Few activities garner the interest of hard-core enthusiasts like project vehicles or “builds.” Thus, sponsoring a project car or a build is a great way to get your brand name in front of hard-core enthusiasts. Since many of these enthusiasts are influential on social media, sponsoring a build is also a great way to get some low-cost exposure on social networks like Facebook. And if the build is really successful, it just might get written up by traditional magazines or popular automotive blogs, generating even more exposure.
Therefore, sponsoring a build can be a great way to introduce your product or brand name to enthusiasts, raise your company profile, and perhaps even get some major press. The trick is to choose the right kind of build, and to make sure that the person creating the vehicle has a good marketing plan (and that your company does too).
Common Types of Build Sponsorships
Most build sponsorships involve free parts and a cash payment to the builder in exchange for inclusion. The size of the cash payment will determine the level of inclusion…if your company just offers up some free parts and doesn’t pay any money out, you’ll be listed as a sponsor on the builder’s website, press release, etc. If your company makes a sizable payment, you can get prominent decals on the car, and perhaps even your brand name in the vehicle’s official title.
If the builder is well-known and has a devoted audience, you can expect to pay more than you would to be included in a project created by an unknown builder. The most popular builders often don’t allow multiple companies to participate, instead just producing a vehicle for a single corporate sponsor.
In any case, deciding whether or not to sponsor a build comes down to:
- The size and scope of “other” benefits, from using the vehicle in your SEMA booth to regular mentions on the builder’s social media accounts to using the vehicle image in advertising.
Determining If A Build’s Audience Is Your Audience
The term “audience” refers here to potential customers, so the question is: Will your potential customers notice the build you’re thinking about sponsoring and/or will they care?
If you know your customer base in terms of demographics and interests (data you can often glean from Google Analytics, Facebook, Quantcast, etc.), you can probably assess the likelihood that your potential customers will notice the build and/or care with existing data. However, if the builder is established, they should be able to give you some demographic data from previous similar builds to help you determine if sponsorship is a good idea.
Of course, if they don’t have data – or if you don’t have data – it’s OK to go with gut instinct. Just make sure you find some similar builds from years passed, and then ask some of your customers if they’ve seen the vehicle before, what they think of it, etc.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that sponsoring a build is about reaching the most influential members of your potential customer base. Your casual enthusiast might not notice a cool new build, but the serious enthusiasts who post 40 times a day on truck forums or Facebook might notice the build right away. That’s the person you want to reach.
There is no easy way to project just how successful a build will be in terms of getting noticed…you can only guess about the ‘reach’ than any particular build will have. Still, you can estimate the potential reach/impact of a build by:
- Studying similar builds from previous years to see what kind of attention they got on Facebook, from media, etc.
- Asking the builder to detail their plan for promoting the finished vehicle, from how many people they plan to email a press release to what media contacts they have to how popular their Facebook page is
- Checking into opportunities to promote the build using your own contacts…it’s not hard to email a blogger you know and ask them if they think they might publish an article about the finished project, for example, which will go a long ways towards estimating the response you can expect from sponsorship
It’s always a good idea to review build sponsorships from a worst-case perspective, meaning that you must assume the build will only be noticed by fans you can reach directly (via Facebook ads, your email newsletter, the builder’s newsletter, etc.). If you can justify participating in the build at this level, you’ll be getting a good to great value on your dollar. If not, you’re taking a leap of faith.
What If The Builder Has No Marketing Plan?
Builders aren’t always great marketers, so it’s not at all unusual for a builder to ask you to sponsor their project, then give you a blank stare when you ask about the marketing and promotional plan. Often, they’ll offer to ‘contact some people they know’ and ‘go to lots of shows,’ neither of which should instill much confidence.Still, a build without a marketing plan isn’t necessarily a bad opportunity. If your company has a good marketing team, you might be able to offer to help market the build for a reduced sponsorship fee. You can also approach sponsorship from the perspective of marketing to your own audience exclusively, eg “Can we justify this build if we only manage to get our own fans to care?”Finally, there’s nothing that says you can’t ask the builder to work with a marketing company as a condition of your sponsorship dollars. That will help ensure that the builder does all of the little things that help promote their project, benefiting you and all the other sponsors.
Some Other Important Vehicle Sponsorship Considerations
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when it comes to sponsoring a vehicle, here are the main points:
Return on Investment Can be Hard to Measure – Sponsorships are notoriously hard to measure in terms of ROI. You can’t really trace sales back to a specific build, nor can you estimate the value of whatever exposure you get. However, you can try to estimate the reach you’ll get by studying other similar builds (completed by the builder or otherwise), and you can also just decide to punt on your ROI calculations and chalk it up to branding.
Still, when it comes right down to it, $1,000 spent sponsoring a build is $1,000 you can’t use for advertising that generates revenue. Sometimes, saying “no” to a sponsorship opportunity is the best choice.
Legalities – If you’re working with a professional builder, odds are good they know how to formalize your sponsorship to ensure your company gets whatever you’re promised. However, if you’re giving some parts to an amateur who just so happens to run a popular blog or Facebook page in the hopes that you’ll get some good exposure, it can be hard to get any sort of agreement.
Suffice to say, the more you can get in writing, the more leverage you’ll have to ensure the builder follows-thru. If you’re working with an amateur, you might also consider asking them to partially pay for the parts up-front and then refund the money to them when the build is complete and you’ve received whatever you were promised.
Secure Rights to Use Vehicle in Ads, On Your Site, etc. – Speaking of legalities, it’s a good idea to get a) professional photography of the finished vehicle (and your part on said vehicle and b) some sort of documentation about using the imagery in advertising. A standard royalty-free license is what you want, with no limitations on use of any images. Most photographers have some boilerplate, but it’s not hard to find it online either.
Summing up, build sponsorships are a very common form of parts marketing, especially for brands. While ROI is difficult to determine – and the ultimate success of any sponsorship hinges on a good marketing plan – the risk associated with participating in a build is usually pretty low. A lot of builders are happy to work with you for nothing more than some free parts, and that’s often a very low price to pay for what could be some very good advertising.
Still, it’s a great idea to evaluate every sponsorship opportunity critically, and to structure things so that your company gets the best exposure possible.