In a hockey-mad country such as Canada, conventional wisdom would suggest that the wisest marketers put their sponsorship dollars on ice. But when it comes to winning over consumers, it turns out that health hits closer to home.
A new study conducted by Ipsos Reid and marketing agency TrojanOne ranked the value of Canada's sponsorship properties – in other words, the organizations, events and causes that companies pay to be associated with. It found that over all, the most valuable property in the country is the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
"The point of the survey was to try to understand how sponsorships affect consumers in what they do; whether it makes them more willing to buy products and services from sponsors," said Jordan Levitin, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid.
It's a measurement that has been missing from many marketing departments. Another study TrojanOne released last week found that while marketers spent $2.85-billion on sponsorships last year, only half conducted any kind of evaluation of the return on investment. In fact, this kind of evaluation made up just 2.7 per cent of sponsorship budgets.
Ipsos Reid surveyed roughly 1,000 Canadians about their responses to various sponsorships. It measured a number of factors, including whether a sponsorship made people feel closer to the sponsor because of their involvement; whether it created a desire to buy from the sponsor to support them; how personally attached they feel toward it; and whether it created a moment (think of Olympic medal wins, for example) that they wanted to share with others.
The research looked at people's attitudes toward the properties themselves, such as Hockey Night in Canada – which ranked highest in the entertainment category, rather than asking people to evaluate sponsorship relationships, such as Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd.'s sponsorship of Hockey Night in Canada.
The full report will be released later this summer.
Part of what could explain Heart and Stroke's dominant ranking is the rise in the importance of "cause marketing." While companies sponsoring charitable initiatives is nothing new, marketers are recognizing a shift among more consumers who want to give their money to companies that align with their own values. Researchers have found that, where price and quality are similar, the vast majority of people will switch to a brand that is associated with a good cause.
"Cause marketing is becoming omnipresent," said Kyle Winters, vice-president of corporate partnerships for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "The younger consumer now is looking to corporations and saying, 'What do you really stand for?'"
It's a delicate balance, however: Roughly 5 per cent of the foundation's revenues come from sponsorships. A cause has to be cautious about how aggressively it engages with Corporate Canada, Mr. Winters said, lest it lose credibility with consumers by appearing too commerical.
Non-profits also must vet potential sponsors to ensure their corporate values line up with the cause.
"You would never see HSF pursuing a partnership with a sugar-sweetened beverage company," he said.
Its powerful connection to Canadians represents a bounceback of sorts for the foundation. In 2011, its research showed that awareness of its work had dropped compared with other charities.
Since then, powerful advertising campaigns such as Make Death Wait and Make Health Last have brought its message back to the public consciousness. And it has done work specifically to speak to younger people as well, such as a public service announcement featuring zombies teaching CPR.
An organization's own advertising not only helps with donations – in the case of charities – but also builds a connection to consumers that sponsors look for when choosing their investments.
For Unilever Canada Ltd., its Becel brand's sponsorship of HSF has been a good fit. The annual Becel Ride for Heart, in which 14,000 riders participate, scores high in terms of people making the connection between the event and the brand. Becel has sponsored the ride for 28 years and the foundation itself for 21 years.
"As a marketer, you don't often stick to the same thing for that long," said Alison Leung, director of marketing for foods at Unilever Canada.
It emphasizes its connection to the cause with a Foundation logo on its margarine packaging.
"We don't ever say 'cause marketing' at Unilever. It's just marketing," she said.
"Consumers now know which brands support their values, make people's lives better. And they will vote with their wallets," Ms. Leung added.
The impact on a cause also helps explain why the Canadian Paralympic teams scored higher in the study than the Canadian Olympic teams, Ipsos Reid's Mr. Levitin said.
The study did not measure which properties were the most profitable for their sponsors; a return that can often be difficult to determine. Much also depends on a sponsor's "activation," or the marketing they do to ensure consumers know about the brand's sponsorship connection. The right promotional moves can mean that some of the less "valuable" properties in the study have actually made more money for their sponsors.
"We're measuring the emotional connection to consumers. That is the element that we have been hearing over and over again, has been missing from many measurements," Mr. Levitin said. "You can track eyeballs and bums in seats, but it's harder to measure this connection."
The most valuable sponsorship properties, as ranked by a new study:
2. Your favourite CFL team
3. Your favourite NHL team
1. Canadian Paralympic teams
2. Canadian Olympic teams
3. Provincial Games
Arts & Culture
1. Major museum or art gallery in nearest city
2. Major performance arts or theatre program in nearest city
3. Major Science Centre in nearest city
1. Summer cultural festivals
2. Major arts festivals
3. Major music / jazz festivals
1. Hockey Night in Canada
2. Hockey Day in Canada
3. Nearest theme park /entertainment attraction
1. The Salvation Army
2. World Vision
3. Mothers Against Drunk Driving
1. World Wildlife Fund
2. Earth Hour
3. Ducks Unlimited
1. United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) Canada
2. Big Brothers Big Sisters
3. Right to Play
1. Heart and Stroke Foundation
2. Canadian Cancer Society
3. Canadian Red Cross