Is this sponsorship a good fit for our brand?

This question came up in a recent meeting with a client. As the discussion unfolded, I brought up a grad school case study on “brand fit”. On that project, many years ago, my classmates and I concluded that Nissan’s sponsorship of the Heisman Trophy was inconsistent with its brand and will likely be unproductive, given the lack of perceived fit between the two entities. However, more than a decade in the sports marketing trenches has evolved my perspective.

It’s great when the brand and property align perfectly – like Budweiser and MLB – but sometimes a property can be a good fit for a sponsor even if the two don’t appear to have anything in common. Evaluating the objectives of the brand is usually a good start to figure out if a pairing truly makes sense. What is the strategy for the relationship? Is it a “conquest” opportunity or a “defend and expand” relationship?

Does the brand’s presence block a competitor from improving its position among a particular consumer segment? How appealing is the audience delivered by the property? Does it consume or purchase products in the category, even if the potential sponsor has a small market share? The opportunity to promote a brand and educate a captive audience about its advantages is likely to deliver benefits, especially if the brand’s position among this audience is not strong.

Though illogical at first glance, this may have been Nissan’s reasoning when it partnered with the Heisman Trophy. Twelve years later, Nissan is still leveraging the partnership and has further expanded its position in college sports.