Image is Nothing, Brand Behavior is Everything

Lemon lime soft drinks weren’t supposed to succeed against colas. It just didn’t happen. But then again, hip hop wasn’t supposed to succeed against pop, but that’s exactly what Sprite did – – and that sprite campaign is sort of a metaphor for what hip hop did.
– Dan Charnas (author of The Big Payback)

Sponsorship is easy, right?

You just stamp your logo to famous musician, athlete, whatever and borrow her relevance to your boring brand. When done well, it works great. Unfortunately quite often sponsorship is quite ad-hoc (our CEO likes cricket, let´s sponsor it!) and the bigger role of brand is totally forgotten. Brands have to stand for something and believe in something. That cannot be changed quarterly.

Brands change their sponsorships too often. Last year you were about music, now you are about start-ups and next year about parkour. Because of the short tenures of CMOs, brands are struggling to keep consistency and sponsorship is definitely something that is too often just an add-on. Brands are trying to desperately collaborate with the current hot thing but at the same time forget for what they are standing for.

It makes sense to have focus on your sponsorship. Find a passion that suits your brand and then stick with it. It is better to go narrow than too wide. Instead of being about sports, be about football. Instead of being about music, be about hiphop. Be sharp. If you are everything for everyone, you are more likely nothing for a few.

And speaking of hiphop, one of the greatest examples of sponsorship has been Sprite. They have been connecting itself with hiphop for over 30 years:

That commitment to hiphop has also been something that has made business sense. In 90s Sprite was challenger brand, so it had to find its own voice in sponsorship as well. They made a bet on hiphop and that bet has paid off during those years. What is underground today, will be mainstream tomorrow.

Obey Your Thirst, which within two years doubles Sprite’s market share, and makes it the fastest growing soft drink in America, and eventually, in power of Sprite, they take away the NBA sponsorship from Coca-Cola.
Dan Charnas

Brands need to have consistent behavior, whereas tone-of-voice can vary. Sprite was a challenger brand and it collaborated with challenger musicians. It´s collaboration with hiphop went deeper than just having hiphop music on Sprite ads. They understood and respected the culture. When you have right partnerships and sponsorships they make your brand stronger. When Sprite has been moving away from hiphop, it has been a mistake. Stick to what you believe in and where you are good, instead of trying pathetically to reinvent yourself every time.

What the Obey Your Thirst campaign did for corporate America was that it proved to corporate America that, it’s okay Proctor and Gamble, it’s okay IBM, Sprite took a chance on hip hop and it’s beating everybody. It’s at that point that Sprite sets the archetype for dealing with hip hop straight on. Dealing with black culture and by extension black people straight on, rather than trying to water it down, make it slap happy, and that was sort of a feature of some “minority geared advertising” for many years. Hip hop helps to change the tone of that.
Dan Charnas

The Sprite ads were “content marketing” before that horrible term was coined. Other soda brands had hiphop artists in ads (leaning towards the pop side), Sprite let the artists shine where they were good at.

Pete Rock, CL Smooth and Grand Puba are freestyling on the studio. Funny part is that CL Smooth is dissing “commercial rappers” in commercial. Talking about meta-level:

The knowledge of hiphop roots run through the commercials, like this one which revisits one of the greatest hiphop beefs of all-time:

The consistency and commitment is also apparent with the rappers they work with. With Nas they have worked from 90s and with Drake over 5 years:

Nas & Az over Wild Style beat

Constructing Drake

The assimilation goes deeper than just ads. Sprite has held hiphop talent competitions, pressed vinyl records and now their newest campaign “Obey Your Verse” showcases hiphop verses on the Sprite cans.

The selection is a nice mixture of classic lines mixed with their current brand ambassador Drake.

Sprite connects with the passion of our their target audience in a way deeper level than many other brands. That makes sponsorship a part of brand behavior and not just an afterthought. No need to change your course annually: stick to what you believe in and roll with it.

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