Jan 21 - Vodafone is to launch a programme of social-media 'Firsts' to replace its global, $75 million a year, branded sponsorship of McLaren F1. But as David Pollard reports, the new direction has its challenges.
Take a racing driver, cover him in labels and do whatever it takes to attract the media. That's corporate branding, the sponsorship model. And for Vodafone, that's so yesterday. Today, it's social media and technology, helping people do 'Firsts': extraordinary things they haven't done before. UK surfer Tom Lowe will use apps and GPS to identify when conditions are right for the surf of a lifetime. UPSOUND TOM LOWE ''One of the biggest waves in the world. It's in Todos Santos which is in Mexico. No one from England has actually surfed this wave'' Vodafone brand director Barbara Haase says everyone knows the brand already, so sponsorship isn't needed any more. Time for something new. SOUNDBITE (English), BARBARA HAASE, DIRECTOR MARCOMMS, VODAFONE, SAYING: ''It's no longer technology driving people to do something. But people wanting to use technology to do something for themselves. So you put the consumer in the focus.'' Spoek Mathambo is another First. He wants to create a musical journey through South Africa's different cultures - using networks. UPSOUND SPOKE MATHAMBO ''It will be the first time that we've united South African cultures through music.'' Olympian Mary Kom is building a fight club for women. UPSOUND MARY KOM ''I'm going to work with the app developers here in India to create a Mary Kom self-defence app.'' From Easter, more will be invited to join the programme. Eventually, it might become self-sustaining. SOUNDBITE (English), BARBARA HAASE, DIRECTOR MARCOMMS, VODAFONE, SAYING: ''Ultimately our dream is, and it will be a first for Vodafone again, that we have a fully crowd-sourced platform around Firsts.'' Vodafone has appeared on McLaren cars since 2007 in a deal worth up to 75 million dollars a year to the F1 team. But for the IPA - which looks after the interests of Britain's world-beating ad agencies - social media is where big corporates want to spend big money. That means greater accountability to the consumer, and other challenges. Director general Paul Bainsfair. SOUNDBITE (English), PAUL BAINSFAIR, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, INSTITUTE OF PRACTITIONERS IN ADVERTISING SAYING: 'I think the whole area of social media - and I know this from the world we operate in - has yet to be fully worked out in terms of evaluation. By which I mean: what's your return on investment, and how certain can you be that for every million pounds you spend on it, you're going to get back more than a million?'' Even so, branded sponsorship at events like Formula One is likely to survive. SOUNDBITE (English), PAUL BAINSFAIR, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, INSTITUTE OF PRACTITIONERS IN ADVERTISING SAYING: ''Vodafone won't be the first to drop out and try something new. And I'm sure there's no shortage of companies that are willing to step into their place.'' But whilst branded sponsorship is good for raising brand profile, it can't get a more sophisticated message across. That's where social media campaigns come in - in a trend that's gathering in strength.