When corporations write a check to sponsor a cultural event only to have their logo displayed among many others on the back of a promotional booklet or a program, it’s clearly inconsistent with their marketing objectives. After all, in the ‘real’ world of day-today business, banks are competitors – each with a marketing mandate to stand out – same as the cable companies and credit cards they share the back of the pamphlet with. Yet in the ‘sponsorship’ world, they appear on promotional materials as unintentional allies. Every brand wants to be remembered for supporting art and culture. Yet, by using a hands-off, write-a-check approach, the opposite becomes reality. Each corporation’s name remains buried with all the others, completely unnoticed and forgotten.
As Todd Hirsch, in his recent Globe & Mail article ‘Corporate Sponsors of the Arts Are Missing Creative Opportunities’ points out, “corporate sponsorship of the arts has the potential to become something much more powerful than the feel-good recognition on opening night.” Indeed. To be noticed and remembered, corporations need to start using a hands-on approach. In other words, they need to stop behaving as passive sponsors and start acting as active collaborators. Instead of building long-distance corporate relationships, they need to start working closely with the organizations they support, be it arts or culture, and start developing something with greater meaning that is more memorable and therefore more valuable.
According to Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist and activist, “The artist is an enemy of … general sensibilities “. These so-called ‘general sensibilities,’ are also an enemy of each and every brand. Brands today need to create new sensibilities and reinvent continuously to remain relevant and consequently memorable and desirable. If Mother Nature is about survival of the fittest, then brands are about survival of the most imaginative and innovative.
What could such an innovative approach look like? Imagine what local artists or filmmakers could create in collaboration with, say, a financial services sponsor in support of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Imagine something astounding, beautiful, thought-provoking and worthy of sharing. Now imagine the integration opportunities with TIFF membership packages and the TIFF shop and the sponsor’s branches across the GTA.
An artist collaboration would definitely make the sponsor stand apart –by taking an active and innovative role in the world of corporate sponsorships, and consequently by bringing its brand greater visibility and relevance. And the same would hold true for TIFF, being perceived as an even a more cutting-edge Canadian cultural household name. It’s a corporate sponsorship where everyone is a winner, even consumers who simply want to purchase the unique art collaboration ‘piece’.
The opportunities and advantages of hands-on corporate sponsorship are vast. First off, so few corporations go beyond the standard sponsorship ‘show my logo’ approach that doing something different would in and of itself generate new meaning. Second, seeing what’s perceived as a more traditional corporation being transformed by an art-fusion collaboration would suggest both a human and modern approach – invaluable for companies looking to amplify those aspects of their image.
We believe not before long we begin to lay ‘corporate sponsorships’ to rest and start nurturing ‘creative collaborations’. It’s time.
In our next post, we’ll be looking at the future of gift shops. Until then.