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The Stonyfield Case Study – One of My Favorite Sponsorship Case Studies 

I always recommend that sponsorship seekers put together their own case studies to illustrate to prospective sponsors how they’ve helped other sponsors or clients in the past.

It’s a lot easier for your prospect to put themselves in the shoes of your clients and sponsors, which could help in their decision-making.

Today, I want to share a sponsorship case study that is arguably my favorite one yet. 

Last year, I had the honor of interviewing Heather Clifford and Rush Olsen of Vertical Challenge, LLC, a New Hampshire-based company that hosts snowboarding events every winter.

Heather and Rush did an amazing activation for Stonyfield Farm, one of the sponsors for their outdoor events. 

Today, I want to talk about what the activation was, why it worked so well, and what you can learn about sponsorship through Heather and Rush’s expertise!  

The Situation

As I said, Vertical Challenge hosts snowboard and ski races throughout the winter every season. These races are hosted at various ski resorts.

The competitors can race for gold, silver, and bronze, being rewarded a medal if they win. Racers are categorized by gender.

More so than just races, Vertical Challenge also hosts a festival atmosphere with activities and other contests where people can win prizes beyond the ones doled out to the winning racers. 

Vertical Challenge has been doing this for more than 30 years, and throughout that time, they’ve had a lot of sponsors.

One of their newer sponsors at the time was Stonyfield Farm or just Stonyfield for short, a New Hampshire dairy company that was established in 1983. 

Heather and Rush had a discovery session with Stonyfield, where they learned that the dairy company’s primary target audience was families. 

Stonyfield was interested in expanding its brand awareness and putting more of its products in consumers’ hands.

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That’s why Vertical Challenge, although it might have initially seemed like a mismatch, was such a perfect partner for Stonyfield.

With its 30-year history, Vertical Challenge is a multi-generational event. Those racers who originally competed now bring their children, and those children might someday bring their own children. 

With grandparents, parents, and children at the event, Stonyfield’s target audience was more than covered. 

Vertical Challenge also created a very workable environment for Stonyfield staff to hand out products and coupons to event attendees. 

This partnership was also beneficial for Vertical Challenge. In the past, when they had partnered with high-sugar, high-carb, high-calorie food brands as sponsors, parents would refuse the free samples for their children so the kids wouldn’t go bouncing off the walls. 

This time, Vertical Challenge knew they needed healthier sponsors, and Stonyfield fit the bill. 

That said, as naturally as the partnership came together, the question became, what kind of activation would get people excited about yogurt and milk against the backdrop of a heart-pounding, high-octane skiing and snowboarding event?

It was time to begin brainstorming. 

The Solution 

Rush and Heather knew their audience wanted healthier, organic products than what they had seen from sponsors during the Vertical Challenge in years past. 

They also knew that their audience was incredibly loyal and typically receptive to sponsors. 

That alone didn’t mean that any activation would fit the bill, though. 

You have to remember, at an event like the Vertical Challenge, sponsors are clamoring to get involved. There’s far more than just one sponsor.

So what would it take to set a sponsor apart, especially a new one trying to increase brand awareness? 

They chose an inflatable cow activation. 

That’s right, the activation was a large, inflatable arch-shaped cow (since Stonyfield is a dairy company) which acted as a starting gate. 

Near the arch, Stonyfield reps were on hand to meet with attendees, shake some frosty hands, and give out product samples.

Stonyfield also had some sponsored race banners, but the real crux of this activation was the inflatable cow. 

It was actually Stonyfield pushing the cow theme, as the company wanted to promote its environmentally-conscious status and the fact that they’re dairy farmers. 

Rush took a photo of the cow arch and asked Vertical Challenge followers on social media to come up with a name, something that was–as the post said–“udderly fantastic.” 

Stonyfield was onboard with the idea, and the social media inflatable cow naming contest generated some buzz around Stonyfield as a sponsor ahead of that year’s Vertical Challenge.

This was the first introduction to the cow for many of Vertical Challenge’s followers, and they loved what they saw. 

Many people commented on Instagram and Facebook (the two social media platforms that Vertical Challenge used for the contest) with their name suggestions. 

Of course, Vertical Challenge tagged Stonyfield as well as the resorts for that year’s Vertical Challenge tour to further generate a buzz around Stonyfield and this unique activation. 

After the cow did well enough at the first resort on the Vertical Challenge tour, she came along to another stop. 

The crux of the post was still the same. Vertical Challenge was still looking for a name for the inflatable dairy cow, but now tagged a different ski and snowboard resort. Of course, Stonyfield was still tagged in the new post.

This continued throughout that year’s Vertical Challenge tour, with new posts at each stop asking to name that cow. 

Comments began flooding in, even if it was a bit slow-going at first.

What happened was the more posts about the inflatable cow, the more the Stonyfield cow began to generate engagement. 

After a while, Vertical Challenge felt like they had enough name submissions. 

Rush and Heather forwarded all the responses to Stonyfield, as they would ultimately be the ones to select the name (there was no voting element).

Once Stonyfield decided, Vertical Challenge made a blog post announcing the big name for the even bigger cow. 

The cow was ultimately named MooMoo, which Stonyfield selected since it’s easy for kids to say, it was memorable, and it wouldn’t offend anyone. 

The post wrapped up by encouraging people to attend the latest leg of the Vertical Challenge and see MooMoo for themselves and to check out Stonyfield’s booth while they’re there. 

The blog posts and social media also served to promote the user-generated content that had begun to emerge at Vertical Challenge events. 

People were naturally drawn to the large, inflatable cow, even before she had a name. 

I’m talking both kids and adults, too. MooMoo was the perfect spot to take a photo, and people were eager to upload their content to social media. 

With permission, Vertical Challenge used that content to promote the MooMoo naming contest and to get people to go to Vertical Challenge events to see the cow and Stonyfield’s booth. 

Naturally, Stonyfield was retweeting or reposting the content whenever they could, because why not?

People were being photographed having fun around their activation, which makes anyone reading the social media post realize what fun they could enjoy if they attended a Vertical Challenge event and saw MooMoo. 

Since MooMoo was such a hit, Rush and Heather decided to keep using her as the unofficial mascot of that year’s series of Vertical Challenge events. 

Each time they moved on to a new resort, they’d take a photo of MooMoo or have someone else do it and promote the event through the mascot. 

Even the resorts were getting in on the fun. An activation like a large, inflatable dairy cow is going to attract attention no matter who it’s from. 

For the resorts, posting photos of MooMoo on social media was a great way for them too to get people excited to come out. 

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Putting It All Together

The Stonyfield activation was a five-star, homerun type of activation for a number of reasons. 

For one, it was unique. It’s not every day you see a cow inflatable, especially at a skiing and snowboarding competition. 

That uniqueness meant that everyone wanted a piece of the pie. Stonyfield gladly reposted all the positive press it received on social media, and even radio station DJs and snowboard and ski resorts were getting in on it. 

No one asked these parties to do it. They just wanted to because the activation was that good.

MooMoo on her own would have been fine, but Vertical Challenge also had the genius idea to promote the activation through a social media naming contest. 

That just generated even more buzz and excitement around the activation and thus Stonyfield as well.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, what about the other sponsors? Well, those included such big names as Mountain Dew and Chevrolet.

They don’t really need the same degree of attention as a small, local brand as Stonyfield does.

Also, here’s the thing about great activations. When you come up with one that naturally gets people so excited, it’s to everyone’s benefit.

The whole event is elevated, which means greater attendance and a more engaged audience. That directly benefits these other sponsors!

I hope you learned something interesting and valuable from this case study. Vertical Challenge proved that a great activation needn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money. You can keep it relatively simple and still make a huge impact! 


Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.