Top brands gladly pay highway tolls

Sponsorship spending on live events expected to hit $867 mil this year

For brand marketers, reaching the Heartland — or any broadly defined base of consumers — isn’t as easy as buying a lot of TV time anymore.

These days, big all-American brands are choosing to hit the road, meeting face to face with Heartland consumers right in their hometowns via integrated live-event sponsorship.

In fact, overall sponsorship spending by North American brands on music tours and other live events is expected to rise 15% this year, reaching $867 million, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report.

Here’s a look at how five brands are spending their money:

Top country duo’s sponsorship turns Japanese

Toyota has hitched its Tundra pickup line to top-selling country music duo Brooks & Dunn, signing on as the presenting sponsor for the pair’s 47-city Long Haul Tour this summer and a planned 60-city tour in 2007.

“I don’t think traditional country music followers associate Toyota with country music or a full-sized truck,” says Toyota marketing maven Steve Jett. “Obviously, fan engagement is going to be key to this — the ability to get fans when they are at shows really interacting very closely with the Tundra is going to be important.”

Overall, Toyota’s U.S. sales operations spent more than $30 million on sponsorships in 2005, according to IEG.

The Brooks & Dunn deal involved a combination of cash and cross-promotional opportunities, which were negotiated directly between Toyota and the duo’s management.

As part of the pact, Brooks & Dunn will star in a Tundra TV commercial, and Toyota is bringing interactive promotions to tour dates, including a radio ticket giveaways for seats in the back of a truck.

“I would say in the last three years we’ve really seen a jump in the interest of large corporations looking for partnerships (with country performers),” notes William Morris’ Kathy Armistead, who reps Brooks & Dunn out of the tenpercentery’s Nashville office.

But is the Land of the Rising Sun a good match for the Heartland? Brooks & Dunn manager Clarence Spalding points out that Toyota has long had a plant in Lexington, Ky., and it just opened a plant in San Antonio this month. “If the cars and trucks had been manufactured in Japan, we would have had a little bit different temperature on this,” he says.

Pop-Tarts toasts pop idols

Perhaps with the notable exception of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter — who urged her father to put the series on U.S. television — few could have predicted back in 2002 the kind of cultural and ratings impact that “American Idol” would ultimately have.

Credit must then go to Kellogg’s for its out-of-the-toaster decision to make its Pop-Tarts brand the presenting sponsor for the first American Idols Live tour four years ago.

That partnership has only expanded every year since, with the 2006 Idols Live jaunt zigzagging its way across the country this summer.

“It allows us to reach the difficult-to-find tween and teen audience that’s outside doing lots of activities,” says Tom Weeks, VP and director of entertainment for Kellogg’s ad agency Starcom MediaVest Group.

In 2005, Kellogg’s spent more than $35 million on such sponsorships, according to IEG.

For its Idols Live deal, Kellogg’s gets its name on the marquee, ensuring that every advertisement and ticket sold carries the Pop-Tarts imprint. Over the years, the deal has grown to include myriad on-site and Web-based marketing opportunities, too.

In addition to the wholesome family image of the tour, Kellogg’s was attracted by the hometown hero element. “These Idols are all from different parts of the country, so they represent a real tapestry of America,” Weeks says.

Hershey’s gets sweet on Tim and Faith

Married crooners Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s co-headlined Soul2Soul was the top-grossing country tour in 2000. So, when the couple announced a 70-city follow-up tour this year, Hershey’s jumped at the chance to be the presenting sponsor.

“It’s not about awareness, because we already have awareness — it’s more about driving excitement at retail, to drive display of our product,” explains Mark McCormick, program manager at Hershey.

In 2005, Hershey’s spent more than $15 million on sponsorships, according to IEG.

For Soul2Soul, the straight multimillion-dollar cash payment was what the tour needed, notes McGraw’s manager, Scott Siman, who negotiated the deal directly with the chocolate maker. “We didn’t need their help to sell tickets,” he says. “It’s really money going toward the creation of the show. … Everything is so expensive to produce, and fuel costs are tremendous.”

But the tour wasn’t willing to take money from just any brand, Siman adds: “I think for us, we love the values Hershey stands for as a company. This is a family tour — it’s Tim and Faith and their kids. It fits our values and what we stand for.”

Vegas tourism rides on monster trucks

Monster Jam — the monster truck extravaganza produced by live-events giant Live Nation — has proved in recent years to be a big draw to Las Vegas.

Every year, the 100-stop tour holds its final event at the 39,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium, delivering a $15 million economic benefit to Sin City.

And less than 25% of attendees at the annual event come from the state of Nevada.

In 2004, Las Vegas Events — the nonprofit org charged with promoting Sin City tourism — signed a “mid-six-figure deal” to be a cash sponsor of the tour and has just renewed its contract.

“I think it’s important we brand our destination in different disciplines for our target audience,” says Rob Dondero, exec VP for R&R Partners, agency of record for Las Vegas Events.

“The 3-plus million (attendees) we touch (on the tour), we tell them at live events to go to Las Vegas for the finals and all the great things about Vegas,” adds Ken Hudgens, Monster Jam’s VP of marketing.

Wrangler runs with the bulls

Wrangler Jeans is entering its 11th year of sponsoring Professional Bull Riders, which presents eight rodeo tours totaling 250 events a year worldwide.

“We’ve always been involved in the Western events — that’s what we do,” says Karl Stressman, Wrangler’s director of event marketing.

The current contract is a five-year, mostly cash sponsorship, with an option to renew through 2008. Wrangler also sponsors 20 of the tour’s 45 riders in separate deals.

As part of the pact, PBR riders are given free Wrangler jeans to wear, and Wrangler even introduced a PBR line of jeans five years ago that will be updated in the coming year.

Wrangler also touts its latest products on PBR’s commercials, and offers free tickets to jean purchasers to see PBR events.

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