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Blog: brand sponsorship - does it work?

Published:  14 August, 2012

Mount Gay rum sponsors a host of sailing events and Gemma McKenna blogs on how and why such deals can work.

There have been a lot of mixed reports and endless speculation about how beneficial the pricy Olympic sponsorship has been for brands like McDonalds and Proctor & Gamble.

It's a tough call for companies to decide whether to dig deep and back a major event, but for some, it can really pay off. Attending Cowes Week regatta yesterday with Mount Gay rum, it's clear that this brand has forged strong alliances withing the sailing community  - enhanced by its sponsorship of the regatta for the past three years (although it's been associated with it for much longer).

If you mentioned Mount Gay rum to the average UK punter chances are they may have heard of it, but equally it may have completely passed them by. Not so for the sailing fraternity. In these circles, it seems the brand is well-recognised and even coveted.

It's from Barbados, and markets itself as "the rum that invented rum" having been officially established in 1703. Barbados, being a Caribbean island, has a natural affinity with sailors, and rum has a long maritime association. Over the years Mount Gay has been clever in strengthening the link both at home and abroad. In Barbados it sponsors countless round the island races and its famous red caps are a very popular in nautical circles - in some cases the hats fetch up to £350 on eBay. The brand generally release a limited number, emblazoned with the brand and the specific event and date, at each race or regatta, sparking serious competition for them among sailing enthusaiasts.

I would normally be sceptical of such tales, but witnessed the euphoria over said red hats first-hand when on Cowes. The hats (just 500 have been made up for Cowes 2012) are being kept back until the official Mount Gay rum party on Thursday night on the island. But yesterday, my two hosts Alvin Saal, brand manager for Mount Gay at First Drinks and Miguel Smith, brand ambassador, (pictured) had theirs on early, and were being bombarded by passersby wanting to know where they got them. One yachting journalist said he had a collection of Mount Gay hats from various events spanning 30 years, and told of how a friend got hold of the pattern and had a firm in India embroider some fakes...

Appealing strongly to a certain niche (and let's face it - the sailing community is a pretty upwardly mobile niche to appeal to) and maintaining your brand's exclusivity in such circles seems a smart move.

But don't take my word for it, I asked Michael Beverland, professor of marketing at the University of Bath School of Management, for his opinion. He said Mount Gay's sponsorship works "because it has an authentic connection to the sea" that does not need to be forced.

"The aim of sponsorship is to build brand awareness and in particular, build consumers' knowledge of the brand, usually through leveraging the associations inherent in the sport. So, a sponsor may chose David Beckham because they see something in Beckham that they'd like to add to their brand. As a result, the main focus of sponsors is on securing events that 'fit' their brand, and then measuring whether they have achieved that fit."

"Critically, it appears Mount Gay is genuinely committed to sailing - sponsoring a lot of races (not all high profile), continuing this relationship over many years, and engaging with fans and sailors alike, both through selling product and providing space for them to enjoy the sport, but also with status symbols such as the shirts and gear."

I'm now keen to find out just how this sort of sponsorship deal pans out - do you get bang for your buck? At the very least I'd be hoping for a massive uplift in sales, and it must be gratifying to see people fighting over your merchandise...

So far, and it's still early in the week, all Mount Gay can tell me is that sales "increase significantly" both in local bars and restaurants. Saal said that in the local Sainsbury's, sales of Mount Gay increase 10-fold during Cowes Week.

For more on drinks marketing issues, or if you have an opinion on some that work or 'bomb', see our next print edition or email Gemma McKenna.