Defining, Tracking and Measuring an Amorphous Channel
Sponsorship can be difficult to define with a single label. It can mean logo placements, banners and preroll video ads or it can mean streaming concerts, brand-created articles and “Most Amazing” listicles that people share on social channels.
Sponsorship conjures up different things for different people, whether they be publishers, brands, agencies, cutting-edge companies or traditional ones—even the audience itself.
Hard as sponsorship may be to narrow down, it makes up a noteworthy, if small, portion of overall digital spending.
This report include latest estimates of sponsorship spending, and discusses comparative estimates and the reasons they vary so widely. It also examines how sponsorship is changing and gives some key questions marketers should ask about their sponsorship programs. Finally, it provides an overview of efforts to measure the effectiveness of sponsorship.
Ask a dozen marketing professionals to describe the sponsorship label, and you may get some uncomfortable silences.
“The term ‘sponsorship’ can often be overly broad,” said Jon Steinberg, president and COO at BuzzFeed.
“I tend to not like the word ‘sponsorship,’ because there are too many connotations to old-school, traditional methods of advertising,” said Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile. “There’s so much baggage with the word ‘sponsorship’ that it rings pretty hollow for me.”
“We just don’t necessarily use the word ‘sponsorship,’” said Jeremy Steinberg, senior vice president of digital ad sales at The Weather Company. “We call it ‘partnership’ more often.”
“I know why you guys are doing this,” said Jordan Bitterman, senior vice president of social, mobile and content at Digitas [Editor’s Note: Bitterman is now chief strategy officer for North America at Mindshare]. “Because actually it’s just like most things with eMarketer—you’re trying to make sense and create organization where there is either none or seemingly none.”
But Bitterman was skeptical: “You know, as it relates to this, I don’t know that we’re ever going to get to perfect organization of all of it.”
Given sponsorship’s evolution into forms and channels that barely existed just a few years ago, it’s difficult to measure spending accurately.
And as with any digital ad format, definitions vary.
For example, many sponsorship spending estimates— including eMarketer’s—look at ad spending only, counting media purchases and nothing else. But brands are just as likely to approach sponsorship from the marketing perspective. Meanwhile, emerging ad formats, such as sponsored posts on Facebook, are currently included in display ad spending totals. Over time, some ad formats are likely to be recategorized.
But as imperfect as sponsorship spending estimates may be, marketers and publishers rely on them to help make planning and allocation decisions.