The Year In Sponsorships & Branding: Opportunities In The New Real

Gunna and Ludacris

Peanut Butter Fingers: Gunna and Ludacris as part of the “Lil Jif Project” campaign. (Photo: Courtesy of BCL Entertainment)

“2021 was incredibly collaborative and innovative,” says Bettie Levy, founder of BCL Entertainment looking back at 2021’s Great Return in the live event and branding space. “People worked harder than ever to come out of 2020. There was a different feeling of safety, once vaccines became available. With every client, venue, brand and others we interacted with, it was a different level of collaboration and innovation to get to the finish line of whatever we were working on to make it great, make it safe and keep moving forward.”

For Levy’s BCL Entertainment, which works in sponsored live events and brand partnerships, the second half of 2021 moved ahead with an almost pre-pandemic velocity. This included events for MSG/Tao Group and a recent NFT.NYC week event called Universal Poetry featuring EDM stars Kaskade, Destructo and Haywyre at Irving Plaza as well as the first in-person gallery event from NFT artist Pak all sponsored by the Monstercat label and the NFT platform Universe.XYZ. This in addition to brokering brand deals for everything from Ludacris’ awesome JIF Peanut Butter commercial directed by Dave Meyers to Renee Elise Goldsberry’s new “Healthier Happens Together” song for a $25 million CVS Health campaign to Darius Rucker’s just-launched collection with the NFL & Fanatics.
Bettie Levy

Building A Brand Story: Bettie Levy, who started BCL Entertainment nearly 13 years ago. (Courtesy BCL Ent.)
Levy says an important part of her business in 2021 was being prepared for any scenario. “The art of the pivot was definitely perfected in this time  period,” she says. “You plan for backup plans and look for how things may translate virtually. You have to have alternate ideas because the truth is none of us know what tomorrow will bring. I can’t stress enough the importance of working with your team and planning for the unplanned so your brand, your sponsor and others know you are accounting for all possibilities and ensuring you will activate to the best of your abilities based on

what’s going on in that moment in time.”

With fewer events, however, many marketers dove deeper into the digital space, a place Levy says many will continue to be. “Sponsorships for the foreseeable future” she says, “will always have some sort of social and online component beyond the traditional live or in- venue sponsorship. Because talent, tours and brands, they want to be able to engage beyond just that one-off event, per se, and attract and accommodate those fans who might be unable to see a live show for one reason or another.”

In addition to deeper digital dives, there were new opportunities for artists and brands alike, including in the growing NFT and cryptocurrency sectors and the metaverse.  
“Whether it was Fortnite, Roblox or my client Stageverse who collaborated with Muse, metaverse events make digital more special,” says Andrew Hampp, branding consultant and founder of 1803 LLC. This he says noting the “Zoom and livestream fatigue” that set in over the last year. “Metaverse experiences are always customized, sometimes fully animated, sometimes repurposing actual live footage into a metaverse world and there’s infinite opportunities. You can do branded virtual merch, which can have a hybrid component where maybe you get a virtual version and then the real thing shipped to your house which could be a T-shirt you can only buy at the metaverse concert. Brands will definitely continue investing in it.”

NFT NYC EDM: Kaskade performs on Nov. 2 2021 at the “Universal Poetry” event as part of NYC.NFT week at Irving Plaza in New York City. (Courtesy of BCL Ent.)

Other branding trends from this year Hampp noted included an emphasis on more local and communal events, which included an innovative Sofar Sounds brand partnership. “Their whole business model is based on intimate, non-traditional, and very local venues,” he says. “They partnered with Stella Artois on a concert series in New York, LA, and Miami where they did outdoor underplay performances with artists who have local ties to each of those markets. For Stella Artois it was a great way to showcase their new Solstice Lager. The events were capped at under 100 people and held outdoors so the safety element was baked into it. They featured performances by Elena Rose in Miami, Maye in L.A. and Evan Giia in New York and all the performances were shared on YouTube.”
Both Levy and Hampp agree on the importance of having philanthropic elements in any marketing campaign. “People want to help,” Levy says. “The feel-good and charitable aspect of many live events and branded partnerships is extremely important. People want to do this more than ever and are finding ways to figure out how they can help and give back and spread a positive message.” 
Both branding experts believe 2022 will see the continued return of branding and marketing, with an early indicator in early February.  “I am very confident we are going to have a successful Super Bowl weekend,” Levy says. “We’ll have a really good showing of brands who will want to be out there in full force.”