Great sport sponsorship campaigns have the ability to cross the borders between sports and pop culture. When great brands and great sport properties share a bond that is also supported by creativity, excellent pieces of communication spring to life and create images and words for everyone to remember.
Graphic design, cinema and literature have always had a flirty relationship with the way sports and marketing have interacted along the way: think of the many F1 movies such as Ron Howard’s “Rush” or the excellent novel “Fever Pitch” by Arsenal’s top-tier fan nick Hornby.
It’s impossible to list the best sponsorship campaigns of all time. There are just too many excellent programs out there or splendid work to be rediscovered from the past. But we will try and list our favorite below. Of course, there’s a lot of Formula 1 and MotoGP in there, since we are a motorsport sponsorship agency. But if there’s something you’d like to add, leave a comment below or drop us a line at [email protected] We’ll update the list.
Pirelli – Inter Milan
Internazionale F.C. have said goodbye to long-time partner Pirelli in spectacular fashion this year, as Milan’s finest took home the “scudetto” winning the Italian Serie A Championship. Internazionale and Pirelli have shared a 26-year story and without a doubt left a mark as one of the strongest, most successful partnership in global sports. World-class superstars as Ibrahimovic, Adriano, Figo and Pirlo -among many others- have worn the back-and-blue kit with the Pirelli logo, but the tyre-producer’s most notable campaign was possibly the one portraying Ronaldo standing atop of Alto Da Boa Vista with the motto “power is nothing without control”.
Marlboro – McLaren Formula 1 Team
Enzo Ferrari used to say that if you were to give a kid a box of crayons and ask to draw a racing car, he would draw it red. Unfortunately for the man, while the Scuderia surely embodies the quintessence of Formula 1 racing, it’s McLaren that tops the list for the most iconic racing livery in the sport. The white-and-red machine, also courtesy of a impressive list of drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, is still what dreams are made of.
Sharp – Manchester United
When Man Utd decided it was time for their jersey to have a sponsor, it was electronic manufacturer Sharp who picked up the tab. It made a lot of sense back then, as Sharp had their headquarters in Newton Heath, United’s sacred ground. The pair went on to enjoy enormous success both inside and outside of British territory and the partnership lasted until 2000. Beckham, Cantona, Yorke, Cole, Giggs are just a few of the talents that graced that shirt, making Manchester United the world’s top club in international sports for many, many years. Still today, even after excellent sponsorship programs with the likes of Aon, Vodafone, Chevrolet and AIG, it’s Sharp the fans think of when reminiscing greatness.
Repsol – HRC Honda MotoGP Team
Spanish fuel and lubricants powerhouse Repsol have announced they will be the main sponsor for the Honda HRC MotoGP Team also for the 2021 and 2022 season, marking a stunning 26-year partnership. There’s not much to add to motorcycle racing’s most lasting, successful and iconic partnership, a combination that took home 15 titles since 1996.
Puma – Usain Bolt
While Aldolf Dassler was busy creating AdiDas, his older brother Rudolph was working at his own brand, RuDa. RuDa was never really successful, and so the company underwent a strong rebranding and decided for Puma. While Puma is today famous for a thousand of first-in-class deals in Football and Formula 1, it’s with superstar sprinter Usain Bolt that the company enjoyed true stardom. Marketing boys at the company did their homework too and proceeded to craft the slogan “Forever faster”, an absolute hit for the quickest man in the world. The pair grew together, and while the Jamaican was crushing record after record after record and becoming one of track and field’s hall of famer, the brand got bigger and bigger and bigger.
For the Rio Olympics in 2016, Puma created a pair of single-edition golden cleats for the man. The picture of Usain raising the shoes to the Brazilian sky, after winning gold in the 100m final, is worth a lifetime of marketing efforts.
John Player Special – Lotus
Gold and Black is the coolest color combination on earth. That’s what livery designers at Lotus in the 70’s must have thought when they were about to launch the ultimate stunner, the Lotus 72D.
The British team won 3 world championships in the Golden (pun not intended) era of Formula 1 and also the hearts of millions of fans around the world.
Lucky Strike – Suzuki
Once again, tobacco. While not the healthiest of the industry, the cigarette sector ruled the world of two and four wheels racing for a large part of the past century. Brands from all over the world were injecting money in motorsports in the quest for global popularity. It worked like a charm. Cigarettes logos were big, colorful, vibrant and the overall design was full of grit and visual strength. Nothing -however- was as era-defining as Kevin Schwantz’s Lucky Strike Suzuki. Looking at it now there are so many elements that went down in history in sport design: from the strong white/red combination to the black-type-on-yellow-background number. It’s possibly the most iconic bike ever built.
Red Bull – Felix Baumgartner
Newsflash: man parachutes down to Earth from Stratosphere, breaks World Record. Wait, what? When Red Bull decided to back austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner in his attempt to break Skydive World Record we all knew they had something in mind. It’s always something with those Austrians, right? Sure we were not thinking they would launch a helium balloon in the stratosphere, 38,900 meters into space, and then ask the guy to jump down in a 5-minute free fall. Baumgartner became the first man in history to break the sound barrier outside a vehicle and reached the mind-numbing speed of 1,357 Km/h.
P&G – Olympics
Inspiring cries of “bravo” from any sports sponsorship agency in the world, in one of the most emotional, tear-to-the-eye, heart-warming campaigns in sports history, multinational Procter and Gamble paid homage to the tens of thousands of mothers that every day stand by generations of future athletes. “Thank you mom” was not only a touching campaign, but also a well deserved acknowledgment to the constant behind-the-scenes struggle and to the the fact that no one, not even world-class athletes, can make it on their own. If you’re brave enough, or got onions already on your table, hit the P&G YouTube channel to cry out a few.
Prada – Luna Rossa
Fashion superstars Prada have always had a thing for sailing: it’s elegant, it’s luxurious, it’s silent, it’s challenging. The Prada-Luna Rossa pair began their voyage together at the dawn of the millenium, as the Italian challenger set sail to battle arch-rival Black Magic. It was an instant classic and all of a sudden, the Belpaese was waking up in the middle of the night to see the heroic deeds of the America’s Cup. And there was the iconic, spectacular, Prada branding: white serif type on red background, like a label, a perfect mark. It made history.