Updated: Mar 7, 2021
Image: H&M We Love Horses
In recent years, we have seen the creation of specific accounts between brands and the sport they have a sponsorship within. For example Budweiser has the Bud Football account, Lays Chips have a Lays United account. By doing this they have created football-centric communities and content.
A less mentioned brand in this space, but very unique - H&M. In the world of equestrian sport, particularly Show Jumping.
H&M began their relationship with the equestrian world in 1996 and they continue to buck the trend (quite literally) when it comes to breaking the traditional equestrian sponsorship mould. Which often consists of luxury and /or endemic brands, or services.
However, what H&M have done here as a non-endemic, non-traditional equestrian brand is incredibly smart.
Why? Three reasons.
Digital Executions and Star Power
H&M's relationship with the sport has evolved over time to keep up with the digital world and athlete focused ambassadorships.
H&M - We Love Horses started in 2009 and is the online social media community hub for everyone that follows both the brand and equestrian sport. Similar to what Budweiser and Lays have done with football communities, H&M have built an equestrian community. Across Facebook, YouTube and Instagram; H&M - We Love Horses have around 210k Followers/Subs.
The platform generates behind the scenes footage, rider interviews, training, and profiles different horses. But, who else does the content capture and feature?
Four well-known, professional show jumping athletes on the global circuit. Sweden's Peder Fredericson (49) and Malin Baryard (45), and Belgium's, twins: Olivier (27) and Nicola Philippaerts (27). The four riders have nearly 450k followers on Instagram alone.
Therefore, it is another avenue for fans of the riders and horses to get behind the scenes access to their day-to-day lives and routines. The interrelationship between both the riders and the H&M brand is very close - with authentic brand integration within the posts.
2. Unique Activation's
Renaming of the horses. Like in Formula 1 and cycling - a similar principle has been applied to the equestrian world. To sponsor the name of a horse.
Therefore there is a roster of horses which include: H&M Legend of Love, H&M Chacco Dia, H&M Indiana, H&M Christian K, and H&M All In.
These horses have had their names officially changed on their passports. As of January 2016, the FEI introduced a fee which meant that a name change - including a commercial prefix addition would come at the cost of €1000.
However, the horses passport name is only used when in competition. To explain and for example: Blueberry is the barn name of one of the world's most successful Dressage horses. However, on his passport it is Valegro, and that is what he is known as to the wider world.
Therefore, it is only whilst in a competition environment or on official communication channels - you will hear or see the horses passport name. The exposure in competition is huge; the announcer must state the name, the LED boards read the name, the name is in the event programmes, and competition class lists. That's all before social, magazines and website imagery. Therefore, the €1000 fee is minor. Which is the beauty of the unique activation. it feels slightly guerilla in a sense, but the brands presence cannot be argued. It is the horses official name.
Commercial prefixing of names isn't new. Show jumping great, Harvey Smith signed a deal with Sanyo in the 70's. Albeit out there, he had a horse called Sanyo Music Centre. Did it pay off? It was the loophole to get through the BBC's advertising rules at the time.
3. Challenging the Market and Different Avenues
The equestrian industry globally is huge - as not only is it a sport, but a non-stop lifestyle for many. Which makes it very unique. The sport in general has many sub-cultures, levels of participation, and nationalities involved. Over hundreds of years, horses have evolved and hold many different meanings to many different countries. In 2019, the British Equestrian Trade Association, registered that at least 3 million people had ridden at least once in the past twelve months.
H&M as a non-traditional equine sponsor have identified:
Horses are a universal language and lifestyle for both men and women. It is the only Olympic sport where men and women compete on an equal level.
By being an affordable, high street brand in the equestrian space, H&M's competitive advantage is affordability. H&M has the ability to speak to many different market segments by aligning to the general population of riders and the professional rider community.
By being affordable, and due the the equestrian lifestyle the sponsorship can resonate all year with the audience. H&M are not tied to a particular event - therefore they can continually build their relationship between; the sport, the equestrian community, and the brand.
Continuous high global exposure, the H&M Group of retail stores have around 5,000 stores world wide. The four H&M riders, and H&M horses go to competitions around the world continuously. All four H&M riders participate in the Longines Global Champions Tour, which aims to go to 16 cities this year.
H&M have sponsored horse shows and events previously too. For example: H&M were the main partner for the Longines FEI European Championships Gothenburg 2017.
More recently - H&M has gone down the route of eSports - and equestrian gaming. In October 2020, H&M partnered with Swedish gaming company Star Stable Entertainment. The company encourages girls to get into gaming, books, music, and animation through equestrian themes. In November 2020, H&M Netherlands and the official Netherlands FIFA eSports league eDivisie agreed an official partnership for two seasons.
The H&M sponsorship is often one that goes under the radar - but as listed above, a stand out in the world of sport sponsorship.