Sponsored Content: Nailing the Concept

Sponsored content is all the rage these days. As, it should be. It’s helped bridge the gap between organic social and driving business goals for teams, leagues and brands. After all, there isn’t anyone around the leadership table that’s going to complain about revenue opportunities.

If we’re increasing sponsored content in our feeds though, we must commit to executing right. Slapping logos on content and treating channels as billboards will make people tune out, unfollow and disengage. Sponsored content is a beautiful way to prove ROI, but it’s not an easy “check the box” if you actually want sponsored content to do its job.

There are many keys to getting sponsored content right (see here), but this post tackles one of the most important: Nailing the concept. This is what moves you away from a billboard to actually interesting, engaging content.

Nailing the concept requires two things. First, connecting the dots between both brands. And second, leveraging design to integrate the sponsor seamlessly.


Connecting the dots.

The best sponsored content is one that has a natural tie to the sponsor, while still being relevant to the team or brand. It’s about finding the synergy that exists between the two. I typically attack connecting the dots in the three phases below.

Do your research.
The first step in connecting the dots is to do your research on the potential sponsor. Spend time understanding the product and their value proposition. Browse the potential sponsor’s website to learn about their values, mission and the language they use. Understand their products. Look at their social media accounts and voice. Do everything you can to learn about their product and their brand DNA.

Write down phrases.
While researching the company, jot down any phrases or words that could relate to your team/product/sport/brand. Don’t leave anything out during this process. Jot down anything closely and loosely related. This isn’t a time to overthink or play favorites. You never know what can spark an idea.

So, for example, let’s say you work for an NFL team and Ford is a sponsor. During this phase, write down anything that ties into their brand and potentially the team/the sport. Quick examples include: Drive, Go Further (their tagline), on the road, built tough, miles, the full lineup, ride, etc.

Start the brainstorm
After the research and writing down phrases, it’s time to start actually concept content series based on the synergies you found. How do the words tie into your team/sport and content that would interest your fans?

A few examples of how it might work with the Ford examples above:

“Drive” is an easy one since it’s synonymous with the game. You could showcase the “drive of the game”, the winning drive, etc.

“Go Further” could be a sponsored series around good returns, showcasing the significant yardage. Whether you want to do a return of the game of a monthly highlight package that showcases the best returns.

“On The Road” or “miles” could be a series that showcases where the team is traveling for away games. The “miles” could be a series during the schedule release to showcase how many miles the team will travel in total. And, the “on the road” could happen during the actual season for each road trip.

“Ride” could be a human interest series during the NFL Draft or Rookies that showcases each player’s “ride” to get to the NFL.

Hopefully the above illustrates how you can connect the dots between potential sponsors and your brand. Some of the connections will be strong and easy to make (like Ford), others will be more subtle and take time.

It’s a creative process. Trust in it. You are going to come up with a lot of ideas that don’t work, but commit to the exercise and throw anything and everything out there. You will land on a gem. The key is to keep talking through it and fine-tuning the ideas.


Design seamlessly.

Once you have nailed the concept you want to move forward with, it’s time to approach how the creative will come to life. Design plays a critical role in making sure the sponsor integration feel natural. When done right, sponsored content won’t disrupt the feed. There are a few keys to take your idea from concept to execution while working with sponsors:

Keep platforms in mind.
Not all content belongs on all platforms. Once you decide what concept to move forward with, it’s important to think about where it should come to life. Don’t force a series across all platforms to guarantee more impressions for the sponsor if it isn’t going to perform there.

Set expectations.
When bringing concepts to a sponsor, it’s important to set the expectation that creative should feel seamless to your brand. If your team has a look and feel, even sponsored content should follow that. Approach this as a positive thing (because, it is). If the creative feels like everything else it won’t feel like a billboard, and as such, will perform better.

Create a style guide.
In a similar vein as expectations, take the time to put together a style guide and examples of what the creative on your channel looks like. If partners see your look and feel before the concept is final, they’ll have an idea of how it will come to life. You’ll get less pushback when the look is more seamless to your brand vs pushing the sponsor’s colors and guidelines.

Bring it to life.
Once you’re ready to bring the creative to life, it’s important to take a content-first approach. Don’t let the fact that you have a sponsor attached to it affect your design. Create as you would, making sure that strong and engaging creative is the top priority.

Another key is to make sure the message comes to life. In your creative brief, let the designer know what to accentuate. So, with the Ford “drive” example, the design should play into the idea of “drive”. The fan should connect the dots between “drive” and “Ford” easily,

Finally, work with your creative team on logo placement that gives visibility but doesn’t distract. If you’re accentuating the key message, it should be easy to make this happen.



So, what are some examples of sponsored content that connects the dots and integrates design seamlessly? Below are a few examples to see how it all comes to life. It’s important to note that all of these examples go beyond slapping a logo on a piece of content. They find the synergy, and that’s the key.

Chicago Bears + Tide

For Mother’s Day, the Chicago Bears, Tarik Cohen and Tide helped moms to “take a load off” on the holiday. THIS is the perfect example of a brand partner integration. Good content, fun play on words (attached to the product), access to a player and something people want to share.

Verizon + Miami Dolphins

This example from the Dolphins showcases how to align a product with a series. Phones are for talking, so it’s natural for Verizon to sponsor quotes from players and coaches.

SuperCuts + MLB

SuperCuts tagline is “Ready to Go” which lends itself perfectly to so many scenarios in sport. In this example, MLB aligns the sponsored series with MLB debuts and the idea of being “ready to go”. When someone gets a hit in their debut, this series is triggered. It’s a seamless integration that does not feel forced.

Zoom + Warriors

While stats aren’t necessarily that connected to Zoom, this is a great example of how to leverage design to integrate the sponsor. This content is visually appealing and the sponsor doesn’t feel intrusive, even though they have quite a bit of visibility.

Indochino + Yankees

Indochino is men’s clothing company where everything is a custom-made experience. The suits are literally, “Made to Measure” as their tagline says. The idea of “Made to Measure” is a natural fit for stats and integrates their brand proposition seamlessly into this content series.

Delta + LAFC

When it comes to airline partners, series that showcase the team on the road are a perfect fit. The creative execution from LAFC on this is strong. The Delta branding feels so natural in this creative that it does not feel like an ad or sponsored series at all.

Sleep Number + Vikings

This from the Vikings is an interesting example of finding the synergy that’s a little more subtle. It’s hard to imagine tying in sleep patterns to a team’s content, but the key here is timing. Fans will stay up way past their normal bedtime to watch their team, especially in a big game or rally. The timing behind this — after a big win — makes the content relative and relatable for fans.

Adobe + Chicago Bulls

Interesting team art is a big trend these days, so I love this series #BullsIllustrated series form the Chicago Bulls. It’s a content-first approach aligned with a partner that makes sense. Because the partner integration is so natural and strong, it does not take away from the great, creative work.

Tijuana Flats + Orlando Magic

It would be easy with a Tex Mex restaurant to resort to a sweepstakes or promo code, but the Orlando Magic found a way to take a content-first approach. Playing into the idea that tex mex food is hot, they created a throwback video looking back at “fire” plays. And, the graphics in the video are a great tie to the Tijuana brand.

There’s a lot more to the process of nailing sponsored content, but I hope this high-level overview and examples provide some inspiration. It’s important to remember that the best sponsored content provides value to the fans, the sponsor and the team. That requires a content-first approach and nailing the execution. Take the time to get the process right for coming up with concepts and pushing the creative boundaries. It’s hard work, but worth it.

As we continue to sell social sponsorships and the volume rises, integrating right needs to be a big priority. Invest in sponsored content, but also invest in doing it right.

What good examples of sponsored content have you seen? Share your examples and thoughts!

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