May 10, 2011 at 08:07 PM
written by Brent Barootes

What Happens When Corporate Sponsors & Academia Collide?

Some may say it is crossing the line between sponsorship and academia. Some may say it is innovative and delivers value to the sponsor, property, stakeholders, clients and constituents. Some claim it adds fodder to educational institutions defending brand infiltration of curriculum. And for others, it is the way of the modern world.

I am talking about the most recent corporate sponsorship activation with digital marketing. Through sponsorship agreements, brands are pushing the envelope of their digital marketing with an audience that lives and breathes social media. As Digital Trends and the Wall Street Journal recently reported, brands have begun sponsoring more than college gyms, libraries and buildings through naming. They have begun sponsoring college classes in the United States (and soon in Canada) and graduate level research. This is not really so new. It is just that the assets they are receiving in return for their investment are not a name on a building or opportunities to sample product on campus. Today they are getting blog posts, tweets, status updates and custom made YouTube videos. Some brands that have made this foray are Mattel, Levis, Fox Sports Net and Sprint Nextel.

The traditional investment format is used where the brand provides cash to a department, faculty, the university as a whole, funds part of a research project or provides customer data for such research. But what schools are getting in return, at Emerson College in Boston for example, is free smart phones and unlimited data service from Sprint for all students. In exchange, the students assist with Sprint's online marketing.

As noted, some may say this pushes the envelope of corporate infiltration into the classroom and curriculum. But Randy Hlavac of Northwestern University noted to the Wall Street Journal, "We are helping the students to go out and get hired, they've done the work." As students do the work for brands as part of their assignments, they (in most cases) become brand ambassadors. The affinity between brand and student is created and cemented. I call that brand loyalty developed through experiential marketing and sponsorship.

Before you react and say how wrong this is or that this new approach is out-of-bounds, remember it is not all that new. It is really just an extension of what has been done in the past, but now it is being applied to social media and digital marketing. For decades, pharmaceuticals and auto manufacturers have been funding research pertaining to their specific industries. In Western Canada, one company did a sponsorship allowing it the rights for first interviews with graduating students in their specific industry courses before their competition got to talk to those students. Tim Horton's does the same at a grassroots level with Timbits Soccer and Hockey! So it really isn't that new as a concept; it is just being applied a different way. And I say, "Congratulations" to those who have been able to activate well with digital media.

These are just one person's thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well, so please email me at or add your comments below.

Photobucket Brent Barootes is President of Calgary-based, Partnership Group. The Partnership Group is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta Canada and provides innovative sponsorship programs for corporations and sponsor properties in the areas of not-for-profits, sports organizations, and government agencies and government operations, charities, events, member associations, tournaments and conferences.