Barclays – Sponsorship

Barclays, the british bank, has been a long-term and well-known sponsor of the football Premier League. More recently, however, Barclays has become the sponsor of the city of London’s new cycle hire scheme and cycling ‘superhighways’ that aim to ease congestion, look after the environment and promote healthy living. The program will involve cyclists renting one of the 6,000 Barclays branded bicycles from any of the city’s 400 docking stations, which are connected together by blue-coloured cycle lanes. All for the cost of £1 – providing their commute is over within 30 minutes. Although there is a degree of goodwill in the sponsorship, there is a marketing advantage to gain; financial services are becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate as their complexity increases and banks’ reputations are in tatters.

The main reason behind sponsorship is to align a brand with typical values or an ethos; their lion logo, for instance, connotes British heritage and tradition – qualities that evoke trust from customers that, combined with an effective promotional mix, can be seen as customer relationship marketing. But in this case, the quirky sponsorship deal shows creativity, which is what really produces brand awareness. Brand awareness, for Barclays in particular, is critical to success given that they sell an intangible service. Therefore, to gain recognition and loyalty, their brand needs to be symbolised and synonymous with familiar, visible objects. Moreover, this can be seen in the blue cycle lanes – Londoners will forever be reminded of Barclays’ omnipresent dominance in the world’s banking capital. It will be those continuous, albeit small, prompts in commuters’ minds that creates brand awareness.

However, as a form of below the line promotion – within a wide-ranging promotional mix that is needed in a competitive market – sponsorship often produces returns that are hard to quantify: how do you measure the benefits of moving, untargeted advertisements and the correlation between this and brand awareness? This problem only compounds when trying to figure out if the sponsorship is recognised as goodwill for the sake of good, or goodwill for the sake of marketing. Despite the cycle lanes being painted blue before the sponsorship, many Londoners see the branding as intrusive and excessive – this  deal, perhaps, affects too many stakeholders, who’s collective needs are very rarely satisfied. Further, there are issues with the name ‘Barclays’ cycle hire’: its boring and uninspiring. What happened to the innovation that hitherto had been the backbone behind the strategy?

Overall, when assessing whether this will be an effective marketing strategy, the results depend very much on the success of the sponsored entity; sponsorship, much like celebrity endorsements, can be double-edged swords. As banking is not seen as an ethical industry, the goodwill from enviromental and health benefits is likely to be limited. Also, upon hearing reports of bikes being too slow and the logistics of the scheme complicated, there is plenty of scope for error: the Barclays brand may become identified by bicycle collisions, theft and road-rage.

© Joshua Blatchford author of Manifested Marketing 06/08/2010

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