25 July 2006

Naming rights: If you can't lick 'em...

We're pretty accustomed now to various stadiums, events and sporting teams carrying sponsors' names. There's Colonial Stadium, now the Telstra Dome; the Marlboro/Ford/Kia Australian Open tennis; the Foster's/Emirates Melbourne Cup (and even the year when - horror of horrors - Toohey's New, a beer from north of the border, had the naming rights). The Collingwood Football Club is now based at the Lexus Centre - no longer Victoria Park. And in the recent World Cup (Germany 2006), we even had the Qantas Socceroos.

But what about naming rights to public spaces? I was surprised recently to find that one feature of Brisbane's very attractive Southbank recreation precinct is an appealing (if artificial) kids' swimming area (pictured here) with a white sandy foreshore and even its own lifeguards... for which naming rights have been sold. Yes, the signs, banners, etc. proclaim that it is Streets Beach (Streets as in the Unilever ice cream brand - the Australian equivalent of Good Humor, for readers in some other markets).

If it's OK - in the name of philanthropy - for commercial interests to sponsor galleries, or to endow chairs at universities, then why was my initial reaction to Streets Beach one of some discomfort?

Perhaps it's just an emotional response to Unilever's relatively blatant, undisguised intent to link an indulgent product so obviously targeted towards children to a public activity and resource provided for children. On the other hand, on a purely rational basis, I can't really see why this should be any more objectionable than linking a cultural institution like the Melbourne Cup to a beer brand.

And I guess if I were marketing manager for Streets, it might have seemed like an attractive opportunity. As ever, though, I'd be very interested to look at the return on investment. In my experience, even the largest corporations seldom measure the real effects and cost-benefit of this type of sponsorship with any degree of spohistication.

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