A study conducted by Performance Research Europe, at the 2000 British F1 Grand Prix, suggests sponsors must do more to earn brand loyalty.

Picture the scene… Silverstone, July 1999 the ‘RAC British Grand Prix’, fuelled by the imminent departure of English hero Damon Hill, Benson & Hedges engulf sunny Silverstone with a sea of yellow flags, with ‘Buzzin’ Hornets’ logos everywhere. During spontaneous sponsor awareness questioning, Benson & Hedges was the most frequently mentioned sponsor (83%). Other sponsors including Marlboro (52%) and West (24%) were left in their wake.

Now, picture this… Silverstone, April 2000 the ’Foster’s British Grand Prix, swamped in mud with almost one-half (45%) of attendees suggesting the British Grand Prix would be improved if it were returned to July and roughly one-fourth of attendees (24%) demanding improvements to the car parks. The most frequently recalled sponsor during spontaneous awareness questioning is Foster’s (46%), followed by new Arrows team sponsor Orange (41%). Benson & Hedges, last years most frequently mentioned sponsor, is only reported by roughly one-third (39%) of race attendees. Phew, what a difference a year makes!

So why did Benson & Hedges do so well during unaided sponsor awareness questioning last year? Maybe it was because they had a number of highly visible and memorable on-site activities. These included give-aways, (Buzzin’ Hornets temporary tatoos!), driving simulators and prize draws, which enabled Benson & Hedges to communicate with F1 fans in an entertaining and relevant way.

What caused such a big drop in unaided awareness? Well, judging by the aided recall level (98%) almost everyone knows Benson & Hedges is a F1 sponsor, but it seems that at the 2000 British Grand Prix Benson & Hedges struggled to recreate last years ‘top of mind’ awareness.

This year there was a noticeable scaling down in on-site sponsorship activity, with less emphasis on interaction and entertainment and more emphasis on selling merchandise. In essence there was less activity and a greater reliance on passive sponsorship methods such as signage. The couple of exceptions being Orange and Jaguar, but neither were able to dominate like Benson & Hedges did the previous year.

Last year Benson & Hedges, along with many others, successfully augmented their sponsorship relationship with F1 using well planned and relevant on-site activities. Jed Pearsall, Managing Director of Performance Research believes ‘This was sponsorship working well, using physical interaction between B&H and fans to form an emotional connection, without a trace of cynical commercialism. Such activity improves corporate image and ultimately facilitates brand loyalty.’

Studies by Performance Research, conducted in America over the last 14 years, show incredible results, on average almost three-fourths (72%) of NASCAR fans report they would ‘Almost always’ or ‘Frequently’ choose the brand or product associated with their sport. Among attendees at the 2000 British Grand Prix this figure is less than one-third (29%). In fact, two-fifths (40%) indicated they would ‘Almost never’ choose the sponsors product ahead of the non-sponsors product.

The fans’ loyalty to F1 racing, however, is unquestioned, despite the weather and police roadblocks many F1 fans still arrived at Silverstone, often abandoning their cars on the roadside and walking for several miles. Unfortunately, this loyalty to their sport does not often extend to loyalty toward the sponsors. Unless sponsors start to add more value to their sponsorship activity and begin to provide fans with reasons to display loyalty, the full benefits of sponsorship may never be fully realised.

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