ANALYSIS: Sponsorship fatigue hits millennium events - Companies have proven reluctant to throw cash at the flood of events marking the year 2000, writes Cordelia Brabbs

Baby Jesus, a chorus of angels and a Big Mac and fries to go. Some have long suspected that every champagne cork popped at this millennium’s final Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations is going to be sponsored by a heavyweight corporation.

Baby Jesus, a chorus of angels and a Big Mac and fries to go. Some

have long suspected that every champagne cork popped at this

millennium’s final Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations is going to

be sponsored by a heavyweight corporation.

Such concerns were heightened last year when, to the horror of shoppers,

Christmas lights sponsored by Birds Eye and Tango turned Regent Street

and Oxford Street into a riot of logos. The experience left companies

wiser to the public’s leaning toward tradition, and they are treading

more carefully over sponsorship ground this year.

London millennium events organiser Big Time would be the first to tell

you this. With less than two months to go before millennium midnight,

Big Time has been left frustrated by companies’ reluctance to fork out

for the privilege of having their brand slapped on a variety of


As Marketing went to press, Big Time confirmed that it had failed to

find a single sponsor to support events such as a pounds 5000 funfair on

The Mall and a pounds 50,000 party on Tower Bridge. Even Nestle, which

was in negotiations to invest pounds 50,000 in the ice rink on Trafalgar

Square (Marketing, November 4), has since pulled out.

Sean Jefferson, sponsorship advisor at Octagon, says, ’It’s an

incredibly crowded sponsorship market with the cricket and rugby world

cups and the millennium in the same budgetary year. A lot of brand

owners are probably deciding to hold back their money until January or

February as there’s too much clutter in the market. It’s reaching

saturation point, and it’s going to be a real challenge now for those

selling millennium products and events.’

Some organisations have rejected the intervention of big name


The Regent Street Association balked at the thought of having a repeat

of last year’s lights fiasco, and for the first time has received

outside financial help - from the Crown Estate and the street’s

retailers. Similarly, the Oxford Street Association has opted for a

brand-free display.

Even at initiatives heavily reliant on sponsorship support, contributing

companies have been forced to take a step back from the action. The New

Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) has raised more than pounds 160m

from sponsors for the Millennium Dome, but is maintaining a strict

policy on advertising within the area. Last November Austin Mitchell, MP

for Great Grimsby, claimed the Millennium Experience was going to be ’a

mammoth piece of commercial hucksterism’, but the dome will sport

minimal branding.

Relatively subtle

The government’s millennium spokesman says: ’The sponsorship is not

driving the presentation or content of the dome at all. NMEC has agreed

strict parameters and discretion is the order of the day. It is not a

trade fair presented for the benefit of the sponsors.’ NMEC promises

that commercial activities will be ’relatively subtle’.

The Church of England is satisfied that organisers and sponsors have

been sympathetic to the religious nature of the event. A Church

spokesman says: ’Six months ago it looked as if the dome was going to be

too commercial, but it is increasingly becoming more appropriate. There

is a faith zone inside, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying a

prayer at the opening ceremony. Everything that’s being built recognises

that Jesus Christ became fully human 2000 years ago.’

Even Peter Ainsworth, the Conservatives’ shadow culture minister,

concedes: ’We don’t know how subtle the branding is actually going to be

until the dome is finished. But NMEC does seem to have done a reasonable

job of seeking to protect the integrity of the dome’s contents.’

This is not to say that the millennium tourist attractions will be

exactly brand-free. British Airways’ backing of the London Eye ferris

wheel has been well-publicised, and BA will ultimately have its name

prominently displayed at the site.

A BA spokesman says: ’It is usually called the British Airways London

Eye, and once the wheel is in operation we will have an above- and

below-the-line campaign supporting our involvement. Our branding on both

the wheel and the dome will be discreet.’

Outside London, revellers will find it hard to avoid some of the world’s

biggest brands. In Glasgow Coca-Cola is sponsoring the Shine On

festival, a children’s charity project that involves an array of

parades, concerts and parties. In Edinburgh a host of big brands have

backed the city’s Hogmanay party (see table).

And McDonald’s is backing a nationwide programme that allows community

groups to present their adaptations on the McDonald’s Our Town Story

stage in the dome.

’There’s no overall trend toward cutting back on sponsorship; it’s

booming and will continue to boom,’ says Octagon’s Jefferson. ’The price

of events is higher than ever, but there is no shortage of companies

prepared to spend that much.’


Event                             Contribution

Millennium wheel

(Total cost is pounds 35m)

BA                            Approx pounds 9m

Millennium Dome

(Official sponsors)






Marks & Spencer



City of London                 pounds 12m each

Millennium Dome

(Official partners)





Camelot                         pounds 6m each

Millennium Dome

(Official suppliers)







Coca-Cola                       pounds 3m each

Millennium Dome

(Other sponsors)

Thames Water

De Beers

Hinduja Foundation

Lang Family Trust


L’Oreal                     Avg pounds 2m each

Beacon Millennium

British Gas                          pounds 1m

Hogmanay Street Party

Bank of Scotland

Daily Record


Radio Forth

Scottish Courage


Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op

Marks & Spencer



A&B                       Total pounds 750,000

Shine On campaign

Coca-Cola                          Undisclosed


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