When a brand takes over the property – The Mercury Prize
Last week’s Barclaycard Mercury Awards was a reminder of just how powerful a sponsorship can become. The event began in 1992 and was sponsored by Mercury Communications a telecommunications company set up by its owners Cable and Wireless to challenge British Telecom.
Mercury Communications ceased to exist as a brand in 1997 but in the meantime the Mercury Awards has gone from strength to strength. Four other sponsors, Technics, Panasonic, Nationwide and now Barclaycard have followed Mercury Communications as the title sponsor, but it is Mercury that has become the generic name that has become indelibly linked with the event.
Many would argue that it would be a sponsor’s dream to have their name so strongly linked with a major iconic property, but only if the brand takes advantage of the profile and recognition. In 1963, Gillette became the sponsor of English domestic cricket’s first ever one day competition, The Gillette Cup. The brand became so closely associated with the event that it eventually ended the sponsorship in 1980 claiming that their cricket competition was becoming better known than their razor blades!
Another example where the sponsor has seemingly taken over the property is the Guinness World Records which originated as the Guinness Book of Records. The book was established in the 1950s in conjunction with the then Managing Director of Guinness. The name remains to this day at the forefront of what has become a massive global franchise. The association with Guinness (the beer) registers with very few people and for a book primarily targeted at youngsters, Guinness obviously now make little effort to capitalize on the association.
Over the years many governing bodies and rights holders have become victims of their sponsor’s success. The longest running sponsorship in cycling, the Milk Race ended when the Milk Marketing Board folded in 1993 leaving an event devoid of any identity. In tennis AEGON had to work very hard to establish their name with the pre Wimbledon event at Queen’s Club, The Stella Artois Championships which after 30 years of sponsorship by the beer brand was known simply as “The Stella”. Generally though, rights holders have learned over the years and are now much more protective of their events and keen to prevent sponsors taking ownership of them. Certain events such as the FA Cup have resisted giving the FA prefix to the Cup and all the brands, Littlewoods, AXA, E.ON and now Budweiser that have sponsored the competition have had to accept an associated credit – The FA Cup with Budweiser.
But perhaps the key development over the years has been that sponsors and their agencies have now developed a series of highly effective activation tools that enable them to fully exploit their sponsorship programmes. For any brand, exposure recognition and trust are everything. Mercury’s Music sponsorship certainly created that. They just failed to hang around long enough to exploit it.
by Nigel Currie brandRapport.