A majority of the top sponsorship spenders do not have a brand awareness problem. In fact, an examination of IEG’s list of companies investing the most in sponsorship (http://www.sponsorship.com/IEGSR/2016/09/19/Sponsorship-s-Big-Spenders--IEG-s-Top-Sponsor-Rank.aspx) suggests that only a few of the brands are not household names. If brands like McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz and MasterCard have been established as mainstream, why then does nearly every person operating in the sponsorship space regularly use the phrase brand awareness? Perhaps, it is out of laziness, varying definitions of the phrase and/or socialization (everybody does it). Nonetheless, unless an organization objectively states lack of brand awareness as an issue, sponsorship practitioners could be better served by substituting alternative wording in place of brand awareness.
Brand Affinity (Heightened brand perception)
Studies have shown time and again, when done right, sponsorship can positively impact how customers perceive your brand – so much so that they can become fans of your brand. Aligning with the home team or supporting our nation’s Olympic teams are all ways to do this. As mentioned, McDonalds has no brand awareness issues, but in some circles, it does have a brand perception problem. Even though the partnership recently ended, brand affinity was a large reason for McDonalds investing hundreds of millions to sponsor the Olympics.
Loyalty and affinity may seem synonymous, but just because someone likes your brand doesn’t necessarily mean they are loyal to it. Conversely, just because someone is loyal to your brand doesn’t mean they have an affinity for it. Dependent on the product category, brand loyalty has differing levels of importance. Regardless of this, sponsorship is an established avenue of increasing brand loyalty. NASCAR’s auto manufacturer sponsorship’s may best exemplify this phenomenon. Dale Jr. races a Chevrolet, and as far and away the most popular driver, his legions of fans are loyal to Chevrolet based on its relationship with the driver. Dale Jr. was once quoted on 60 minutes saying “Matt Kenseth is a good friend of mine – the only problem I have with Matt is that he drives a Ford.”
To have someone advocate for your brand is the goal and envy of every marketer. While it may be naïve to say sponsorship of events, teams, leagues, etc. alone will lead to brand advocacy, it would be foolish to argue with the positive impact of most sponsorships. Brands that people advocate on behalf of are the ones that standout and sponsorship has proven to be a strong differentiator. Brand advocacy is not limited to explicit endorsements by consumers, it can also be implicit. Possibly the most prominent example of an implicit brand endorsement is wearing the jersey of your favorite soccer team. Soccer is unique, in that the logo of a sponsor is typically much larger than the logo of the team itself. This situation turns all jersey wearers into walking billboards and de factor brand ambassadors.
In closing, it could be nitpicky to get so granular when discussing terminology. Even so, we challenge you to look at your list of sponsors (or your brand) and ask how many of them truly have a brand awareness problem – maybe then the merit of considering alternative language will be evident. Brand consideration, brand credibility, brand familiarity, brand sampling/trial are among the other related phrases that could also be substituted for brand awareness when appropriate.