From Gold Leaf to Ineos
Just over fifty years ago, Lotus founder Colin Anthony Bruce Chapman unveiled arguably his greatest ever innovation. Monocoque chassis ? Nope. Ground-effect aerodynamics ? Nope. Twin chassis ? Nope. . . . it was in fact, the first commercial sponsorship of a motorsport team at international level by a non-automotive company, in this case Imperial Tobacco's Gold Leaf cigarette brand. I remember being bowled over at the overnight transformation of the hitherto British Racing Green and yellow "Team Lotus" to "Gold Leaf Team Lotus" and also by the ease in which the iconic Gold Leaf red/white/gold livery became the norm. Other F1 teams got in on the act with BRM sporting the colours of Yardley aftershave shortly afterwards and the door to commercial sponsorship of sport had not just been opened but in the words of Michael Caine had been "bloody blown-off"!
Back then, the objectives were pretty clear and wonderfully simplistic for a brand - free-to-air television coverage and as much as you can get please - in return for which I'm happy to pay you what we consider to be a reasonable marketing spend (especially when the first restrictions on tobacco advertising are about to come in to play). But for you, it represents de-risking your entire motorsport programme. Long before the term was coined, a "win-win" had been firmly established.
I reflected on Chapman's magnificent piece of innovation this week when the AMG Petronas Mercedes F1 Team unveiled their latest Silberpfeil resplendent with Ineos trademarks and a red background to the branding. But a sponsorship of this magnitude in 2020 is built upon a vastly different and more complex set of objectives and criteria based more upon a wide-ranging engineering collaboration than brand visibility or the circumnavigation of impending broadcasting restrictions. To quote the Mercedes F1 Team Principal Toto Wolff:
"Our partnership will be defined by tackling great challenges together – on the race track, on water and on the stages of the Grand Tours – and we will be aiming to raise the bar in each of them."Beyond the PR speak, this means that the ambitious owner of the Ineos corporation, Jim Ratcliffe, recognises the breadth and depth of engineering talent that Toto has assembled in Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart and that, as F1 places restrictions on the numbers of team personnel via a set of cost-cap regulations, a large number of engineering talent could be deployed on new projects using the resources buit up within the F1 operation. Now you don't get to build an 86 billion dollar privately-held corporation without being a smart man. So, as Mr Ratcliffe embarks on a number of sporting challenges in the worlds of sailing and cycling and football, he figured that Mercedes F1 might have a lot to offer in engineering and team building terms that could deliver the technology to match his ambitions.
But Toto is also smart and he ensured that the access fee to gaining this technology was a very strong annual sponsorship rights fee over a minimum 5 year term. And Toto's master-stroke was at the very time that the Daimler Board were contemplating whether to persist with their F1 programme having won everything and facing strong headwinds and diminishing returns, he was able to reduce Daimler's spend to nothing AND link the Mercedes brand with other ( green ) popular sports. What you might call a win-win par excellence.
Different eras, different objectives, different solutions and different characters but the medium of sponsorship continues to be THE most adaptable, savvy and effective marketing spend - bar none.