Category Archives: Politics

The NRA and the power of ‘unsponsorship’

While sponsorship is often a powerful force in producing positive attitudes towards a particular brand or organisation, its benefits are entirely proportional to the perceived attributes of the sponsored organisation or individual.

Commercial sponsorship is all about associations. The sponsor spends money on buying into a selected audience’s positive attitudes towards the sponsored party. Being seen to sign up as a supporter of, say, a popular sports team or athlete can generate enormous warmth and gratitude towards the sponsor.

But, as owner/MD of The UK Sponsorship Database since its launch in May 2000, I’ve noticed that very often the reverse is also true. Where, for instance, a world-famous athlete or sports person is suddenly unmasked as a drug cheat or wife-beater, existing sponsors who withdraw their support typically attract very favourable media coverage. Conversely, those who stick by the offending party may well suffer negative coverage. There will always be those who appreciate a sponsor who shows loyalty through thick and thin; but by and large there are far greater gains to be made by the positive act of ‘unsponsoring’.

Indeed, ‘unsponsorship’ can often have benefits which outweigh the positive associations of the initial deal.

A sponsorship deal typically creates a virtuous circle – the more the sponsored party succeeds in his, her or its field, the more sought-after said party becomes in the eyes of competing sponsors seeking an association with that kind of success and those perceptions. But, on the other other hand, those who are associated with bad publicity – ‘negative vibes’ – are typically dropped almost instantly by most sponsors who fear that their image will be tainted or even shattered. And the market reflects that fall in value, as the negotiating power of the sponsored party is undermined.

In the case of the NRA, for companies who (for instance) offer discounts to NRA members, the option of withdrawing support provides a very positive unsponsorship opportunity – a chance to be seen by many as taking the moral high ground. Whilst their previous loyalty might have been taken for granted, as they passively added their offering to a list of NRA members’ benefits, their decision to unsponsor the organisation puts them very much in the public spotlight at a time of intense political debate. Whilst their withdrawals will no doubt offend NRA loyalists intensely, amongst a broad spectrum of the public they may well be seen as having made a laudable, morality-based decision.

At the time of writing, according to press reports the list of companies who have withdrawn their support from the NRA (many of whom are also sponsors across a wide range of sporting and other activities), is growing rapidly and includes Alamo Rent a Car, Avis, Allied Van Lines, BestWestern, Budget, Chubb Insurance, Delta Air Lines, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, First National Bank of Omaha, Hertz, MetLife, North American Van Lines, Paramount Rx, SimpliSafe, Symantec and TrueCar.

Amongst the companies who continue to align themselves with the NRA are Bass Pro Shops, BlackRock, Clearent, FedEx, HotelPlanner, ManageUrID, MidwayUSA, NetSpend, Omni Hotels and Vinesse Wine Clubs.

So here we have a highly-charged and quite complex interplay between commerce and morality, with a “chain sponsorship” structure, involving companies who sponsor the NRA which then sponsors politicians. Different companies may take very different decisions. Politics aside, there will be a wide range of moral and commercial considerations to take into account.

From a commercial standpoint, the main question will be whether the benefit of withdrawing will outweigh the cost in terms of causing offence to NRA members. From a moral standpoint, of course, the individuals involved in the companies’ decisions may conclude that any negative effect is a price worth paying.

   

 

Image credits: NRA Headquarters Virginia USA – Bjoertvedt; Northwest side of the Delta Center – Paul Kucher; other – public domain.

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Brexit is a moment, but also an ancient tide

“Leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country – low skills, low social mobility, low investment, etc. – that have nothing to do with Europe”, Boris Johnson, February 2016.

But very soon after he said those words, opportunist Johnson saw that, by coming down in favour of Brexit, he could swim with that ancient British tide of xenophobia and maybe, in the process, further his ambition to be Prime Minister (something I have written about previously). This was at a time when his credibility and charisma still gleamed brightly and he was able to influence a significant slice of public opinion. He chose his moment carefully and, propelled by a following wind from the Tory press, he was appointed captain of the Good Ship Brexit. From his personal point-of-view, it was a masterful piece of politicking, one that Shakespeare‘s Brutus would have admired:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures”.

Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3, lines 218–224.

And yes, sure enough, just as Boris’s star moved into the ascendant, so the tide began to turn in favour of an exit from the EU. The arguments that Remainers listed, floated, ran up the flag pole and dredged up from highly-authoritative sources, failed to change the country’s inevitable course towards self-ejection from the organisation. It was as though Britain had put its collective fingers in its ears.

And maybe it had … maybe xenophobia is a fundamental character trait of the British. Winston Churchill, surely Boris’s greatest hero, once wrote: “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea” (though he changed his mind and ultimately became very pro-European).

And we can find much older literary references that illustrate this point. In particular, Oliver Goldsmith (right), in an essay “On National Prejudices“, first published in the British Magazine in August 1760, described his surprise at the anti-European sentiment that he found when entering into discussion with a group of “half a dozen gentlemen” that he met in a tavern, where

” … one of the gentlemen, cocking his hat, and assuming such an air of importance as if he had possessed all the merit of the English nation in his own person, declared that the Dutch were a parcel of avaricious wretches; the French a set of flattering sycophants; that the Germans were drunken sots, and beastly gluttons; and the Spaniards proud, haughty, and surly tyrants; but that in bravery, generosity, clemency, and in every other virtue, the English excelled all the world”.

Goldsmith turns away but the man is determined to get his opinion on the matter. The writer, who holds it for a maxim to “speak … [his] … own sentiments”, begs to differ:

“I therefore told him that, for my own part, I should not have ventured to talk in such a peremptory strain, unless I had made the tour of Europe, and examined the manners of these several nations with great care and accuracy: that, perhaps, a more impartial judge would not scruple to affirm that the Dutch were more frugal and industrious, the French more temperate and polite, the Germans more hardy and patient of labour and fatigue, and the Spaniards more staid and sedate, than the English; who, though undoubtedly brave and generous, were at the same time rash, headstrong, and impetuous; too apt to be elated with prosperity, and to despond in adversity”.

In this sceptred isle, failing to go with the flow is often seen as a cardinal sin in certain circles and Goldsmith’s riposte met with “a contemptuous sneer”, as

” … the patriotic gentleman observed […] that he was greatly surprised how some people could have the conscience to live in a country which they did not love, and to enjoy the protection of a government, to which in their hearts they were inveterate enemies”.

Exasperated, Goldsmith threw down his payment and retired to his lodgings, “reflecting on the absurd and ridiculous nature of national prejudice and prepossession”.

Gaffe-strewn though his recent careering may have been, Johnson knows a thing or two about certain currents that flow deep in the British psyche, and he may yet bubble up to the very crest of a Tory wave in times to come. He knows how to chart prejudice and turn it to his own advantage.

So amidst all the warnings that the country will either end up on the rocks or sail off into a glorious sunset, that deeply-held (by some) British distrust of Johnny Foreigner is a factor that shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

 

Source: The Independent, 21st February, 2016.

Image credit: Brutus – by Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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