Millennium blues: a corporate hangover in prospect

Peter Truesdale


Posted in: Consumers, Speaking Out

Millennium blues: a corporate hangover in prospect

December 01, 1999

The pressure to mark the millennium is huge. Celebrate December 31, 1999 – or be branded a party pooper! But does the consumer actually agree? Mintel reports growing public disenchantment and boredom with the Millennium. More than a quarter (27%) are dissatisfied about the commercialism surrounding the event, up from 18% a year ago. Indeed more than half (55%) say the whole thing is a fuss about nothing, up from 31% a year ago. Despite this, the great millennium juggernaut ploughs on and little short of hibernation can guarantee an escape from the festivities.

The ‘official’ millennium

Official millennium events aplenty are planned and everybody in Britain will be within sight of a millennium beacon or fireworks display and within the sound of church bells pealing. A full list of events can be found on the Millennium Commission website

( In London, while the great and the good will be in the Dome at Greenwich, the heart of the celebrations will be the ‘big time’, live entertainment, music, funfairs and fireworks, running along both sides of the River Thames through Trafalgar Square and up the Mall.

For companies, the Millennium has proved a challenge. All millennium events and projects necessarily require careful pre-planning and have a long lead in time. Consequently it was two or three years ago when companies had to make the decision whether or not to put significant resources into marking the Millennium. Those companies getting involved have necessarily sought to gain commercial edge, enhance corporate reputation and improve staff alignment through their millennium commitments.

The Dome itself ( has offered companies some of the most significant sponsorship opportunities – and also some of the most expensive. The sponsors of the various zones of the Dome are outlined in the table. With sponsorship of a zone costing in the region of £12 million, well-planned exploitation of the sponsorship is vital. Ford is linking its sponsorship to millennium editions of the Ka, Puma and Focus and is basing its year-round promotions activity on the Dome. Boots too is maximising the value of sponsorship through in-store promotions. Tesco is matching sponsorship of the Learning Zone with a new initiative, SchoolNet 2000. This is a national programme, well aligned with previous work on schools and technology through the Computers for Schools initiative. The same is true of the BT Future Talk project.

The success of all of these sponsorships is ultimately dependent upon the success of the Dome. If the Dome does capture the public imagination and attracts the projected 12 million visitors, then there should be a satisfactory payback. If, however, millennium fatigue sets in, then the sponsorships may be somewhat tarnished.

The community millennium

Several companies took the view that the most appropriate way to mark the Millennium was by a special initiative within their community programme. In a number of instances, the views of staff were sought on what the theme of the commitment should be. Marks and Spencer initiated the Children’s Promise (see panel). This has paid off both within the UK, where it has achieved widespread recognition and strong branding, and has now spread abroad too.

A remarkable number of community based initiatives are environmental. The most significant of these is Trees of Time and Place which was initiated by Esso (see separate panel). Trees feature strongly in a number of other instances including that of Sainsbury’s Homebase which is marking the millennium by the biggest ever corporate sponsorship of the Woodland Trust (

This £2 million sponsorship arose from consultation with Sainsbury Group staff about how to mark the millennium. Homebase has taken the lead within the company because of its timber-related business and existing work with the Forestry Stewardship Council. Twenty new community woodlands are planned within the Woodland Trust’s millennium project Woods on your Doorstep . All the sites will be close to a Homebase store, with staff taking a lead with local people in developing plans for the woods. Sainsbury’s commitment is especially impressive as it also has another millennium initiative, the £6 million Bookstart, a programme to introduce babies to books.

Bass has carved out a niche by becoming the main commercial sponsors of a Millennium Commission-backed programme. It is channeling £300,000 into the Millennium Green programme run by the Countryside Agency ( The support is being directed to the 80 most needy sites and will be used in many instances to create a special millennium feature within the green.

It’s a fair bet that any excitement and buzz surrounding the Millennium will not be sustainable through the whole of 2000. New Year’s Eve celebrations are often followed by New Year’s Day hangovers. So companies that have chosen projects with a material and lasting legacy will tend to come off best. It is they who will reap the rewards in terms of corporate reputation, staff satisfaction and commercial payback.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 49 – December, 1999