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Sponsorship May Be Hard to Define, but Marketers Still Invest

Social sharing is key to online sponsorship

Sponsorship regularly extends beyond digital channels to the entire marketing ecosystem, according to a new eMarketer report, “Online Sponsorship: Defining, Tracking and Measuring an Amorphous Channel.” So for many marketers, sponsorship is a multichannel game, where the activity in one channel supports and leads to another.

Sponsorship can be difficult to define with a single label. It can mean logo placements, banners and pre-roll video ads—or it can mean streaming concerts, brand-created articles, along with sponsored events and webinars.

The prevalence of sponsorship marketing is huge. In a February 2012 study from the Columbia Business School and New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA), 90% of US marketers said they included sponsorships and events as one of their marketing tactics.

According to research from GroupM, sponsorship spending, at $19.2 billion, will comprise 14% of total marketing spending in North America in 2013.

IEG, a sponsorship consultant, came in roughly in line with GroupM, estimating that North American sponsorship spending this year will be about $19.9 billion. Most of those sponsorship dollars will go to sports, at a 69% share of that market. In contrast, entertainment sponsorship will represent only a 10% share.

Social has become a key element of sponsorship. “We can’t do a partnership right now without someone asking for some sort of social extension,” said Dan Rossomondo, senior vice president of global marketing partnerships for the National Basketball Association. According to IEG and Performance Research, 88% of companies worldwide used social media as a channel for leveraging sponsorships in March 2013.

Digital interactivity works as an excellent support for a brand’s more static sponsorship methods offline. Therefore, digital sponsorship increasingly depends on cross-channel elements.

“What used to be clearly identified as sponsorships, with discrete budgets and contracts, are now far more likely to be part of multiplatform, cross-channel programs in which a partnership is just one element, and where multiple players have a role in planning, execution and evaluation,” IEG’s “Sponsorship Outlook” reported in January 2013.

Just as some of sponsorship’s formats and several of its elements are evolving, so are the ways in which marketers measure its effectiveness—but to a lesser extent.

In the IEG/Performance Research survey, the most cited metrics for evaluating sponsorships were sponsorship awareness (94%) and brand awareness (90%).

However, a UK study from Think!Sponsorship found that nearly everyone (93.5%) said that the information they need to evaluate sponsorship evolves over the course of any campaign. In addition, 70.9% of respondents said the sponsorship industry has become over-dependent on measuring brand awareness.

“I had all the wrong metrics before,” said Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile. “And the metrics before were impressions served. And all that stuff is just crap. The metric that I’m married to right now is all about the share. I also think the number of retweets and earned impressions are also really important. But I’m not going to bank on a lot of clickthroughs of views of my content.”

The social metrics—shares and followers—tell Faris how often he can message the people he’s retargeted and how big he can make that retargeting pool.


The full report, “Online Sponsorship: Defining, Tracking and Measuring an Amorphous Channel,” also answers these key questions:

  • What types of sponsorship are available to companies today?
  • How do sponsorship spending estimates help describe this universe?
  • What elements contribute to the evolution of sponsorship?
  • What are the best ways to measure sponsorship’s results?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


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