Think BR: The new role for brands in sponsorship

Simon White, managing director, Momentum UK
Simon White, managing director, Momentum UK

Sponsorship is dead, long live the partnership, writes says Simon White, managing director, Momentum UK.

The concept of sports sponsorship, especially since the Olympics, has raised a number of difficult questions about its role in building brands and businesses.  

However, Red Bull’s sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to jump from the edge of space is the perfect example of a sponsorship that fits seamlessly. If you break it down, the two key themes, partnership and relevance interlink faultlessly.

If you dissect any sponsorship, from FMCG to technology, the big question should be if that brand wasn’t involved, what difference would it make?

True and legitimate sponsors are integral to that sport or event, without them it simply would not take place.

Red Bull’s sponsorship of Felix, Formula One and Flugtag has permanently cemented the brands’ ethos in the public’s psyche and I don’t believe anyone would question or fail to understand the connection.

A high energy drink goes hand in hand with events that define speed.

Amid the unyielding enthusiasm during and post event, one tweet from an American consumer resonated with marketers across every corner of the globe that Felix stood atop.

 "That awkward moment when you realise an energy drink has a better space program than your nation" it read, perfectly encapsulating the new role that brands have to play in sponsorship.

There has to be evidence that the sponsorship means more than just money spent; it is involvement, participation and co-creation. There must be a belief that without the brand, this would never have happened.

Red Bull’s sponsorships work so well because they are so firmly entrenched in risk from the initial thinking right through to the activation. You should have an affair only with someone who has as much to lose as you do, an old saying goes. 

Similarly, the most successful sponsorships often come from a joint enterprise where risk falls on them both equally. 

For Felix - a man plummeting over 800 miles from the edge of space - the risks stood at his internal organs freezing on descent, or that his parachute would fail. 

For Red Bull, the risks were that should this happen, their brand would be forever synonymous with spectacular failure. It put consumers on the edge of their seat for Felix and it left the industry with its heart in its mouth for Red Bull.

When a combined risk such as this pays off, the rewards are mutually beneficial: both Felix and Red Bull took centre stage to punch the air and take a bow. 

There was as much coverage praising Red Bull for its pioneering strategy as there was for Felix’s bravery. We acclaimed the sponsor in the same way we would the hero.

Red Bull’s sponsorship deals support my belief that we’re confusing ourselves with language and it’s time to completely remove the word sponsorship from marketing vernacular in favour of partnership.

A world in which true partnership exists allows a unique value exchange to occur, one where the audience, partner and rights holder become completely interdependent over a sustained period of time.

Simon White, managing director, Momentum UK

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