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The New Rules for Activating a Sponsorship

When it comes to pushing a supermarket brand, sponsorships can play a huge part. In the last few years, supermarkets have looked to gain traction and move ahead of their competition by getting involved with other brands and events. However, the internet, and the reactive marketing space it has helped create, has changed the way supermarkets (and indeed brands in any industry) should activate these relationships. In this article, mporium explores what’s changed and how brands need to react.

Supermarkets and Sponsorships

Supermarket sponsorships have risen significantly in the last few years, and they’ve always been tailored to complement stores’ focus on good eating and healthy living. Waitrose, for example, sponsored the England cricket team in 2013, while Sainsbury’s has been involved in British Athletics and Tesco was one of the primary sponsors of the England football team for the 2010 World Cup. Even some of the less high-end brands have sought high-profile sponsorship opportunities: Aldi is currently one of the sponsors of Team GB.

This proved a particularly smart strategic move for Aldi. “When Aldi entered the market, it was seen as something of a ‘foreign’ brand, lacking the legacy and British credentials of its more established rivals,” Verdict Retail senior analyst Greg Bromley said. “Boosting its British fruit and vegetable offer, and pairing with Team GB is definitely likely to prove of benefit in this regard. On a wider level, the impact of Team GB at the Olympics is likely to encourage many consumers to take up more sport and fitness and eat more healthy foods. Aldi’s promotion of its fruit and veg is therefore likely to see a boost.”

Not all deals have been successful though. The Sainsbury’s partnership with British Athletics ended in 2015, the Waitrose connection with English cricket finished in 2016 and Tesco’s efforts in 2010 were hampered by England’s abysmal showing in that tournament. This is, in part, one of the problems with sporting sponsorship (you never know how the team is going to perform), but there are also difficulties with budget, especially at a time when price comparison sites and major advertising activity is putting the crunch on costs. Indeed, Sainsbury’s said the decision to back out of the British Athletics partnership was driven by an overarching “strategic review.”  

Value for money and sponsorship

Beyond strategy and brand positioning, the point of sponsorship is to get your name out and gain awareness. If a brand sponsors a team, it gains awareness each time the team plays, if it sponsors an event, it gains awareness when that event takes place, if it sponsors a TV show, it gains awareness when that show airs, and so on and so on. This is great coverage, of course, but it’s also somewhat static. Your sponsorship activation is dependent not upon your strategy or how people are actually reacting to the thing you’re sponsoring; it all rests with that external thing. In other words, you’re losing a certain amount of control.

More than that, there’s the risk of so-called ambush marketing. This is when a brand that isn’t directly involved in the sponsorship of an event, team or TV show creates activity that allows them to get involved indirectly. FIFA has had to take significant steps to quell such actions during World Cups, and it can be seen on a lower level with The Great British Bake-Off, where brands who aren’t official sponsors use the show to leverage content or even make cheeky asides on social media. Yorkshire Tea proved this when the following tweet was posted about sponsor Dr Oetker during the first episode of the new series.

The new rules for activating a sponsorship | mporium

Though this is just a small, playful message, it received more engagement than some of Dr Oetker’s tweets, which underlines the threat any form of ambush marketing poses. But it also shows just how important reactivity is to successfully activating official sponsorship, or any kind of activity around a popular moment.

Reactivity and Sponsorship

The Yorkshire Tea tweet succeeded because of its wit and clever timing. The brand knew that by tweeting out such a cheeky comment in the run-up to the much-anticipated relaunch of the show on Channel 4, they’d gain traction: reactivity sells. But as we’ve explored before, reactivity can be costly, requiring careful planning and staff on-hand out of working hours to post the messaging and respond to any replies. Moreover, true reactivity isn’t just about identifying a point in time (the airtime of a show, for example) and basing reactivity around that. It’s about reacting on a 24-hour basis.

The Great British Bake-Off is an excellent example. The show isn’t just a point of discussion when it airs; it’s also covered the morning after on the news and lifestyle shows. People go into work and discuss it with their colleagues. It gets repeated during the week and moments are referenced on talk shows. In other words, the sponsorship opportunity exists beyond the thing that’s actually being sponsored, and brands need to find tools that are automated and based around reacting to these unpredictable moments if they’re going to take full advantage.

This is even more significant for supermarkets. The industry is so fiercely competitive and profit is such a big issue that an investment as heavy as sponsorship needs to be carefully considered and fully leveraged. By acknowledging the many moments of conversation that emerge around the things that are sponsored, rather than just zeroing in on the one time they air or take peak prominence, supermarkets can achieve this kind of reactivity, and increase ROI.


Sponsorship isn’t easy to execute, and it’s only getting harder. Brands (and especially supermarkets) need to find a way to communicate in a reactive, always-on way to ensure they’re getting the most out of their activity. If they don’t, other brands that aren’t involved in the sponsorship will take advantage and find the kind of success that the sponsorship should have ensured.

Are you looking to make your sponsorship activation more reactive? Get in touch to find out how mporium can help!

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