušček.

“Include the consumer in your communication, in the discussion. Make them a part of the partnership. Make them feel like they are a part of the game. Be creative, step out of the comfort zone, stay away from clichés. Keep your focus on ‘who and what,’ and most importantly, be consistent,” emphasizes Urban Kramberger.

The article was first published in SPORTO Magazine No. 11 (May 2018).