An Unusually Effective Sponsorship

If you've listened to The BeanCast for any length of time, you know I am an unabashed gamer first, marketing podcaster second. I love most everything about video games. I even love the industry and news surrounding gaming as much as the games themselves.

Yet as an enthusiast, I tend to be pretty jaded about promotional stuff. I mean I love it, as any good marketing professional would. I also think if done well these effort often add to the total experience. But largely I remain emotionally detached. Which is why my response to a recent Sprint promotion caught be completely off guard.

The Freemium Strikes Again

Beginning this week, Sprint became a sponsor in the PlayStation Network online store. Basically they have their own tile on the menu system accessed through the PlayStation 3 gaming console and it drills down to some branded content.

But Sprint did something surprising here. Instead of just dropping in some videos and maybe shoveling out some lame-assed advergame (you would have expected maybe a stripped down NASCAR title or something considering their sponsorship there), they offered me a grade-A title for free.

What The Customer Sees

Now let me take you through this for a moment. This title has nothing to do with Sprint. There are no synergies or tie-ins to make this offer make sense. There is no name capture nor am I signing up to be spammed. On the surface, there is no way that I as a marketer would have ever made this recommendation as a smart move.

And yet as a gamer, here's what I saw: One of the most popular titles in the store that I had actually considered purchasing already had just been bought and paid for by this brand. They gave it to me with no strings attached. Further, they went to the effort to come into my world seamlessly, rather than asking me to go to them or forcing some awkward message into my space. And I felt good about them. I felt really good about them. In fact, this carrier was raised into my consideration set for possibly the first time ever.

Click To Brand

Recently I've been exploring an interesting dynamic in marketing. It seems like everyone is enamored with measurement these days. And let me tell you, that's music to my direct-marketing-trained ears. But I've also begun to realize that just because you can get hard and fast ROI measurement out of tactic, doesn't always make it the best play for you and your brand.

Why is it we can accept the value of a TV campaign as an exercise in branding and yet sneer if that's the only value we derive from a point and click online campaign? And I've been one of the worst offenders on that front. I've always striven to push for a ROI-driven call-to-action.

Yet there is no denying that for a lot less money than they spend on a single TV ad, Sprint has raised their brand perception in my mind more than any of their TV campaigns in the last five years. Why? Because they've shown that they understand my world and what I value. They've said, "We want to participate in this space and since we all like good games, here's one of the best. Have fun!" That overlays a persona on their brand that I never imagined would be there. And if they had tried to be heavy-handed in any way and been even a touch more response-driven, they would have ruined the brand experience.

Finding this balance is key. And my larger point is that we need to stop relegating the response vs. brand question to a purely tactical answer. The question, it's answers and the implications of what we do are simply too large to be contained in any single media.

As an aside, it's funny that in the middle of me writing all this, Richard Rosen should call me. He's the author of the new bookConvergence Marketing, which speaks heavily on this idea that the response/brand question flows both ways. His premise is essentially that branding happens in direct and direct can happen in brand. The media is not the important thing. The essential ingredient is being relevant and engaging with the customer in ways that make sense to the customer — regardless of if it makes sense to you. A timely reminder for you and for me.

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