Sponsorships Can be a Slippery Slope

Sports fans and students of media and advertising are no doubt aware of the perceived sexist comments recently made by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton toward a female sports reporter. When asked by Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue about the route-running of Panthers receiver Devin Funchess during an October 4 press conference, Newtown stunned the gathered reporters. Instead of answering the question, Newton responded by saying, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.” When the room fell silent, Newton smiled and repeated his comment: “it’s funny.”

Both the Panthers and head coach Ron River have distanced themselves from Newton’s comments, and it’s possible Newton could face some form of discipline from his team. The Panthers are likely concerned about the potential viewership hit they could take considering nearly half of the NFL audience is female, and Newton – as a prominent quarterback – is one of the most recognizable faces of the organization. Whether or not any discipline dealt to Newton by the Panthers has a financial penalty, the quarterback will no doubt take a bigger hit from his commercial sponsors.

One day after the quarterback made his comments, Dannon’s Oikos yogurt brand has come out saying it canceled its sponsorship of sponsorship of Newton. In a statement, the yogurt brand said: “It is entirely inconsistent with our commitment to fostering equality and inclusion in every workplace.” Meanwhile, sports drink giant Gatorade condemned Newton’s comments but has not – at least at this point – chosen to drop the athlete.

So why the different approach? How does a brand decide if and when to drop one of its brand ambassadors? Without speculating on the specific decision-making of Dannon and Gatorade, we can say that a lot of the decision boils down to a calculus made between immediate and long-term perceptions of the brand and the spokesperson (temporal considerations) and the perceived level of offense taken by the core product market (magnitude considerations).

Some brands may decide it’s best to ride the storm out after a one-off incident with a brand ambassador. Will people remember this in a week? In a month? What if we hold off on ads or events featuring this spokesperson for a while instead of severing the relationship?

Whether or not a ride-it-out strategy will be successful depends, in part, on the severity of the controversy – the magnitude element. And this, in turn, depends to some extent on the market of the specific brand. If a brand sees a larger proportion of its market as being made up of women, it’s potentially more likely to sever a relationship with someone who makes disparaging remarks about women than a brand that caters mostly to men.

Whatever the rationale, brands that find themselves financially supporting a suddenly controversial figure need to think quickly about how to respond. How bad is the conduct? How long will it take people to forget? How much benefit do we expect to realize long-term from our association with this person relative to potential short-term flak?

Sponsorships can represent great value for a brand; they can also be major detractors. What risks have you potentially exposed your company to based on the brands you sponsor? What steps will you take if one of your sponsors comes under media fire? It’s best to be proactive in terms of considering potential responses. Be strategic!

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Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relations and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st-century marketers.

We serve clients who are looking for help creating content for a wide array of channels—from social media posts to full-length manuscripts, and everything in between. We focus primarily on service-related B2B topics and work with a number of independent consultants interested in building their thought leadership through online channels. For ongoing content management, our first step is to fully understand your goals, objectives and competitive landscape.

Then we’ll conduct a thorough analysis and assessment of your digital presence, compared to competitors, and recommend a communication strategy to achieve your goals. But, we also regularly take on individual projects – white papers, blog posts, contributed articles, etc. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know!

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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