Signage: A sponsor’s friend or a sponsor’s enemy?

Budweiser recently took a slap on the wrist for dotting the Rogue River with its logo on way-finding signage: “Fishing hole this way.” It’s tough for any sponsor to know precisely where to place their logo. But when Mother Nature is involved, it can be especially prickly.

To environmentalists, the beer maker’s presence was intrusive. To local sportsmen out for a day’s fishing, the signs may have been helpful. Although, a person wonders if canny local fishermen need signs saying, “Fishing hole this way.”

It’s a tough call. Many sponsors face similar dilemmas when they journey into uncharted waters. The plain truth is that consumers are far more sensitive to sponsorship than most other forms of marketing. It’s a good new/bad news scenario. Good news: a brand can bond emotionally with consumers through sponsorship. Bad news: emotions can backfire. Slap a logo in the wrong place for the wrong reasons and you’ll have consumer mutiny.

Where did Budweiser go wrong? It was looking to exploit a favorite pastime—fishing—to reach loyal beer drinkers—fishermen. No harm no foul. But the exchange of value wasn’t there. They got more presence than they gave back in value to the fishermen, not to mention the kayakers and rafters who share the river.

Corporate sponsorship is about reciprocity. You’re making something possible for the consumer. That “something” can turn out to be either useful or delightful. I applaud the risk Bud’s brand team took. But I question where and why they dropped anchor.

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