3 Ways Brands Can Solidify a Brand Message Using Free and Publicly Available Assets

Not every aspect of strategies has to break the bank

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Brand sponsorships are a multi-billion-dollar industry. It seems like each year’s expenditures top the last, with incrementally more eye-popping numbers going to sponsor sports leagues, movies and celebrities. From Microsoft’s $400 million deal to be “the official sideline technology sponsor of the NFL” to George Clooney reportedly earning $40 million to be the brand ambassador for Nespresso. Brands are writing bigger and bigger checks to associate themselves with personalities and properties, to drive awareness and expand their demographic reach and shape their image.

While brands battle over the rights to million- or even billion-dollar sponsorship deals, there is an abundance of high-profile sponsorship opportunities that cost absolutely nothing. These alternative sponsorships aren’t just for brands with small budgets; many industry leaders have creatively tapped into these no-cost, publicly available assets as part of their marketing campaigns. Sound too good to be true? Check out a few examples of brands stepping up and owning high-profile, well-known commodities without spending one dime on sponsorships.

Own the weather

While the age-old saying claims that “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” some brands are starting to do something about it.

While brands battle over the rights to million- or even billion-dollar sponsorship deals, there is an abundance of high-profile sponsorship opportunities that cost absolutely nothing.

There are two good reasons why “owning the weather” makes sense for marketers. First, the weather is a regular part of our daily conversation because it’s a topic that we all have in common and has an impact on our daily life. If a brand can insert themselves into this conversation, they increase their relevancy and top-of-mind awareness. Second, research shows that there is a direct correlation between changes in the weather and product sales. According to weathertrends360’s study, a 1-degree increase in temperature can lead to an increase in product sales including a 1.2 percent increase in beer sales, a 7 percent increase sunblock products, an 8 percent more strawberries and, strangely enough, a 6 percent increase in mousetrap sales.

In its “Weather-Reactive Campaign,” McDonald’s tapped into London consumers’ meteorological obsession and took ownership of the unpredictable weather through a digital outdoor campaign. While many brands use weather APIs to deliver contextually relevant display ads, emails and SMS notifications, McDonald’s went a step further and turned its iconic menu items into weather icons. For example, an unwrapped burger represents the sun, while an upturned box of fries signifies rain. By infusing the brand into a popular topic of conversation, McDonald’s customers may not be enjoying the weather, but can still be “Lovin’ It.”

Own the day

For brands that prefer a marketing plan that is more predictable than the weather, owning a day is another alternative sponsorship opportunity. Owning a day creates the opportunity to turn an ordinary day into a cause for celebration, resulting in a heightened sense of awareness and urgency among consumers.

With 365 days in a year, there are many opportunities for brands to take ownership. To be successful, a marketer must identify a day with an attribute that their brand can credibly own.

For example, 7-Eleven turned a day into an event by taking advantage of July 11. Giving away free Slurpee’s isn’t just fun; it drove a 51 percent increase in foot traffic last year, according to data from GasBuddy, and has generated sales increases as customers buy food with their free drinks.

Pizza companies have taken a similar approach by stealing ownership of March 14 away from mathematicians. On Pi Day, pizza companies drive sales and receive free advertising as countless news outlets jump on the bandwagon to promote the wide range of quirky March 14 pizza deals.

If you’re not lucky enough to be able to take ownership of a day, tap into the never-ending list of wacky and bizarre holidays. These lesser-known obscure holidays are great ways to stand out from the crowd, especially when compared to traditional holiday advertising competition. Long John Silver’s took ownership of International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19 by offering any customer who talked like a pirate a free Deep Friend Twinkie. Fashion-forward patrons could also score a free Fish ‘n’ Fry by dressing as their favorite buccaneer.

Own the icon

Iconic holiday celebrities such as Santa, the Easter Bunny and the St. Patrick’s leprechaun are the most famous examples of free sponsorship opportunities. The overwhelming popularity of leveraging holiday icons among marketers can make it hard for a brand to stand out. To successfully own one of these holiday celebrities, brands need to do more than simply slapping the icon on their packaging.

Cadbury is an example of a brand that has distinguished itself from the Easter holiday pack as confection manufacturers fight it out in the battle for the bunny. For over 35 years, the company has actively taken ownership of this icon with its unforgettable clucking bunny commercials, the latest installments featuring animals trying out to be the next Cadbury bunny. This year, Cadbury made an even bolder claim to the ownership of this holiday icon by inviting pets nationwide to participate in its “Bunny Tryouts.” Animal lovers can enter their dog, cat, pig, parrot or bearded dragon by snapping a photo of their beloved pet wearing a pair of bunny ears. In this brilliant exhibition of owning the Icon, Cadbury not only takes ownership of the Easter Bunny, but gives itself the right to recast it.

Unconventional sponsorships like these are only limited by your imagination. Traditional multi-million-dollar sponsorships may grab the headlines, but valuable ownership opportunities can be found in the alternative no-cost sponsorships.