With advertising ever more pervasive, marketers have to strive to stand out. Innovative advertisers are making common cause with cash-strapped local authorities.
U.S. sports apparel maker Nike has dressed one of Barcleona’s most prominent landmarks, the 60-meter-tall statue of Christopher Columbus at the Mediterranean end of La Rambla (above), in the red and blue Swoosh-adorned shirt of the city’s eponymous soccer club to promote its new uniforms. Nike paid the city €114,000 ($150,000) for the rights to do so, Reuters reports, for which it got an estimated €7 to €8 millions’ worth of media coverage.
In the Spanish capital, European telecoms company Vodafone has gone in the other direction — underground — sponsoring the Sol subway station in the heart of the city, now to be known as Sol Vodafone. The company has struck a €3 million, three-year deal with the city, thought to be the first such paid sponsorship of a subway station (though for a month last year it was the Sol Galaxy Note under a deal with Samsung).
From September, Vodafone will sponsor an entire subway line, Linea 2, to be known as Linea 2 Vodafone. The deal will boost the Madrid Metro’s annual advertising revenue by 30%. If the idea catches on widely New Yorkers might one day be traveling on the 4-5-6 Seven-11 and Londoners on the Victoria’s Secret Line.
One tiny corner of the London’s venerable Tube, as its subway is called, has already succumbed. The Middle Eastern airline, Emirates, bought the naming rights for 10 years to the Tube system’s new cable car route across the River Thames between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London.
Naming rights for public transport can be traced back a long way in London. In 1932, Arsenal Football Club got the name of its local station, Gillespie Road, changed to its own — and for free; simpler times. By coincidence, Arsenal sold the naming rights of its new stadium to Emirates, but the station is still called Arsenal.
Naming rights of sports stadiums, including those publicly funded, have become commonplace. In the most expensive deal in the U.S., Citigroup is paying $20 million a season for the rights to CitiField, where the New York Mets play (even if the team doesn’t show up much these days).
The bank also sponsors New York City’s new public bike share scheme, Citibike, for which it is paying $41 million over six years to have the bikes painted in the shade of blue it uses as its corporate colors and to carry its logo. Citibank hasn’t yet run into the affinity branding controversy that has hit the sponsor of London’s bike share scheme, also a bank, Barclays in its case, for £25 million ($39 million) over five years.
London’s “cycle superhighway” bike lanes are painted in blue, Barclay’s colors, though they were blue before Barclays Bike Hire was started. New York’s are white, the color of the lettering Citigroup uses in its branding. It is only a matter of time, believe us.
Two serious questions for a marketer are, how much advertising value does it get, and what is that value’s half life. When will Citibike pass into common usage as city bike? Barclays Bike Hire isn’t as catchy, but maybe more durable as advertising.
Second, what benefit or baggage will pass to a successor sponsor? In London, the historic Oval cricket ground has been sponsored and named successively by an Australian brewer, an insurance company, and, currently, a South Korean car manufacturer. To most Londoners, it is still the Oval, rather than the Kia Oval.
The other risk for a marketer in sponsoring public assets and well-known landmarks is that they can become rallying points for other, non-commercial causes. Madrid’s Sol plaza, for example, was the site of the city-center protests against the government’s austerity measures.
That can cut both ways. Transport for London has been criticized for accepting sponsorship from a payday loan company and says it will take no more from companies like that. Madrid’s Metro remains bullish on corporate sponsorship. “We have another 11 lines and many more stations to offer,” Ignacio González, the city’s president says.