Unilever is setting out its first global guidelines on sponsorship best practice in an effort to achieve "the same level of consumer insight, creativity and strategic rigor" currently applied to the development of ads.
The June roll-out of the guidelines to all Unilever's brand groups around the world is expected to precipitate a greater reliance on sponsorship as the marketer continues its quest for the most efficient communication channels for its $5.9 billion global marketing budget. The company currently puts $200 million into sponsorship worldwide.
Michael Brockbank, Unilever's VP, brand communication, told the Chicago-based IEG conference on sponsorship that the company's 5,000 marketing corps and their agencies "are suspicious of sponsorship and don't trust it."
He added: "In our experience, the sponsorship industry has focused too much on getting the highest possible price for rights, at the expense of developing a true understanding of the brand and its long-term strategy."
Unilever's brand teams now need to reconsider sponsorship as a key, strategic tool, rather than a secondary or tactical one, he said.
But, for this to happen, all sponsorship programs need to be planned, executed and evaluated with the same level of thoroughness as the ad development process and be subjected to the same rigor.
From yearend, Mr. Brockbank predicted Unilever would be ready to embrace sponsorship with a new approach.
"Everything will be brand and consumer-led, a list of `Big Ideas' will be identified and tested with consumers, leverage will be planned up-front and it will all be judged in terms of outcome -- its effect on consumers -- rather than output -- the visibility it achieves," he said. "Once all this has been done and the process analyzed -- and only then -- will a deal be struck.
"The right sponsorship for us does not have to be good -- it has to be great," he stressed. "It has to fulfill our criteria for effective communication...We won't escape advertising clutter just to find ourselves in sponsorship clutter. Less will be more for us and we will look for partners who share that vision."