Can sailing help promote brands? How good is the sport for sponsors?


The second World Yacht Racing Forum will be held in December in Monaco. The event promises to cover some of the biggest issues in the sport of professional sailing. Each month, the team at WRF create a newsletter with some of the business stories from the month. This month WYRF  asked  Henrik Sund, Brand Director at the brand agency Grow in Stockholm what he thinks about it. The agency works amongst others for several global clients such as Bentley, Ittala, Yale / Assa Abloy and Helly Hansen.

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WYRF: Is sailing an interesting sport with regards to promoting brands?

“Absolutely. However the size of the brand, its business arena and target audience set some limitations. For small national brands, a Volvo Ocean Race or an America’s Cup is too big and expensive whilst a partnership with a local regatta or grand prix boat will bring more leverage. Like in all joint ventures, it is essential to determine clear goals and to sign up with the right team or club that respects and understand those goals. Sailing is great as a brand building vehicle. It covers so many different areas and levels, from multinational races to grass root sailing and family life.

WYRF : What are the best platforms within the sport?

“That’s a difficult question and there isn’t just one answer to it. It obviously depends on what your brand goals are, what brand equity you possess and what budget you have. Is it a one shot or a step in a longer brand building commitment? Once you have answered those questions and defined your brand platform, there are several professionally run events and teams out there.

WYRF : What are the different steps in the brand promotion process (supposing you start from scratch)?

“First of all you need a solid platform to start from, a brand platform. That platform defines brand heritage, brand objective, brand essence, value proposition amongst other things. When you have that solid, you will know what type of event or partnership you want and need. Identifying and developing a brand platform is the key for a successful future. It involves all levels within a company and it must be signed and agreed with the board of directors. From there on it’s an easy walk…
After the brand platform is set, the objectives with a partnership need to be set and validated internally. At this stage is time to start meeting potential suppliers of the services and objectives you have set up.”

WYRF : Can you give us some examples?

“Skandia has used sailing to support and strengthen their brand long term on a multinational arena. Volvo is another brand that has successfully used sailing as a brand building vehicle, not only by the Volvo Ocean Race but also through their youth initiatives and certain one design championship sponsorships. Another brand that only scratched the surface is Swedish Match with the sponsorship of the Swedish VOR team and the World Match Racing tour. Unfortunately tobacco companies were banned from sponsorships, but they went into it with a very professional business mind set. It is impossible not to mention Ericsson. They have taken their involvement in sailing to a total new level when it comes to sponsorship. It is an integrated part of their business model and strategy, and it has truly paid off.”

WYRF : How did you “use” the Volvo Ocean Race to promote some of your clients’ brands?

In the last round of the VOR I worked together with Helly Hansen and their partnership with Ericsson Racing Team. For Helly Hansen it was natural to get back into off-shore sailing after a time of defocus. In our partnership with Helly Hansen we had defined and fine-tuned the Helly Hansen brand platform. The brand that originated in Norway in 1877, founded by sea captain Helly Juell Hansen, a man that left his daily job on the sea and used all his investments to develop gear that kept people dry, warm and safe in the North Sea. Helly Hansen has been part of every single round the world race officially or unofficially since 1973, and it was due time to hook on to that heritage again. So for us the VOR was the perfect platform from a brand platform perspective and from a business perspective.”

WYRF : What return have you had?

“We had four main objectives with the partnership. It should carry its own costs, it should work as a test bench for HH to design and test new ideas and technologies within their products, it should focus all marketing activities within the water sport division and it should reinforce the brand. We can now, three and a half years later, proudly, conclude that we have reached all four goals. This project actually generated profit, HH made a huge leap in their product design, during four years we had one marketing story to tell – that we are back in the VOR together with the Ericsson Racing Team. That made for consistency and this is always good and cost effective when it comes to tell a story that builds brands. So did it reinforce the brand? Certainly – after having lost market shares in the foul weather gear section, we have turned the trend. HH are now back in the mind of sailors as one of three main suppliers of foul weather gear and technical sailing apparel, and it’s proven in battle. And as a bonus we have had tons of fun, created internal pride and confidence within the company.”