Banco Santander’s commitment to promoting the sustainability message on its return as a sponsor of Ferrari has attracted attention. It is not a new matter. In this case, the controversy revolves around a bank committed to a green agenda, wanting to spread a message of sustainability in a sport that, from the outset, is polluting. Formula 1 in the past has experienced several examples of promoting messages that a priori was a pure contradiction. Here the dilemma always revolves around the convenience of attacking problems by ignoring them or, on the contrary, working for their solution from within. And here This is where the objective of Santander’s renewed sponsorship with the ‘Scuderia’ comes into play.
Controversy is inevitable when messages are produced that some feel is pure oxymorons. It is, therefore, worthwhile to review some past and present cases to assess that, indeed, sometimes there is opportunism disguised as good intentions, but many others are also facing companies with real commitments to attack specific problems.
Take, for example, the case of the brewery Star Galicia, Ferrari’s other Spanish sponsor, and very active in its motorsports sponsorships with Marc Márquez and Carlos Sainz as its main ambassadors. While the rest of the beer groups do not even want to hear about car and motorcycle races, the Galician company has embraced these sports with total naturalness. The reasoning behind, according to company sources, is that if the technological and business effort to promote non-alcoholic beer is sought, What better way to do it than with very credible references and ambassadors for the consumer, such as Márquez and Sainz.
The initial criticism arises arguing to be before a simple subterfuge to ‘suck camera’ on television or visibility in the media, by regulation vetoed for them. Perhaps there is something to it, but from that point of view, the rest of the breweries also promote their big brands using the same alibi of ‘no alcohol’. However, while Star Galicia has clear objectives for communicating healthy habits associated with sport, the rest have eluded controversy and, consequently, their contribution to improving these habits is much more irrelevant.
Alcohol and driving together?
Much more notorious was the case of the whiskey brand ‘Johnnie Walker’, for many years it was a sponsor of the McLaren team. They were straight out of high alcohol beverages and therefore the squeaks of mixing the words alcohol and driving bounced as much as the V8s that went under their stickers. Diageo, the owner of the Johnnie Walker brand, had a reputational stigma as a result of the effects of alcoholism, like the rest of the industry. However, the brutal proportion of fatal accidents due to driving under the influence of alcohol was worse in the public eye. After many studies and surveys, The British multinational concluded that the best prescribers of responsible driving were precisely the Formula 1 drivers. It sounds less credible for a footballer or tennis player to talk to you about responsible driving than for a motoring professional to do so.
And to prove it, Diageo developed a very powerful activation program that always revolved around responsible drinking and zero alcohol consumption behind the wheel. Mika Hakkinen, globally, and pilots like Pedro de la Rosa at the local level served as ambassadors for these awareness programs with enormous success and tangible results. So notorious was his contribution that private associations and government entities dedicated to road safety regretted the march of Johnnie walker of Formula 1.
In another very controversial sector such as tobacco, Phillip Morris, owner of the brand Marlboro, was the one that tried with the most force to promote a more ‘healthy’ vision of its consumption. Through the IQOS device and its strategy Mission Winnow, in recent years they have tried to promote less harmful tobacco use. However, unlike the previous examples, here the ‘shoehorn’ has been noticed everywhere. Their problem was being so extremely bright for years to keep the brand in the consumer’s mind. Marlboro, both that has gone against them when they decided to get out of the dark side. They had no credibility. If authorities hadn’t been chasing Marlboro’s very clever tricks with its barcodes and subliminal messages for years, they might have had some credit from the regulator, but when the tobacco company wanted to become ‘responsible’ their message no longer slipped through. One of the main reasons for his departure from Ferrari.
Sustainability vs. pollution
The Santander Bank has announced that the fundamental bet in which it leverages its return to Formula 1 is to work for sustainability. The financial institution is not the first sponsor to have an agenda of ‘green’ objectives in activating its sponsorship, but it is the one that has so far shown its commitment more clearly. Even owning Sling in 2007 and 2008 he made an impressive gamble with his campaign ‘earth dreams’ to launch a message of environmental awareness from the bodies of their cars. Perhaps it was a bit premature in that year because, unlike today, talking about sustainability was still very green then, worth the redundancy.
Certainly, the achievements of Formula 1 at a technological level in favor of sustainability are enormous. But there is also an endemic problem of poor communication. For example, Formula E has a better perception of sustainability but, scratching, Formula 1 wins by a landslide in technological contributions in electric mobility which is theoretically considered the ‘ecological’ Formula. The message does not seem to have reached the general public.
To be genuine or not
This is precisely where Santander should focus its activation if it wants its commitment to sustainability in a ‘polluting’ sport to be credible. Formula 1’s zero-emissions goal for 2030 is far from easy to achieve, but if this competition has shown one thing throughout history, it is knowing how to respond to the most complex engineering challenges. An example: In 1980 the engines of Formula 1 were atmospheric with 3 liters of displacement and gave only 500 horses. Today 1.6-liter hybrid engines exceed 1,000 horsepower for the same fuel consumption. The impressive degree of efficiency of road cars today owes much to spectacular developments such as the one mentioned.
Technological prodigies like the engines of Formula 1 have lowered the mythical barrier of 50% thermal efficiency (when energy work exceeds its waste) have gone almost unnoticed. However, they are a key advance, not only in mobility issues but in the machinery of all kinds. To the extent that Santander and Ferrari are capable of making the public perceive their contributions to sustainability as genuine, your bet will be successful. There will always be detractors who see nothing but opportunism but, as the different examples seen above confirm, as happens on the track, in sponsorships who do not risk does not win.