T-shirts with different brand colors

The Color of Loyalty

For years, conventional marketing wisdom said a brand should always keep its logo colors consistent to support strong brand identity. But what about when a brand sponsors a sports team? For example, Bud Light releases custom beer cans in the color scheme of the NFL teams it sponsors. Is that foolish?

That’s what Lundquist College of Business assistant professors of marketing Conor M. Henderson and Aparna Sundar, as well as Zayed University associate professor of marketing Marc Mazodier, wanted to find out. Their paper, “The Color of Support: The Effect of Sponsor–Team Visual Congruence on Sponsorship,” was published in the May 2019 issue of the Journal of Marketing.

According to Henderson, visual design in sponsorship is becoming increasingly important because of the decline in viewership of live TV in favor of streaming services. With sports sponsorship, brands can be assured exposure during the one television event that still draws a live audience: Sports accounted for 88 of the top 100 rated TV shows last year.

The trio of researchers tested their hypothesis with a three-pronged approach.

First, they used social media ads to recruit fans of each Major League Baseball team to participate in a survey rating attitudes toward all of their team’s brand sponsors. The researchers knew from screenshots of the games which brands had stadium signage with their brand logo in team colors and which ones hadn’t. But this information was not shared with the participants.

Results showed brands that revised their color scheme to match the team received more favorable ratings.

“Simply changing colors to match the team could result in 12 percent higher brand ratings,” Henderson said.

Of course, some brand logos just happened to match the colors of the team.

“That’s called incidental visual congruence,” Henderson explained. “We also saw a 7 percent higher rating for brands that coincidentally matched some sponsored teams but not others.”

For example, Toyota’s red outfield wall signage matched the Cincinnati Reds but not the New York Mets.

For the next study, individuals were randomly presented with prototype sports drink bottles with the Monster brand energy drink logo in its traditional green design alongside the local NFL team’s logo or with Monster’s logo in the NFL team’s colors alongside the team’s logo.

Participants in this study were informed the research sought opinions of brand prototypes, rather than studying the effect of adopting sports team colors on brand sponsorship. Again, when presented with the option, people preferred it when the Monster logo displayed their team’s colors.

In the third study, the researchers had Californians view a website that included a banner ad from a sponsor of the Golden State Warriors. Sometimes the sponsor had its logo displayed in the ad in Golden State colors, and sometimes in the brand’s original red. Participants then rated the sponsoring brand (and several competitor brands) on their attitude toward the brand, their willingness to visit the website, and their likelihood to recommend the brand.

“If you’re a fan of the Warriors, the sponsor logo in the team’s color boosted brand evaluations 24 percent,” Henderson said.

If an individual happened to like the Lakers, or didn’t like the NBA at all, “it didn’t help but it also didn’t hurt,” he said.

Henderson added that brand sponsorship could be especially effective if the brand targeted digital ads in the team’s colors to fans living outside of that team’s market. This suggestion is based on current research, as well as a 2018 Journal of Marketing research paper he published with Mazodier and Lundquist College of Business assistant professor Joshua Beck that found isolated fans were especially receptive to brand sponsors of their favorite team.

Henderson also foresees a time when, based on an IP address, viewers of a live sporting event could be presented with multiple different ads depending on where they were located—some with standard brand logos and some with logos matching the colors of the team.

Teams could even charge a premium to sponsor with the team’s colors.

“We’re just visually programmed people. You match and categorize the world visually.” Henderson concluded.

William Kennedy