For Cathay Pacific and HSBC the Hong Kong Sevens is more than just chance shed their corporate image and join the carnival.
It’s serious business.
But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the marketing activity that has this week kicked into overdrive.
Behind the scenes the public relations, advertising and customer engagement machines are hard at work.
It is, after all, one of the biggest and most important sporting events on the Hong Kong calendar and in its 38th year, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is shaping up as the biggest yet.
— Hong Kong Sevens (@OfficialHK7s) September 20, 2012
In the past few years, sport sponsorship has emerged as a serious competitor to the more traditional advertising and media options.
The rise of social media in particular has allowed brands to rethink and activate a sponsorship program far beyond what was previously allowed.
For brands looking to jump into the sometimes risky business of sports sponsorship, they must do so with a clear business objective, says Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events at HSBC.
“It’s a great brand marketing challenge,” he told Marketing.
“What we do and I what think Cathay Pacific does is to try and capture the spirit of the event, which is the carnival atmosphere of dressing up, the Hong Kongness, the internationalism… these are attributes which are very dear to both Cathay and HSBC.
“Our sponsorship strategy is deep-seated in commercial objectives, but certainly we won’t be selling mortgages at the Hong Kong Sevens,” Morgan added.
For Cathay Pacific, the Sevens is the only event in its sponsorship portfolio that it will create a dedicated marketing campaign, on top special packages like the Fly’n See program.
Simon Large, general manager of marketing, loyalty programmes and CRM at Cathay Pacific, said the Sevens has become an integral part of its sponsorship portfolio and an integral part of the Cathay brand.
“On a worldwide scale, it is a renowned international event that attracts thousands of visitors to Hong Kong, and this is exactly one of CX’s key missions – promoting Hong Kong and building it as an event capital,” he said.
“Cathay Pacific has sponsored the Sevens for more than three decades and was one of the original sponsors of the tournament back in 1976.
“In those days it was a low-key tournament but we have watched it grow into the world-renowned sporting event it is today. Similarly, Cathay Pacific began small with only 2 aircraft in 1946 – we now have over 130 in the CX fleet so we see how both CX and the Sevens have developed together over the years.”
For Giles Morgan the key to sponsorship success is making sure that the objectives are clear and sit firmly in line with a business objective.
“Good sponsorship should be about the values of two brands coming together, but with a very real business rationale of engaging our customers, our community and our staff,” he said.
While many have argued that sport remains an elusive and hard to measure tool, Morgan argues sponsorship can be an effective and powerful proposition.
“We are not fearful of sponsorship and what it means for the growth of the business,” he said.
“Sponsorship is an answer to a business question, but if you don’t know what that business question is, it is going to be a very difficult answer.
“I think that is something that a lot of companies don’t get their heads around.”