If it moves, logo it...

If it moves, logo it...

As whisky becomes fashionable, the battle is on for our money. Alex Meadreports on the sponsorship market

News | 23 Feb 2004 | Issue 37 | By Alex Mead

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Sponsorship. It’s one of those words that can mean a lot of different things to different people.To some it brings up images of an offspring pleading for sponsor money because they’re doing a car wash for charity and to others it reminds them of when they had to beg Bob the butcher to give them £200 towards a new set of shirts for the pub football team.To whisky companies however, it takes on a whole different meaning. In an industry in which taste and experience is everything, sponsorship is perhaps the only way for a person to understand what a certain whisky is all about without even tasting it.Whether it just be highlighting the fact it is an exclusive malt or pointing out its traditional roots, sponsorship is a serious marketing weapon.Once upon a time, it would have been a case of handing over a few thousand pounds to an event and, in return, you’d get your name on a few posters and added to the event title.Today, however, it’s a different ball game as companies attempt to saturate us with their brands whenever we attend an event sponsored by them.“This year we sampled 28,000 people at Cowes Week. In other words 28,000 people tried Jameson and that’s a phenomenal amount,” explains Adrian Eksteen, head of marketing at Pernod-Ricard.“Jameson sponsored one of the big events, entered a boat in a race – which won – then took out a lot of billboard advertising, so we had a big presence. And there were 500,000 people there.”In other words, anyone who went to Cowes Week, or even caught it on television, will have made a connection between the well-heeled yachting set and Jameson. The theory is, buy Jameson and you’re buying into something a bit more than just a drink.“We look for sponsorships that are a good fit for the brand and targeted to the consumer – what they are and what they’re interested in,” continues Adrian. “It has to be relevant to them and something they can identify with.“Jameson has a very diverse consumer market, generally the core drinker is a bit older but specifically with Jameson – as opposed to Scotch whisky – we have younger drinkers interested in whiskey so we look for something less formal, and a younger consumer sponsorship.”For Jameson, this ‘less formal’ project came in the form of XFM, London’s very hip, indie music station, a world away from the strawberries and cream of Cowes.“We sponsor the Jameson Live Hour in which the station invite a rock band to play at a special venue, it’s then recorded and broadcast later.“The gig itself attracts from 200 to 1,000 people and we’re looking into sampling them and the bands have liked what we’re doing so much, they’ve started to include Jameson in their riders.”Jameson, though, is of course a huge brand with a big budget and a diverse market, but what of smaller whiskies such as The Glenlivet? How can they spread the message without breaking the bank?“The Glenlivet sponsors office golf at businesses,” says Adrian. “They buy a set – which is basically a putting competition – from us for about £75 and we set it up for them and help them to organise inter-office tournaments and it’s been very successful.“It’s spread globally now too, with the likes of France, Germany and Portugal all getting involved. Glenlivet couldn’t afford to sponsor the PGA Open, but it can do this and still manage to stand out.”Every brand aims to stand out. There are a lot of whiskies all vying for our attention and many of them are offering very similar experiences.While Jameson sponsors XFM, for instance, Jack Daniel’s organises the JD Sets – a series of one-off gigs featuring bands none too disimilar to those in the Jameson’s Live Hour.So while The Glenlivet sponsors office golf, other brands go that one step further.“The Johnnie Walker Classic is one of the longest sponsorship deals on the European tour,” explains Sean O’Reilly, of Diageo, Johnnie Walker’s parent company.“We started the event because it’s predominantly in Asia and over there golf is inextricably linked to status. Golf delivers status and that’s important to both our customers and the brand.“Ahigh profile event like this also drives awareness with the help of the media coverage it receives. When the event takes place in an area, the awareness of Johnnie Walker increases by around 10 per cent.”And so it should, after all Johnnie Walker pumps around £3.5m into it to make the event happen on an annual basis. But it is a huge showpiece.It moves around Asia and Australasia – from Perth to Taiwan to the Philippines to Thailand (next year’s venue) – to give the brand maximum exposure, it attracts global television coverage and the world’s finest golfers take part. Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam are just some of the tournament’s previous winners.Nonetheless, £3.5m can buy a lot of whisky, so do they really get their money’s worth? “Around 50,000 people attend the event, and you can be sure that firstly they’re into golf but secondly they will be, if not regular consumers, aware of Johnnie Walker,” says Sean.“It’s also more than just four days of golf, it’s actually a week of fantastic brand experience with consumer and trade activities, welcome dinners, gala dinners, pro-celebrity golf, charity events – a total Johnnie Walker experience.“If you want a communication that is engaging and involving there’s nothing better than sponsorship, it’s a hugely powerful tool, that’s why we’ve done this for 13 years.”You don’t have to splash the cash quite to that extent to make an impression though, a great idea can be worth just as much.The Classic Malts cruise in Scotland, is one fine example.An annual event, it involves 100 boats taking a 250-mile trip around the islands of the west coast of Scotland, taking in – yes, you’ve guessed it – the Oban, Talisker and Lagavulin distilleries.“It’s a very focused sponsorship and has a clear link with the products,” explains Nicholas Morgan, Classic Malts’ global marketing director.“If something doesn’t have that connection, there’s no point in doing it. “We also sponsor the Skye Food and Drink Festival because there’s only two drink products on the island, Skye Brewery and Classic Malts – we sponsor events that are close to us.“The reasons we created the Classic Malts cruise 10 years ago are two-fold; it takes the participants to the distilleries and thereby encourages third party recommendations; and we also bring in media from all over the world to the event so it gets us coverage. Journalists come from America and all across Europe.”Staying close to your heritage, is a very popular route for whiskies to take. Bell’s sponsor Scottish football – from first to fourth division – and has been involved in the game since the ‘70s.Similarly, Famous Grouse is the sponsor of the Scottish rugby team, a combination that seems to have worked wonders for both parties.“We’re actually the longest running team sponsor in international rugby,” explains Famous Grouse’s Ken Grier.“It’s been going for about 14 years dating back to the 1980s and it’s been massively successful for us.“Being seen as a sponsor of one of Scotland’s national sporting sides has cemented our place as one of Scotland’s best-loved products.“We did research two years ago that showed that more English rugby fans knew that Famous Grouse sponsored the Scottish rugby side than who sponsored England – that shows the power of sponsorship.“Rugby’s a good fit, it tends to be more up-market than football, it has a social culture and is a modern game. It also allows us to put something back into the community as we work with the SRU to build the game in Scotland.”But surely, Scotland hasn’t exactly been the best rugby side to have been associated with of late?“The thing is there’s a huge respect for the length of our sponsorship.“We’re no Johnny-come-lately. We’re here long-term so we get the highs – such as when we won the Six Nations – and we get the lows – of which there have been a few – but that’s an integral part of it and we’ve stuck with it through it all.”Indeed they have, and the corporate citizenship they display through their sponsorship isn’t just limited to Scotland. Grouse sponsored the Chinese and Indian rugby team a few years back.Despite the obvious success of making people aware of Famous Grouse – the paper cuttings involving a Scottish player wearing a shirt with the logo on are endless – does the company get a measurable monetary return?“The success comes in the awareness of the brand and the affinity it creates with rugby and what it says to people. “Basically, though, we are investing in rugby, we do give more than we get.”The same can probably be said of a lot of sponsorship deals. Companies can’t guarantee that by sponsoring an event they will sell x-amount of bottles, but they can guarantee that you and I will read the name of their brand and make a connection.“Whether or not we then make the drink our whisky of choice is another thing. Although if you happen to be a hardcore indie fan who loves XFM and yachting in Cowes and has a penchant for Jameson, sponsorship may have a lot to answer for. 
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