Sep 16, 2009 at 04:55 PM
written by Michael Munson

Making the Most of Media

Sponsorpitch did a poll last week asking people to vote on the best activation of a sponsorship at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. While I am not going to argue that it wasn't a cool and creative idea to make a plane out of tennis balls (I was impressed), is that really activation? Or activation as good as it can be? To me, the ball plane is a tactical creative execution. Calling it activation is kind of a misnomer, but maybe I am splitting hairs.

In my humble view, activation or leveraging requires property rights obtained by the sponsor in exchange for money/in-kind trade to the property, to be transferred to a consumer in exchange for cooperation with the sponsor in some way. Placing ad messages on a property’s media, to me, is just a ad buy, and frankly, it isn’t even what most of us would call sponsorship.

Did Continental Airlines ask folks at the event to buy a ticket with a promo code for a limited time, and do something like give the 100th person to buy a ticket with that promo code the airplane made out of tennis balls? That would be very effective, and an example of sponsorship marketing. If Continental did this or something similar, I say congratulations. If not, then it’s just another example of a sponsor failing to maximize the value of the rights they are getting in a sponsorship.

Not to pick on Continental, but if this tennis ball plane was so cool, was it featured on TV? Why, when I do a Google search on “Continental tennis ball plane,” is the first result Why is there no indication of the tennis ball plane on It may have been there, but I didn’t see it on the USTA U.S. Open site either. Why pay for all the media in the sponsorship and not bring the on-site experience to the viewing audience as much as possible? Why not leverage that tennis ball plane to drive purchases from audiences wherever they can be reached?

This raises a question. If sponsorships are most uniquely activated on site, why on earth is the value of sponsorship being measured by media exposure primarily? Maybe there is some value in media exposure, but it is dwarfed by the potential value that exists by activating a sponsorship on site and/or earmarking property benefits to consumers that cooperate with the activation and leveraging arrangements put in place by sponsors. Plus, all that is quantifiable behavior.

The truth of the matter is, run correctly, media in a sponsorship rights package is a distribution channel to promote a sponsorship opportunity being given to consumers to cooperate with a sponsor, for the privilege of receiving benefits with the property. In other words, the media isn’t the value. In today’s online social media-networked and DVR society, if it has value it will be seen and acted on. If it doesn’t it won’t, regardless of whether a bunch of media is bought to promote a message or not.

As a sponsor, you can run ads on a property’s media, but without a call to action tied to the property, it most likely will be no more valuable than any regular ad buy. The amazing thing is this stuff isn’t that hard. It just requires stepping back, and thinking more about how the unique assets of the property can be developed into offerings that can be promoted through the ubiquitous assets of a property.

Properties, it really is up to you to put together and drive the activation plans and execution ideas that will deliver sponsors value and keep them coming back. Sponsors and their agencies are all too comfortable doing what sounds cool, but that isn’t really going to be all that measurable. They aren’t incompetent or foolish. They just have never been held to account like they are today, and media has always been their crutch.

Mike can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @mjmunson. Also, don't forget to view all of Mike's previous posts.

photo credit: T.J. Cohen