SBJ/April 5 - 11, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Sponsorship report card: Experts prescribe ways to improve marketing

Wally Hayward
Chief executive officer
Relay Sports and Event Marketing

Pharmaceutical companies recognize that sports marketing plays an integral part of their overall marketing mix. However, they need to focus on three elements for short- and long-term success.

First, develop authentic sports marketing platforms. It is critical to showcase that the product provides a key benefit to the athlete or sport. In a perfect match, Claritin linked its allergy drug to MLB and provided baseball players at all levels with a performance solution to their spring and summer allergies. I'm still amazed at how many companies sponsor the property or athlete and don't follow this simple rule.

Second, break through the pharmaceutical clutter. Pharmaceutical companies compete with other beer, soda, wireless, etc. sponsors for a personal connection with the loyal sports fan. Any brand can buy a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl or sign a high-profile sports figure like Mike Ditka. It's how you create an engaging and emotional experience with the consumer that separates you from the competition. The key is to create a non-threatening environment that won't embarrass or humiliate the sports fan. Viagra is on the right track with its new NASCAR experience.

Lastly, balance consumer awareness activity versus business-to-business engagement. Pharmaceutical campaigns spend a lot of money toward broad consumer reach. I believe many companies miss a great opportunity to activate and engage doctors/physicians who make product recommendations and decisions for consumers.

Grade: C+

Doug Shabelman
Senior vice president
Burns Sports & Celebrities Inc.

Today the average consumer would be hard-pressed to find a major pharmaceutical company that has not had at least one tie-in with a sports or entertainment property or personality. The more interesting "catch" is how such marketing efforts have been leveraged. Are companies getting their money's worth in differentiating themselves?

The answer is "yes" to both questions — pharmaceutical companies are not notorious for spending money foolishly when it comes to public messaging. Rather, oftentimes there is an overreliance in studies, focus groups and test spots to make certain that the company-chosen branded points are conveyed in an exacting manner.

Consumers are inundated with information in so many varieties that pharmaceutical companies have gone to great lengths to make certain that if a sports figure is extolling the benefits of a high blood pressure medication, he or she knows about it firsthand. As long as sports remains an important part of America, the pharmaceutical industry will be there to make sure its message is clear for all to see.

Grade: A

Marc Perman
Vice president, director of client marketing

When the FDA relaxed its regulations on TV advertising for prescription drugs in 1997, a new category of celebrity endorsements was created. Those of us who represent talent have naturally welcomed the new business.

Early ads, including Bob Dole for Viagra, Dan Reeves for Zocor and Joan Lunden for Claritin, were effective. Also effective is the use of celebrity ads that support sponsorships, like Viagra's use of Mark Martin. Perhaps less compelling, at least as a long-term proposition, are pharmaceutical companies' use of celebrities for PR and media campaigns.

While we receive a steady stream of requests for clients suffering from almost every medical condition imaginable, care must be taken to not put our clients into situations, such as talk shows, that obscure a financial relationship with a drug company.

I suspect that as the baby boomer generation continues to age, the pharmaceutical industry will continue to build its successes with celebrities.


Grade: A- (celebrity ads), C (PR campaigns)

Charlie Turano
Genesco Sports Enterprises

Pharmaceutical companies are wise to secure team and league sponsorships to reach their desired target. But since people have medical conditions, personal endorsements give the sponsorships relevance.

Dan Reeves suffers a heart attack as the Atlanta Falcons are marching toward Super Bowl XXXIII. Zocor signs Reeves and the two encourage a nation to check its cholesterol. I believe that was one of the most relevant examples of effectively using an endorsement in the pharmaceutical category to date.

Today, pharmaceutical brands Viagra, Cialis and Levitra are playing the same game by leveraging sports in the ED category. I applaud their ability to recognize and target the aging fan base of the major sports.

The challenge with all three companies is how to become understood and relevant from a creative standpoint. Although Viagra pioneered this category and currently enjoys tremendous market share, I expect Levitra to leverage its sponsorship of the NFL to close the gap on Viagra and distance itself from Cialis.

Pharmaceutical companies are on the right path with sports marketing but could use it more effectively if they delivered more believable creative and more aggressive activation platforms.

Grade: B-

Bill Sanders
Vice president, marketing
BDA Sports Management

Couple a rapidly growing industry, with $2.6 billion a year to spend on direct-to-consumer advertising, with the NFL's recent decision to lift its ban on pharmaceutical sponsorships and you've got a bit of a feeding frenzy. The connection between the pharmaceutical industry and sports fans is obvious, but the road to successfully reach those fans is less clear.

Erectile dysfunction brands have spent the most aggressively, with mixed results. The problem is less severe with non-ED brands such as Zocor and Lipitor, but the issue remains the same: Sports fans don't want to be reminded of their failing health while they are watching the game.

The industry also has had difficulty recruiting top athlete endorsers. Agents are becoming accustomed to the weekly e-mails: "Pharmaceutical company X is seeking athlete/endorser. If your athlete has suffered from _____, please contact us immediately."

When marketers invent creative ways to connect product and consumer, the sponsorship is a success. In the pharmaceutical industry, the successes have been few and far between. Athletes, who need to be protective of their personal brands, are reluctant to associate with any product that makes them appear weak or sickly. Baseball's steroid crisis will contribute further to the reluctance to associate with pharmaceutical products.

Grade: D-

Return to top
Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug