Social Purpose Sponsorship - UKSA Spotlight

In 2019, the Charity & Community Engagement Category of the UK Sponsorship Awards will be renamed as the Social Purpose Category. To mark the rebrand, the UKSA team takes a closer look at why sponsors need to be good citizens and what it takes for them to do social purpose properly.  Andy Fry reports.

These days, sponsorships aren’t really complete unless they can demonstrate some kind of social purpose dimension. While the lion’s share of a brand’s sponsorship budget still goes on acquiring headline rights and supporting that investment in the media, consumers typically expect brands to also engage in some kind of charitable or community-based activities. 

This is especially true at the younger end of the audience. In 2015, Fuse’s Gen Z Report on Social Activism & Cause Marketing revealed that 85% of Gen Z participants (those born between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s) were more likely to purchase a brand that supports a social cause over one that doesn’t. Revisiting this debate in mid-2018, Fuse found that, if anything, the younger end of the age spectrum is even more committed than before: “A notable change since 2016 has been in teens’ more assertive activism,” says Fuse. “More than a quarter of respondents said they have “attended protests or rallies” or “boycotted a company” in the last year.”

"Opportunities for companies that make genuine commitments to social purpose"

What’s more, says Fuse, teens (aka tomorrow’s core consumer group) believe that corporations have the same obligations as teens to help solve social issues. “68% said companies have an obligation to help solve social problems. Only 10% said neither they, nor corporations, have an obligation to solve social problems. And how do teens think companies are doing? Not so well. Only 28% of teens think companies are doing enough to support causes they care about.” While that, of course, can be framed as a negative, it also implies opportunities for companies that make genuine commitments to social purpose.

Consider also the following points, raised by Elevent: “In a recent study,” it says, “half of respondents claimed they would pay more for products made by a socially responsible company. Even more important: the harshest judges happen to be the consumers most sought after by companies: young people, educated people and people with higher incomes.”

So What Is Social Purpose? In its 2018 report, which is focused on the US, Fuse cites Walmart’s partnership with Feeding America, Microsoft’s K-12 STEM Programmes and McDonald’s HACER Scholarships and the Ronald McDonald House as good examples. But there are numerous variations on what social purpose can mean. While education and the environment are two obvious social purpose headings, there are any number of causes that sit under the terms charity and community. From curing cancer to rebuilding community arts and sports facilities, there is no shortage of causes for brands to invest in. The beauty of this area is that it can be scaled up or down according to the size of the company or brand in question. 

Cancer Research’s Race For Life and Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning have proved to be great partnerships for Tesco and M&S respectively, but there are plenty of small to medium enterprises that have supported innovative local activities.

How To Choose: With so many social purpose options, how do brands decide where to place their bets? Rule number one, says Elevent, is relevance. “Relevance is a very important concept in sponsorship performance. And relevance applies to cause partnerships even more. For example, we see a strong link between the three most important causes for consumers and the three industries they expect the most from in terms of CSR: Environment and oil and gas companies; Healthcare and the food services industry; Fighting poverty and financial institutions”. 

According to Elevent, an example of relevance is Brazilian football club Sport Club Recife’s Immortal Fans campaign, a public health partnership with the government. “As fans live and breathe with their favourite club, a campaign was built on this insight with the objective of increasing the number of organ donors. By giving your organs to another fan after your death, you lived on to support the team. The results were overwhelming: 51,000 cards and the waiting list for heart transplant down to zero.” 

"A strong purpose shared between the brand and the cause can deliver greater results than a fit that’s based on a limited tie-in between a brand and a cause"

Elevent warns against superficial campaigns based on “image relevance”, because there are no guarantees these will stick in the consumer’s mind. “A strong purpose shared between the brand and the cause can deliver greater results than a fit that’s based on a limited tie-in between a brand and a cause. The idea is to try to find the sweet spot between your brand’s purpose or mission and a problem or issue you can try to tackle as a company.”

Brand Activism: According to Instapage, Brand Activism is when “a company seeks to have an impact on a social, economic, environmental, or political problem. They may further their cause by making a public announcement, lobbying, donating money to specific groups, volunteering, or making a statement through their marketing and advertising campaigns”. All of this sounds exciting for brands wanting to build or transform their profile, but it’s crucial that any activism is seen as authentic, says Instapage. “Otherwise, your brand comes off as hypocritical, and you’ll look like an opportunist”. 

“What issue aligns with our company’s core values?"

Before taking a position, companies must ask some key questions, says Instapage: “What issue aligns with our company’s core values? Do our company actions, statements, and product/service support or contradict our position? What is the potential impact of our brand getting involved in political or cultural issues - negative and positive? What does our customer base care about? Will consumers think our company is authentic and passionate about the cause we support? Will this cause us to raise prices and will our customers pay more? Will this help attract new customers? Will getting involved and taking a stand make our employees more engaged and attract better talent?”

Other Challenges: One of the biggest challenges with social purpose sponsorship is measuring its impact, since it’s not easy to prove that supporting a cause directly translates into business or societal benefits. It helps to be clear at the outset what any social sponsorship investment is intending to achieve – and then track its performance during its lifetime. Shareholders are one stakeholder group that will certainly want to be convinced that social purpose investment makes sense, though the benefits are more likely to be in terms of long-term brand profile than short-term profits/dividends. There were some interesting discussions around this issue after the London 2012 Olympics (see here). If you really want to drill down into the nitty gritty of how to measure and evaluate CSR this article also makes for interesting reading.

Social Purpose In Action: Last year’s social purpose category at the UK Sponsorship Awards (previously known as Charity and Corporate Community Engagement) included four campaigns on its shortlist: Helping Movember Regain Its Mojo, the QTS Youth Athlete Programme, The Morgan Stanley Garden at The Chelsea Flower Show and the NHS Blood Transfusion & MOBO Awards B-Positive Campaign. 

The last of this group, entered by MediaCom Sport and Entertainment, won. At its heart, the partnership was about encouraging the UK’s black community to donate blood. In particular, it was aimed at raising awareness of the ease of registration and giving blood, and targeted a younger, less engaged audience – specifically 17-24 year olds. The campaign had a strong impact, with the NHS Blood website experiencing a 252% increase in site traffic in the first two weeks after the campaign commenced. In addition, NHS Blood’s post from the MOBO’s red carpet received over 1 million views, being liked and re-posted by Drake and Stormzy among others. There are key lessons here regarding a) the need to identify a strong central challenge/goal, b) finding a relevant partner, c) creating an eye-catching execution and d) looking for opportunities to amplify the impact of the campaign by engaging with figures respected by the target audience. Overall, the campaign benefited strongly from its authenticity.

Thoughts On Entering UKSA 2019: The UKSA judges want to see benefits to the brand and the organisation it is partnering. Ideally this will be something more than a list of digital engagement figures – but it doesn’t need to be a super strong impact on sales or donations. Consumer reappraisal of both the brand and the issue it is supporting are both key metrix. Some illustration of how the two sides worked together to create their social purpose strategy is also of interest (i.e., try to show it was tailored/bespoke not just an off-the-shelf/flat-pack solution). 

Similarly, not all social purpose activity comes in the form of a traditional sponsorship. Don’t be put off entering the Awards if you are unable to point to a specific rights set at the heart of the campaign. The judges focus mainly on how two organisations have come together to achieve social purpose goals – and how they have activated across channels. So the emphasis is on collaboration, association and partnership.

For companies interested in entering the 2019 UK Sponsorship Awards, follow this link for more details. The early bird deadline is on December 21st and offers a discounted rate. The final deadline is January 22, 2019 and the Awards Gala Dinner itself is on March 26 at the London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square.

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