2015 Villain: Scotiabank's Fickle Sponsorship
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2015 Villain: Scotiabank’s Fickle Sponsorship

Nominated for: demanding cultural festivals include their name as a condition of sponsorship—and then dropping said sponsorship.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

This year, Scotiabank, like most Canadian financial institutions, continued to report net gains and strong quarters. Scotiabank already posted a 2015 net income of nearly $7.3 billion, so you’d think their sponsorship of Toronto festivals they have longstanding ties to would have been secure.

That wasn’t the case, however, as Scotiabank dropped all sponsorship of three major Toronto festivals: Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival (still colloquially known as Caribana), and Scotiabank BuskerFest, a fundraiser festival for the non-profit Epilepsy Toronto.

Notice a pattern among those names? That’s right—Scotiabank had insisted that the festivals include their name in all official branding to reflect their sponsorship. (That’s still the case with cultural events like the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.) All official communication from those festivals, including signage and social media, were required to include Scotiabank; the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s Facebook page (which admittedly hasn’t been updated since the festival closed) still includes the bank’s name.

While financial institutions are no doubt happy to get the widest exposure they can for their sponsorship dollars, Scotiabank’s insistence on this branding imperative isn’t typical. TD Bank, for instance, sponsors the Toronto Jazz Fest and the Toronto Pride Festival, without requiring “TD” (or more) be shoehorned into the events’ names.

Back in 2007, Dave Meslin wrote a Spacing Toronto post decrying Toronto’s Nuit Blanche as a “black sheep” for accepting a sponsorship deal with the bank that included said branding, making it the only Nuit Blanche in the world to be named for a corporate sponsor. (His mischievous suggestion: refer to the event on social media as BMO Nuit Blanche.) Perhaps the City, and the other festival organizers, thought agreeing to include Scotiabank’s name in their event would strengthen a long term commitment. We’ve now seen that that wasn’t the case.

To be clear, festival organizers said Scotiabank gave them as many as 18 months notice before the official announcement, so at least they had time to prepare for the separation. So our criticism of Scotiabank is this: if you’re going to insist your partner take your name, you’d better intend to stick with ’em. To the festivals now looking for replacement sponsors, and especially to the City-run Nuit Blanche, we’d like to paraphrase Scotiabank’s catchphrase: you’re worth more than you think. Don’t let your sponsors corporatize your identity, because like Scotiabank, they may not be in it for the long haul.