Marco Simoncelli’s tragic death, following a crash during the Malaysian MotoGP in Sepang, sees a strategic response split amongst sponsors’ responses.
Three days after the tragedy, a top level homepage analysis of the 21 brands associated with his San Carlo Honda Gresini Team reveals that 13 sponsors have Simoncelli home page tributes and 8 have no mention of the tragedy.
How sponsors react to a tragedy obviously varies according to strategy, policy, degree of involvement and circumstance. Looking at the activation (or lack of) from those brands associated with Simoncelli – from manufacturer Honda and Team San Carlo supporters, to MotoGP sponsors and technical suppliers – two distinct strategic camps emerge: ‘active tribute’ versus ‘passive avoidance’.
Coming just a week after Dan Wheldon’s IndyCar tragedy and GoDaddy’s flexible, fast, transparent active tribute response (see www.activative.co.uk/sport/godaddys-frankopen-reaction-to-indycar-tragedy-2628), sponsors of Simoncelli’s Honda Gresini were faced with a similar set of decisions.
The real time control of brand websites (as opposed to advertising) means that sponsor homepages provide a solid basic research platform for exploring reactive strategies.
While the Team San Carlo Honda Gresini homepage (www.gresiniracing.com) is dominated by a ‘Ciao “Super Sic”’ condolences campaign, team title sponsor San Carlo’s own home page (www.sancarlo.it) carries no mention of the tragedy.
Bike supplier Honda Racing’s homepage (http://world.honda.com/HRC/) also carries prominant lead elements dedicated to the rider using the ‘Ciao “Super Sic”’ dedication, to a dedicated image gallery, official condolences statements to new stories.
Three days after the crash, the home pages of the team’s official sponsors and technical sponsors that reference the tragedy include Big Mat, Cotton Joy, Domino, Pascucci, Rizoma, SAG, Termigoni, Zeroh, Bike Lift, Dread and Thermal Technology. Most feature a thank you tagline such as ‘Grazi Marco’, or ‘Ciao Marco’, typically alongside a dedication image gallery (often in black and white). Some feature corporate condolence statements such as:
“Today we are left devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Marco’s family at this terrible, terrible time, and with his team” said Taka Horio, General Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department. “Words can do no justice to the emotion we are all feeling. The MotoGP family has lost one of its bright stars, a genuine character whose larger-than-life persona, charisma and unstoppable spirit were infectious, and we’ve all lost a great friend. We worked closely with Marco for his first two years in MotoGP and it was clear that he was a true racer, something he proved again and again this season. Determined to the end, and a great showman. His ascent through the field in just two seasons has been fantastic to watch, testament to his raw talent, ability and dedication to the sport he so loved. We remember fondly the tenacity and spirit with which he raced, and he will be sorely, sorely missed.”
“Goodbye Champion. A man is born to live and life must be lived until the last – Marco accepted this. He lived his life with peace of mind, joy, hopes and dreams: Marco taught all this to all of us until 16:55 today on the Sepang track in Malaysia. A strong hug to Marco’s family and friends from the Bertini family and the motorcycle fraternity.”
Those team sponsors whose homepages did not include any references to the tragedy three days after the event included: Berner, Airedale, Agos Ducato, Prink, Rifle and Nissin.
Of the other brands and businesses involved in MotoGP, the home page of the organisation itself was taken over with a tribute to the rider with an image gallery, a video tribute, condolences and an interactive page for fans to post their own tributes to the site.
But the corporate homepages of main MotoGP sponsors Aperol, BMW and Tisssot (and Malaysian MotoGP race Shell did not reference the tragedy), while official MotoGP tyre sponsor Bridgestone’s motorsport home page was dominated by Simoncelli with condolence statements, image gallery and news coverage.
Sport, particularly motor sport, can be cruel and tragic and sponsors need to understand this when developing their partnerships. While context and circumstance are important, developing an outline pre-planned set of response activation policies in case disaster strikes is essential.
Sponsorship teams must have a set of guidelines to work from if such a tragic event does occur. Because those sponsorship marketers without plan are more likely to misjudge the mood and suffer some form of backlash.