Paralympians deliver marketing gold

Simon Watt | 213573083

The Paralympics don’t just offer golden opportunities for the athletes. Brands seen to embrace this social movement can expect to share some of the golden glow. The Paralympics are gaining recognition worldwide, but what are the benefits that will flow to a brand supporting the Paralympics? Will these benefits provide enough bang for their buck and how do you measure the bang?

Social change

Perceptions around disability are being challenged on an increasing number of fronts. From amputee war veterans to Paralympians; society’s view of disability is changing. In the business world, recent initiatives (including one by Prince Charles) have advocated for firms to be assessed on their social and environmental credentials in addition to their financial ones. Consumers and shareholders are increasingly sensitive to social responsibility in brands and the Paralympics presents as an ideal opportunity to ride this wave to generate warmth and positive impressions. So it should come as no surprise that 70% of Australians followed the 2012 Paralympics, and 74% were more likely to support a brand if it was a Paralympic sponsor.

The rise of media coverage and viewership has helped to support this social change. Paralympics audience numbers and media stories have been steadily increasing over the last decade as seen below.


Figure 1. Viewers tuning in to the Paralympics worldwide is on the rise.


Figure 2. Radio and television lead the charge in the rise of media stories covering the Paralympics.

Advertising for the 2016 Paralympics has excelled in creating inspiring messages of success and ability, none more so than advertising used by Channel 7 with the clear positive message: Yes I can!

Pound of (high performing) flesh

It would seem then that jumping on the Paralympic bandwagon (or wheelchair?) has significant potential to increase brand value, but it doesn’t come cheap. Becoming an official partner of the Paralympics and Olympics costs between $500,000 and $5 million with TV and streaming advertising packages a mere $2 million.

So this isn’t tiddly winks. Like Paralympians, this investment demands serious consideration. Increasingly, marketers are being called on to justify their expenditure to shareholders and Company executives. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, it is anything but clear how a Chief Marketing Officer should go about doing this.

Measuring muddle

There continues to be a fair bit of debate about which marketing metrics should be used to measure the effectiveness of investments in marketing. Some advocate for a single financial metric such as return on investment (ROI), but as Sharp (2013) points out, this measures efficiency, not effectiveness (or actual return) and it has scale issues (in contrast to Ellie Simmonds who despite her scale does very nicely, thank-you).

Following the 2012 Paralympic games Sainsbury’s hadn’t calculated ROI on their sponsorship but were happy that warmth towards them had improved. BT believed their long-term investment in the Paralympics would improve brand awareness and engagement. These memory metrics also include intention to buy and brand image associations. Sports sponsorship is known to have strong effects in this area and also on behavioural metrics such as sales, market share and penetration and purchase frequency.

Companies that pursue a range of metrics to justify their marketing investment will avoid the trap of a narrow focus that could lead to erosion of brand equity. The balanced approach finds support with some academics who promote using a mix of financial and marketing measures that give a rough assessment of brand equity. By measuring brand equity, companies are more likely to improve it, thereby ensuring future growth.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are strong and positive effects on staff within organisations that support worthy social causes such as the Paralympics. The SLIM (sponsorship linked internal marketing) approach improves workplace culture and employee engagement and while difficult to measure in monetary terms, remains an important piece of the puzzle when assessing the impact of an investment in Paralympic sponsorship.

Chicken or egg?

Unlike a 50m freestyle S8 race, finishing the race to collect data is only the beginning. Establishing if Paralympic investment caused observed changes in metrics, or if it was merely correlated is essential. Benchmarking competitors’ spend on advertising, and what results they achieved will also help the post-match analysis. Establishing these causal links and benchmarking are vital in ensuring measured changes are interpreted correctly.

The final straight

Supporting the Paralympics is supporting social and community outcomes. Potential benefits to brands are broad. Financial measures should form part of an analysis of the marketing investment but marketing metrics, effects on the workplace and consideration of benchmarking and causality are all required to ascertain the benefit of sponsorship.

While it is true some seem to do quite well in the dark, mere marketers should realise they are not Paralympians and use a range of measures for the clearest view of whether they’ll achieve a podium finish.



Ambler, T, & Roberts, JH 2008, ‘Assessing marketing performance: don’t settle for a silver metric’, Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 24, no. 7-8, pp. 733-750.

Farrelly, F, & Greyser, S 2012, ‘Sponsorship Linked Internal Marketing (SLIM): A Strategic Platform for Employee Engagement and Business Performance’, Journal of Sport Management, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 506-520.

Freestone, O, & McGoldrick, P 2008, ‘Motivations of the Ethical Consumer’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 79, no. 4, pp. 445-467. Available from: 10.1007/s10551-007-9409-1. [25 September 2016].

Katsikeas, CS, Morgan, NA, Leonidou, LC, & Hult, GM 2016, ‘Assessing Performance Outcomes in Marketing’, Journal of Marketing, vol. 80, no. 2, pp. 1-20. Available from: 10.1509/jm.15.0287. [28 September 2016].

Macdougall, H.K., Nguyen, S.N. and Karg, A.J., 2014. ‘Game, Set, Match’: An exploration of congruence in Australian disability sport sponsorship. Sport Management Review, 17(1), pp.78-89.

Sharp, B. (2013) Marketing: Theory, Evidence, Practice. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Stotlar, DK 2004, ‘Sponsorship Evaluation: Moving from Theory to Practice’, Sport Marketing Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 61-64.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s