What Sponsorships Really Mean
What Sponsorships Really Mean, Blog Post Image: A Perspective from Devin

A Creative Director realizes the impact that Sponsorships can have…

A perspective from Devin O’Neill, Associate Creative Director at Advantage
After the more “formal” part of my education was complete, I spent the better part of ten years honing my creative skills producing content and planning events. I did some project management and lots of copywriting. One thing I didn’t do was think about “sponsorships” as a marketing discipline. I figured “sponsorships” were just brands spending money to get noticed, but I had no sense of their intricacy or true impact.
Since sponsorship strategy and activation are a big part of what we do here at Advantage, once I joined the agency I began to learn more about why brands engage in sponsorship. But it didn’t fully click for me until I accompanied my team to Outfest Fusion, a queer-of-color film festival in LA that our client Hyundai sponsors.
I’d seen logos on stadiums, and “proud sponsor” ads on the Olympics. But when we turned up to the theater downtown, I saw a community – a bustling, dazzling, excited community of LGBT artists and filmmakers, ecstatic that they got a massive, glamorous night-out for their films, their ideas, their stories. You see, sponsorships don’t just have to be about sports, or entertainment…they can be about lifestyles and causes, really anything that’s important to people.
The light in everyone’s eyes was intoxicating. There were cocktails, awards, a DJ, a pop performance, and speech after speech by giddy, embarrassed young filmmakers telling stories on the big screen that nobody had ever told before; stories about coming out, mental illness, the ups and downs of dating while trans, even the experience of being queer in the Middle East.
And this was a space where these incredibly talented people could watch their stories together, and remind each other they weren’t alone. It was astonishing.
And Hyundai was all over the event. The people in attendance knew who was supporting the festival. They took selfies in the new cars, wrapped in rainbows, and at the step-and-repeat too. And when we told them we were there with Hyundai, they were effusive. I’ve never in my life seen somebody respond to a car company with that much emotion. That night I heard people cheer for an automotive brand and mean it.
Hyundai also sponsored an award (the Emerging Director Award) and they gave the winner the opportunity to make a real Hyundai commercial. We chatted with the winner, and she was shaking. She told us she’d been out of work, and had been sitting on her couch trying to figure out what to do with her life when her award nomination rolled in. She made a short film about her experience as a queer woman of color struggling with bipolar disorder, and now suddenly she’s working with Hyundai.
You get the idea. I could go on. But how does something like this happen? How does a company decide to put their money into a queer film festival instead of another billboard or television ad?
When considering the various kinds of sponsorships available, cause-related platforms provide brands with an opportunity to tell a group of like-minded people that “we hear you,” “we are with you,” and “we are one of you.” And most importantly, connect with them in ways that matter to them.  In this case, it was helping get their stories told.
Further, companies are comprised of people. And at the end of the day, people care about things. Our client at Hyundai felt it crucial to support this highly influential community – and his instincts proved correct; the impact was massive.
At their core, the best sponsorships are driven by a deeply human desire to give back and create community – whether with sports, youth, the arts, or on the front lines of healthcare. Because of this, great sponsorships don’t just retool an outward brand image – they can also work as an internal tool to increase employee engagement and pride. Imagine what it felt like to be a Hyundai employee at that event, and to know that this was where your employer’s money was going. Talk about pride!
It can be easy to turn sponsorships into something abstract. But they don’t have to be. They can affect real human beings – with real money, real opportunities, and real emotions. Sponsorships can provide a profound way for your brand to make a difference.
Devin O’Neill
Devin loves adventure and human connection and brings both to his work in order to help people experience new things. He grew up in the desert and brings a little of that with him everywhere.